How to Create Masterpieces from Rejects
The story goes that Michelangelo created the statue of David from a single block of marble. Not just any marble—a block of marble that had been rejected by two other sculptors.
The first was Agostino di Duccio who had planned to use the near 17-foot block of Carrara marble for a cathedral in Florence. He abandoned the project—some think because he didn’t have experience working with sculptures of that size.
After sitting unused for 10 years, the block was “picked up” by a second sculptor, Antonio Rossellino. I use the term picked up loosely, since the block weighs over 6 tons. Rossellino soon discarded it as being too difficult to work with.
Nearly 40 years later Michelangelo accepted the stone and then began his masterpiece.
Can you imagine the world without David?
We can learn from this story. Let’s do a little exercise. Take a minute or two to study the photos as if you were standing in front of the masterpiece.
In your mind’s eye, run your hand over the marble. (Well, maybe not over the whole thing. This is a family-oriented blog.)
What did you notice? Here are few things that came to mind for me:
- This is the same David from the Biblical account of David and Goliath. Most artists depict David after the defeat of Goliath—when he’s relieved, jubilant.
Michelangelo chose to create his masterpiece of David before the battle—when he’s anxious.
Look at the intensity Michelangelo captured on his face as he contemplates the imminent fight. Yet his stance appears relaxed, confident—suggesting he has faith that God will sustain him.
- Did you notice the detail on the right hand? The pulsing veins, the dimples in the knuckles, the bones pushing through the skin.
This piece was intended to be displayed near the ceiling of the cathedral, yet Michelangelo attended to even the details in the skin.
- How much harder do you suppose it is to sculpt curly hair than straight hair?
Growing up, I can tell you it was no easy task trying to tame my wavy locks—and they were hair, not stone.
In my opinion, the curly hair adds balance to the piece.
This is truly one of the most inspirational masterpieces in the history of the world.
And it all started as a reject. Twice.
HOW TO APPLY THIS TO YOUR SITUATION
As a writer, I keep an Idea Notebook close at hand. I capture all kinds of thoughts, ideas, observations, well-worded sentences, overheard conversations.
Yes, I eavesdrop. All the time. Don’t judge me.
As I write a manuscript, I come back to my Idea Notebook again and again like a childhood friend.
Parts of my scratchings may end up in the manuscript. Parts may only spur new ideas. Some parts, I reject for the moment.
My Idea Notebook is my collection of initial rejects, if you will. But I cherish them, because I’m always looking ahead to the next manuscript. They may spring to life in the context of a new storyline.
My rule of thumb: Reject for the moment, but don’t discard.
THE 3 STEPS TO MAKE MASTERPIECES FROM REJECTS
1. Collect the Rejects
Record those random, partially baked thoughts and ideas—whether they are ideas for work or for your hobby, for your family or for your free time—things that you may be inclined to reject at first for whatever reason.
Record them in a notebook like mine, or on your phone. Let’s face it, you always have a “notebook” at your fingertips.
2. Mull Over the Idea Seeds
It’s not about doing something with them quickly. But they caught your attention. They excited you. You felt they had potential.
Give them some thought.
3. Use them as a Go To List
When you’re in need of a solution to your project or problem, when you’re ready to create something new, when you want to refine something you’re working on: Review your reject list.
Shape them a bit more.
Pair them with other idea seeds.
And let the juices flow.
Inspiration doesn’t come all at once, fully baked, ready to use. It frequently comes bit by bit.
Even after accepting the block of marble, Michelangelo then took 4 years to complete David.
So collect the bits along the way and then see what emerges. That’s where the real fun lies!
A CALL TO ACTION
Are you looking to jump-start your creativity? If so, check out my free eBook: 5 Exercises that Will Make You 5 Times More Creative that I use to keep the juices flowing—in myself or in my clients.
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