Recently I have been listening to some incredible Lectures by Dr. Micah Christensen about Artists that trained in the Ecole De Beaux Arts in France during the 19th Century ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEfIAZkEQfjHdxSoVWXuRaA ). They are fantastic and very informative of what Artists had to go through to get exceptional at something.
I have always loved the works of Carl Bloch, Alma Tadema, Bougerou, Waterhouse but never thought I could get to the level they were producing at until recently. I remember about 8 years ago reading in a book "A Drawing Course." - Bargue / Jerome that patience to get detail COULD be attained! I am seeing that more and more in my work. There is really no reason to rush a painting if you have the luxury of time to finish it off and I am noticing that I can come back to pieces week after week to finish things off better and better.
This, I believe, is one of the benchmarks of how these Painters I always admired did it. They developed and attained a higher level of patience every time the performed. I have seen earlier works of Master Artists, both deceased and contemporary, that were not nearly as good during their formative years as they were later on in life. I LOVE THIS! IT GIVES EVERY ARTIST BELIEF that they can get better if they keep trying.
Ideally an Artist would have had the whole curriculem that the 19th century academicians would have had but this can not always be the case. I mention this because I am a big believer that if we make the most out of our situations, whatever they may be, a higher power can direct us towards becoming exceptional at our craft.
I just saw a series of portraits William Whitaker did of the Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the Church Office Museum. From my understanding Whitaker did not have a formal "Academic" background but was exceptional at not settling for anything less than perfection. The Portraits he did of the two most recently deceased Presidents of the Church were amazing and exceptionally done. I mention this because I compare them to portraits he did of Presidents of BYU and there is improvement.
For me currently it doesn't get any better than the 19th century Academicians. It may change in time but right now it's a big influence on my craft. I believe any Artist that really pushes himself hard enough, whether through formal schooling or not, can attain their ideal. It's certainly what I am shooting for. There is no reason why in the future my work can not be compared with the Artists I adore if I keep working hard and working for self improvement. This small painting is an example of improvement I am seeing and it gives me a lot of hope!