This month I had the opportunity to travel with our Clemson Women’s Basketball program for their foreign tour in Italy. Traveling through a country with such rich history and historic sites was an incredible experience. In between basketball games, the group had opportunities to witness famous works of art. One of the most notable pieces was Michelangelo’s sculpture of David. Throughout the tour, we learned how Michelangelo approached his work and why the statue of David is so unique. There is a lot we can learn from Michelangelo to help us perform in our own crafts too.
One of the most notable lessons I took from Michelangelo was the amount of preparation he did before creating the sculpture of David. Renaissance sculptors who worked in marble traditionally were trained to create their pieces in life-size plaster molds prior to any work on the actual marble piece. Marble is an expensive material and leaves no room for error. With clay and other mediums, artists can reattach pieces if too much was taken off or go back over areas if mistakes were made. This is not the case for marble though. There is no option to reattach pieces if too much is chipped off, and markings on marble cannot be covered up. What made the statue of David so impressive was that Michelangelo was the only sculptor who did not use a mold prior to working with the marble.
Hearing about the extensive preparation this required, Michelangelo had to be confident in every chip he made. In these early times, detailed information on the human body and all the intricate muscles and tendons were still unknown. Michelangelo dedicated time studying human remains and conducting his own autopsies to learn and understand all elements that connected the body together. In viewing David, it is clear how much Michelangelo studied and prepared to understand the details of the human body before carving out his figure. The tendons and muscles are extremely precise. His preparation helped him build confidence in his ability to know and understand all elements before chipping into the marble itself. His dedication to his research and preparation helped him boldly do what no other sculptor felt comfortable doing – risking failure and mistakes in the marble slab by sculpting without a mold.
Often in sport, or any performance in general, we want to know that things will work out successfully before we act. We are looking for our own version of a plaster mold prior to performance. We want to know that we can smooth over mistakes and still be successful. We can learn a lot from Michelangelo though. The more time we prepare and more energy we dedicate to understanding and mastering our craft, the more confident we can be committing to our actions in the face of unknown outcomes. When we are confident in our training and knowledge of our craft, we can perform at the highest level, create our own masterpiece, and boldly do what others may be too afraid to do.