He was intimidated by the scale of the commission for the Sistine Chapel painting, as he felt he was more of a sculptor than a painter, even though he painted from the time he was a child.
Carving and painting share a common skill of visualization, but approach it very differently. Carving and sculpting is a process of subtraction, taking away. Michelangelo once said, “I just keep carving until I reach the skin.” Painting, on the other hand, is a process of addition, of covering up something with style.
A master sculptor can take a meaningless block of wood or stone and chip it away until it is a beautiful piece of art. Claude Monet could take organic plants and minerals, mix them up with oil, then layer them on canvas to create an impressionist masterpiece of a woman sitting along the Seine river in Paris. Subtraction and Addition, sounds simple, right?
A great story also needs the skills of carving and painting, or subtraction and addition. My experience has shown that sales and marketing people, in trying to sell their products, tend to give too much information… way too much information. They pile on so much paint that you can’t discern what the original painting ever was.
The best way to create and deliver your story is to first “carve” out your message by chipping away all the superfluous and getting down to the skeleton of your story. Once you’ve tested the skeleton and you can see that it will stand on it’s own, and is sound, then “paint” on the elements of your story around that skeleton; it’s how you bring your message to life, turn it from a message to your story.
One of my clients struggled with their message and tried everything they could. Their “painting” never dried before the next trial coat was applied. To say it was smudged and ugly would be kind. We then put their product leadership team together and helped them to “carve” out what their unique selling proposition was; they all agreed that they were all about helping their clients be “free to focus” on their core work, rather than their chore work.
Once they had this skeleton, they could then paint various versions of this skeleton, all saying the same thing. One version was a simple drawing on the back of a napkin showing the impact of more time for the buyer executive; another was a story of better decisions since that aspect of the buyer’s work was being offloaded to experts.
Carving and painting, subtracting and adding; it’s the genesis of good sales messaging and presentations. Oh, you might find it interesting, that as great a sculptor and paint as Michelangelo was, on his deathbed, his final words that he was just beginning to understand the “alphabet of my profession.” Remember that next time you think you got your job down.