The struggle is real.
And, before anyone rushes to judgement, let me be clear; I have no desire to commit inhuman acts of violence, plot genocide, or spew racial hatred for entire people-groups. Please, God, No, I’m nothing like Hitler in those respects.
I am concerned, however, that I might be like him in one, very specific, way.
I often worry that my art lacks soul.
That’s what prevented Hitler from getting into Art School, you know. Well, not that specifically. The Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (the Vienna Academy for Fine Arts), didn’t stamp “Lacks soul” on Hitler’s applications in 1907 and 1908. But the general consensus is that, while his was a fine draftsman, he wasn’t a great artist.
Adolf Hitler had a natural flair for drawing. His high school instructors recognized his talent, but unfortunately he was a lazy student, and essentially dropped out of school before graduation.
In 1908, at eighteen years old, Hitler moved from his home in Linz, leaving behind his mother who was fighting breast cancer, and went to Vienna where he would stay until 1913.
Hitler had a knack for architecture, it is said he could draw detailed pictures from memory of a building he had seen only once. In fact, one of his examiners at the Vienna Academy acknowledged Hitler’s skill by suggesting he apply for their School of Architecture, and pursue being an architect instead of the fine arts.
Hitler was having none of it. After his second rejection from the Vienna Academy, he stayed in Vienna and continued to paint, often selling his paintings of the city. Hitler frequented the artists’ cafes in Munich in the hope that established artists would help him with his ambition to paint professionally.
At this point, some might be reading this thinking, “I don’t want to humanize this monster”, and I get that. Obviously, I’m being sensationalist in my choice of subject, sure, but that doesn’t negate my central question, “Are there people who just have natural genius when it comes to the arts?”
Earlier I had said that Hitler had a natural talent for drawing, and nobody disputes that. What everyone also agrees on is that the Academy was correct in rejecting his application, his human figures are mediocre, lacking in life, form and feeling.
He seemed to lack the sufficient insight to truly portray others in his art, and obviously that speaks volumes about his character.
Was there something he could have learned, or developed over time? Was he born to be a monster? Or was there something that could have been brought out to help him make great art?
It’s a question that has always fascinated me; are truly great artists born and not made? Was Picasso always going to be a world-class, ground breaking artist? Was Mozart born to earn a place in history with his music?
Or, to quote Alan Sorkin’s dialogue from Steve Jobs, “You think John [Lennon] became John by winning a raffle, Woz? You think he tricked somebody or hit George Harrison over the head? He was John because he was John.”
The common belief is that some people have “It”, whatever that elusive quality is, and most people do not. Picasso had it. John Lennon had it. Maria Callas had it.
Yes, sometimes even I wonder if I have “It”.
Sure, I got into art school. Suck it, Hitler! But I’m pretty sure it was only because a California State University cashed my tuition check.
Are there people who just have natural genius when it comes to the arts? And what do you do when you realize that you are never going to be one of those people?
Do we do it for the praise? Or do we do it because that’s all we can do, and we cannot do anything else? Or anything less?
If my work does lack “soul”, or heart, then so be it. If I have been chosen to only be 2nd rate or 3rd tier, so be it.
But here’s the thing: At this point in my life, I know who I am as an artist. There is no running away from that.
All I know is that I have a vision, and the will to see that vision realized. I have a total, impassioned and unwavering belief in my art.
And maybe, at the end of the day, that’s what truly counts.
After spending an afternoon perusing an exhibit of famous art works at the Academy of Design in San Francisco, Mark Twain wrote, “I am glad the old masters are all dead, and I only wish they had died sooner.”