Ferrari driver Niki Lauda was Formula One’s World Champion in 1975, 1977 and 1984. Ron Howard’s 2013 feature film “Rush” explores the relationship between Niki and his rival, English driver James Hunt. “A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends,” says Niki in the film. He reminds us that rivalry can be a powerful source of innovation. When used for a positive outcome, it’s called a productive rivalry. Creative folks can use this system.
The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company suggests that companies in search of creative bursts refer to the rivalries that catalyzed artistic innovation during the Italian Renaissance. In a relatively short period of time the Italians invented linear perspective and modern-day portrait painting. They made startling innovations in sfumato and chiaroscuro that continue to influence painting to this day. As well as strides in glassblowing and bronze casting, Italian architects and craftsmen produced the world’s largest masonry dome.
In Renaissance Italy, those who competed for patronage, commissions and prestige produced better work.
To today’s artistic sensibility, it might all sound a bit uncomfortable. In modern times we are often encouraged to protect our ego-force and individuality by securing a private world in which to develop our unique artistic voice. Many artists find themselves solo-paddling along a private and unchallenging river.
Could rivalry be a productive system? Here are some thoughts:
Study the processes and methods of those who are better at it than you. Even though you’re the resident genius, you can bet your last Lira there’s someone who knows something you don’t, who has honed a skill more than you have. Rival your rival.
Know your space. In 1506, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Originally, portraits of the Twelve Apostles were proposed. Michelangelo countered with a grander scheme portraying humanity’s need for salvation. Michelangelo stuck to his vision and Julius finally agreed. Your rival may be your boss.
Stretch your goals. Media mogul, conservationist and philanthropist Ted Turner, not exactly an Italian, lived by his father’s words: “Never set goals you can reach in your lifetime.” In other words, think big and think far off. Your real rival is Time.
P.S. “He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” (Benjamin Franklin)
Esoterica: In Michelangelo’s day, the term closest to rivalry was paragone, which translates as “comparison.” Not meant to diminish, but rather to push to greater heights, its goal was to generate respect and passionate striving. As a result, those Renaissance guys were up in their studios late at night wearing out their chisels and brushes. In 1515 the young Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design a few tapestries for the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel. Knowing they would hang directly below Michelangelo’s ceiling, Raphael knocked the bocce ball right out of the court. Raphael’s Sistine tapestries set a standard for all tapestries yet to come.
Absolutely spectacular family
Nine minute CBC Radio interview with Robert Genn here.
Revenge on a rival
by Rick Ross, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
While I agree with the basic tenets of benefitting from rivalry, and that our rivals force us to reach and better ourselves in whatever field we find ourselves, the idea that Michelangelo and Julius agreed on a grand theme for man’s need for salvation is spurious. After reading Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book, Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, I was surprised to learn that the theme of the paintings on the famous ceiling are all based on Old Testament and apocryphal stories with absolutely no New Testament references. Dixon believes Michelangelo did this in defiance of Pope Julius who in reality forced Michelangelo to paint the ceiling and this was how the great artist fought back. During the years of painting the ceiling the illusion of religiosity allowed him to continue to paint what he did but upon completion it was evident that the ceiling had very little to do with salvation with no New Testament disciples or Jesus. It was Michelangelo’s way of obtaining revenge upon his rival Pope Julius. The theme if any was entirely a Jewish one. Who won in this game of rivalry? Why we did of course and we can still appreciate the greatness of this work of art thanks to a 16th century rivalry that had little to do with salvation.
High cleaning job
by Mabel Gawne
I enjoy your column, each and every time it is published… but this one today is special for me, because I actually spent two hours in the Sistine Chapel (along with a group of other people, on a guided tour). You will be interested to know that there were a few Canadian Art Students that qualified to help clean the soot off the ceiling. Laying on their backs on a movable platform, they washed the ceiling with carefully controlled soap and water, and clean cloths. It was stunning to see the difference when the grime of centuries was removed. Fabulous. The colours were beautiful and some were very delicate… and very detailed… I could not believe my eyes.
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Primitive human drive
by Jason Beck, Dorset, UK
From the earliest times, primitive people competed for food, mates, attention and other more subtle needs. The idea of rivalry is innate to Mankind. Those artists who might deny the condition and consider themselves “doing it just for themselves” are missing out on a powerful, natural force.
by Alok Hsu Kwang-han, China
I appreciate very much shifting the gestalt from rivalry as a destructive fight to using it as a source of innovation and creativity. This way the rival is not looked at as an enemy but a friend and teacher. The energy is no longer wasted in opposition but harnessed as complementary support for both the self and the rival in the advancement of art that includes all of us. Engaging with the rival can also be seen as Taichi for building the energy and skill as we learn to dance with the “real rival” which is “Time.” Thank you for this “key.”
Who doesn’t compare?
by Arlene Woo, Honolulu, HI, USA
Although we artists like to think we are painting for our own enjoyment, who among us doesn’t compare our”work” to others, whether it be in a class critique or in the marketplace. In this day and age, where everyone gets a trophy for participating, we need to strive for our personal best. We must be our own honest judges.
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Strive forward together
by Davin Hatch
In response to “Claim your rival” — so articulate and relevant to so many areas of our lives. I have read the Latin base of “compete” is “to strive forward together” or to that affect. My wife, Vicki, had mentioned your writings — unfortunately I have been late to the table. I wish I had discovered this earlier, as it truly is sustenance for the soul and for our creative selves.
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by Christine Girvani O’Brien, Carpinteria, CA, USA
I have to tell someone what the Finder’s Fees percentages will be for referred sales and referred commissions. This is artwork that I’m doing on the side of my Fine Art that helps to pay the bills — more of a commercial nature I guess, so a couple of these particular pieces will be on an easel in a store for sale but also advertising commissions via a sign. Here are the figures I came up with but have not yet passed on to him: Between $0 – $800 = 15% commission to Finder Between $801 – $2000 = 10% Commission to Finder Above $2000 = 5% Commission to Finder. Does this sound acceptable to you? The store does not have a “gallery section” — it is purely retail. This is a Pet retail “Boutique” that sells quality items. So a portrait of mine is on an easel advertising my commissions. I doubt he will do any extra PR for it, except MAYBE mention it on his website. Other than that, it’s just sitting on an easel in the store.
(Sara G Note) Thanks, Christine. Sliding scales are too fuzzy. I’d make it a steady figure across all referrals and commissions — say 10% — very reasonable. If paintings or other artworks are directly sold “off the wall on their premises” then a 30% to 50% commission is normal. Sounds a lot but there has to be an incentive for the “dealer” and so you can get on with what you do best.
Friends and rivals
by Elihu Edelson, Tyler, TX, USA
Matisse and Picasso — A Gentle Rivalry is an awesome show that was held at the Kimbell Museum in Ft Worth, Texas. Their mutual challenge brought out some of the best work by both artists.
(RG note) Thanks so much for reminding me, Elihu. I had written about the rivalry between Matisse and Picasso on May 2, 2003. It’s here.
oil on board 16 x 20 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Nicoletta Baumeister of Surrey, BC, Canada, who wrote, “The origin of the word ‘rival’ is tied to water competition. It comes from the Latin, rivalis — one who uses the same stream.”
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