Easy Street

The painter Titian was a workhorse. As a teenager, he apprenticed for Giorgione, who taught him to paint by way of imitating his works. Titian, in other words, learned to paint by counterfeiting. He learned well, we know, because every now and then, a Giorgione piece is discovered to have been a Titian all along.

The next part of Titian’s career – decades of his life – are marked by what seem like tedious, low level hustling. There is hardly a person in Italy whose portrait he didn’t paint. He didn’t just do nobles and kings but their families and friends. Charles V, alone, he painted at least five times. For years he had the standing right to paint the Doge of Venice, and did successive portraits of multiple reigns. Often, he worked not by the patronage system, but on contract. Doing so much a pop, churning out paintings like a machine.

Vasari remarked that near Titian’s death, his style seems to change from a deliberate, painstaking technique to a loose, bold, even coarse series of brush strokes. Yet, from up close and afar, the works are still perfect – maybe better than what he did in his youth. Thinking that this was the key to his success, his imitators have tried to copy the style to mediocre and sloppy results. What they missed, Vasari realized, was that Titian’s comfort concealed the labor beneath the work; it hid the years spent in repetitious portrait painting, of working on the wage system, of learning every variety of face and light and committing it deep into his intuitive memory.

I guess what I mean to say is that we’re often like Titian’s imitators. We perceive a freedom and ease that simply does not exist. In fact, it not only doesn’t exist, but it obscures an effort we haven’t even begun to conceive. I remember when I first left school, I would see people come and go into the office while I was stuck with a schedule and a desk. It felt like they were free and I was in chains. Like, what it must feel to come and go as you please. To feel so secure in your position.

Now I have all that and I realize I was chasing a ghost. I don’t suddenly feel less constrained, I feel more. I’d seen the physical manifestations, what time they came in or where they answered the phone, and tricked myself into thinking that once you got there it all came easy. And of course, it doesn’t, it gets harder.

But if you can rid yourself of the pressure, you can at least start to understand that each one of theses phases has a purpose, purposes that are critically reliant on the phase that came before it. And appreciate it instead of struggling with resentment or dissatisfaction.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.