Chip Off the Old Block

Renaissance artist Michelangelo claimed that his job was to free the human form trapped inside the block. His words, apparently were:

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and in action.  I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

Moses by Michelangelo

Moses by Michelangelo

I see a great similarity between sculpting and writing. You start with a thought or purpose in mind that has to be conveyed to a particular audience. Then begins the task of writing and chipping away to make a final piece that then gets the reaction that is often proportional to the clarity of the initial ‘thought’ of what had to be conveyed, and the efforts taken to ‘chip away’ to arrive at it. A slightly different move with the chisel [or pen] can create something completely different from what was planned, sometimes better, sometimes worse.

Blaise Pascal beautifully captured some of that in a sentence when he said “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” A very interesting contradiction, where one would normally assume that longer or bigger looking tasks and thoughts would automatically take more time and effort, where as it is usually the most simple ones that take much longer and way more effort.

Coming back to the profound yet simple perspective of Michelangelo’s, I believe it finds application in any area of work or life too. It is about seeing clearly, things as you want them to be, or as they should ideally be. It could be about initiating a change in culture at work, conceptualizing and developing of a product, or about how you’d like your career or an important relationship to shape out in the long run. 

Once you can visualize that, then comes the simple part of chipping away the extra bits that stand between how things are and how they should be. If you are not seeing the objective or destination first, you are not really going anywhere.

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