Phelps and Picasso: More Similar than We Think

I’ve heard that in training for the Rio Olympics, Michael Phelps swam enough miles to circle the earth. Think of how many he must have logged throughout his career! Now Pablo Picasso, throughout his career he created perhaps 50,000 works of art.

There’s a similarity here… Lots of work. Athletic training corresponds to artistic discipline. Greatness is made, not born. Gold is refined from ore, marble is first chiseled from a quarry, and paint pigment is mined from the earth–to transform these into something great first takes acquiring them as raw materials, then after that they can be used to create further art. And so, the bodies of athletes might come with inherent prowess, strength, speed, or flexibility, these, like gold, marble, or pigmented rock, must be drawn out as if by an artist. The athletes must sculpt themselves, refine themselves, and apply themselves, all for the art of performance. An artist too might have some in-born way of seeing or thinking, some inherent artistry, but without support, encouragement, discipline, practice, and training, their unique take on the world or idea might not see its ultimate expression. They must train like an athlete to achieve.

Just as in days of old when Olympians would ascend to Mount Olympus, today, artists who have had their greatness confirmed are found on the mount topped by the Getty Center. This museum complex is something we have created as an apotheosis of greatness. Not every artist’s work makes its way here, just as not every athlete makes it into the Olympics. But, no matter what our version of greatness is, to be truly great, we set up our win in the training, in the discipline, in the practice.

So athletes and artists, ascend to those heights–and train, train, train!


(Originally written August 18, 2016)