4 things that all artists should learn from Antonio Gaudi’s life

Traveling Europe for 45 days, I met numerous artists — El Greco, Picasso, Klimt, Van Gogh, Gauguin etc. I knew them and learned about them even before I came to Europe.

And I’ve never heard of Antonio Gaudi before (yes, maybe sth was wrong with me…), but he was the most impressive artist during my entire trip in Europe.

His attitude and qualities as an artist impressed and inspired me so much. The more I got to learn about him, the more my jaw dropped open. I contemplated “why would he be the most memorable one among all the artists?”, and it was because of his life lessons as an artist.

Here are those four important advices, especially for artists, embedded in his life and works.

1. Have your own spiritual mentor/supporter

Sagrada Familia ceiling - shape of leaves and trees
Sagrada Familia ceiling – shape of leaves and trees

Gaudi, along with Michelangelo, was probably the most religious artist in the world.

He wasn’t popular or handsome as Picasso and was very obstinate person. His one and only friend throughout his lifetime would be his sponsor, Eusebi Guell, who recognized and loved Gaudi’s talents. Gaudi was not an attractive friend or man to people. Moreover, he might have been used to being along, as he was sick and thus, played by himself since he was young.

Instead, he had his own lifetime partner: God. He was religious as much as any other pastors. Whether he was sad or happy, he relied on God.

Among his buildings, his spiritual devotion and love towards God is fully embodied in Sagrada Familia. Therefore, Sagrada Familia is so-called as ‘the only place that God can rest if he comes down to the earth.’  Proving his strong faith, Sagrada Familia’s shape is much more beautiful from God’s point of view (skybird-view). People once mocked that Sagrada’s each pillar looks like a corn, but if you look it from the upwards, it’s supposed to be a blooming flower.

From the moment he started working on Sagrada Familia’s architecture until his death, his incredible concentration and devotion was only possible because he had someone to rely on — and especially because it was related to his work; God and Cathedral. God was his inspiration and energy not only during Sagrada Familia’s work, but probably since he started working as an architect. People rarely recognized his talents or approved his uniqueness, and some even hated him as a person. However, based on his strong spiritual strength, he believed in his works and success and sticked to his own architectural style and concept, which is highly inspired by God’s gift — nature.

To an artist, who easily becomes lonely and needs to endure hardships and failure by oneself, the existence of spiritual supporter is extremely helpful. It motivates one’s artworks and makes one mentally stronger — which would lead to one’s success.

2. Consistent and unique source of creativity generates your own story

Gaudi had his own unique source, and that made him special and different from other artists/architects.

It was NATURE – he loved nature, saying that it’s God’s best gift on earth. In addition, when he was sick in early ages, nature was his best friend — he observed nature everyday and inspired by it.

The nature easily became his strength and specialty as an artist. There is none of his artworks that are not related to the nature. Nature was his artistic motivation and the most significant material. It soon became his own artistic identity and storytelling.

Everything in his architecture is based on NATURE. (photos below)

  • Many parts of Parc Guell is built by natural materials (as you can see in the photos above)
  • Lots of shapes are inspired by animals or trees – lizards, dragons, palm trees, etc.
  • Casa mila’s wall reminds us of waves
  • Sculptures on top of Casa mila are largely influenced by the landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey.
  • And MANY MORE…

Besides mere shapes, Gaudi considered environment during the construction. (photos below)

  • Sands and dragon-head drains function as filtering and purifying rainwater.
  • Unused or broken dishes and ceramics were recycled into a mosaic tile ceiling of the room with Doria-style pillars.

And there’s another interesting story related to the nature during the construction of Parc Guell.

A huge tree trunk was disturbing the original plan. Since 1/3 of pillars were already completed, laborers suggested Gaudi to cut the tree. However, Gaudi insisted, “I cannot harm God’s gift. Let’s start all over again.” He actually re-designed the entire row of palm-tree pillars.

The workers would have definitely hated Gaudi, but it is undeniable to confirm his unbelievable adherence and love towards the nature. And that left such interesting stories about him as well (:P)

Like this, Gaudi consistently utilized nature and almost made it as his unique brand. Nowadays, many artists cross the borders between different arts and use various materials/sources. However, I believe no matter what you do or which field you’re in, having a particular inspiration/source of creativity definitely helps an artist to make his/her own style and story.

3. Love and Believe in yourself! (It’s okay to be too much about it)

Gaudi adhered to his own values and believed in his abilities.

Dean of his architecture school called him as ‘Either a genius or an idiot.’ His style was too unique and out of nowhere to contemporary people. Conservative professors especially could not understand his designs and ignored his creative ideas.

Yet, Gaudi was not depressed or succumbed to what others thought. At the graduation, he confidently shouted out, “We will see who’s the best” to the professor and left the school.

His persistence, or stubbornness, did not change until he died. When he was building Casa Vicens (the photo below), a house dedicated to a brick factory’s owner, the owner allowed him to use the bricks for free as much as he wanted. Gaudi always put the quality as the priority. He did not care about the costs at all. A normal person would have stopped using expensive bricks and lowered the costs if the factory was about to broke in business. However, Gaudi was like NOPE. After this building, the owner’s factory was almost bankrupted…

Of course, being too stubborn is not good. Gaudi died because of his rigid personality. He often said that cars should be careful of people; why do we have to? And while constructing Sagrada Familia, he was hit by a car and passed away…

It’s good to have confidence about your artworks and insights, but not TOO MUCH about everything…

4. Being Humble never hurts you — Basic attitude of craftsman

Gaudi was stubborn and persistent, but he was not arrogant, rude, or lazy.

Since he was a student, instead of sitting in front of the desks and drawing designs, he preferred to go out and work in the fields, make his own samples, and practiced blueprints by himself. After he opened his own shop, he did his best to every customer — regardless of their status or wealth. When he submitted a very small work to Paris exhibition, he showed his craftsmanship and ingenuity.

Even after he became a popular and successful architect, he always visited the sites to research and survey. He worked with laborers as a site director for most of his architectures. His such attitude made laborers feel like their efforts were recognized and respected. Maybe this was why Gaudi’s buildings were not destroyed during one of the most tragic incident/protests in 1908-1909 in Barcelona.

(Pendulums that Gaudi used to calculate the architectural design of Sagrada Familia. If you make it up-side down, you’ll see the shape of the cathedral.)

If you take a look at Sagrada Familia’s outside human sculptures, they are super-detailed. And one of the sculptures has 4 toes in one foot. It’s BECAUSE Gaudi plastered actual humans. He brought alcoholics, beggars and outsiders into the church and plastered them.

People in the church argued, “How can you plaster those people while building the holy cathedral?”

And Gaudi wisely replied, “Everyone is equal in front of God.”

He respected everyone and was humble about his status.

Regardless of his status or popularity,

he was always humble and did his best for every work.

Through such attitude and craftsmanship, he has gained a high reputation even after his death.


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