Talented people with some measure of ability in accruing skill have the same proposition before them as anyone else: live in service of ideals higher than oneself or indulge in smallness for the sake of comfort.

Most of the talented in this irreligious age choose the latter. They build up what amounts to stupid human tricks. They get really good at making a bowl of macaroni and cheese a certain way. They become good at singing in an ugly fashion. They get good at not actually working for a living but skimming off the top someone else’s hard won work. Or they become skilled at just getting by. Or they do some dumb thing like become the world’s greatest ______ (insert latest hobby people have taken up).

To endeavor to greatness in a chosen field automatically means being set against the norm. This is too uncomfortable a prospect for most talented people. The early, egotistical payoff of having won attention for their talent hits up against the realities of modernity’s tendency to lop off the head of anyone too good at anything. The most vain of the talented will quietly lie to themselves that they didn’t truly surrender but you see a marked drop-off in the beauty of their output. This was commonly referred to as the “sophomore slump” in recording artists. The second album is never as good as the first. Or for the prodigious, the breakout album is always followed up by a clunker.

The cost of greatness goes up as we age, too. There’s the old adage that if you have not contributed something groundbreaking in your field by 25 or 30, you’ll never “get over the hump”. There is a lot of truth to this. But there is also the truth of working harder to overcome cognitive decline in middle age in order to get over the hump again and again. Add the pressures of civilized society working to undermine greatness and corrupt the soul and the “thin and narrow” gets awfully narrow as the years go by.

Doing something above average takes tremendous effort and dedicated focus, let alone something great. Most people are too interesting in nursing themselves to sleep with electronic devices.

The West is sinking. It is taking artistry and potential artistry down with it. Those committed to their craft must dig ever deeper to find the enlivening spark. This will not always be the way. Anything less, however, and the artist risks falling into domesticated human tricks. A knack for working with marble turns into a knack for making cookies and muffins and getting fat. A knack for soaring, operatic themes turns into a withering enthusiasm for complicated video games or keeping many browser tabs open at once. A love for prolonged social contact with grand projects in mind turns into farting around on social media from sunup to sundown. The domesticated human tricks that vaulted many a billionaire into the stratosphere are losing their charm. Only true artistry will survive.