Thursday, December 08, 2011

Talent or Skill?

My Facebook friend Jim Bortz posted this on his blog and I had to share it. It may be a should I say...heavy handed, but I appreciate his sentiment. I know that when someone who is not an artist comes to me and says, "You are an artist? That must be so relaxing!" (obviously never had to make a living at it), or "That looks just like a photograph" (Here, I must say, is always said as a compliment. But we do not paint like photographs, we paint. I appreciate the compliment, but that is not what I was trying to do.)

One of the hardest things I had to get through to my friends was that just because I work at home, does not mean that I do not work. I do not have time to go to a movie in the afternoon, or to get a pedicure just because you have a day off. I work, I work hard. If I am not painting, I am studying painting, or going through reference, studying anatomy, in the field up to my hips in mud watching how a cow moves, or a horse grazes. I once had to chase a wolf pup down who had one of my lenses in his mouth.  I sit on the back porch and dissect the light coming through the trees and how I can make that work on canvas. I am NEVER not working. Yes, I have the greatest job on the planet. I am lucky to be able to do what I do, but don't think that it comes does not. I am grateful that you like what I do, I am happy if I can make something for you that makes you happy. I am truly blessed, but I work hard for that blessing.

Here is Jim's post...

Talent... or Skill?

When someone tells me that I’m “talented,” I know it’s a term of admiration… though unknowingly misguided. Don’t admire my talent, for it is such a small part of what I do. Admire my dedication, skill, and sacrifice. Those are the qualities of which I’m most proud.

It starts out innocent enough. Someone at a show or exhibit will be gushing over my work, tossing complements about like rice at a wedding (no one throws rice anymore, do they?) and all but making me squirm with at having to say “thank you” so many times. Then the words come out that make my blood boil. “I wish I had your talent. This must come naturally to you.” Really? Like I eat a couple of tubes of paint for breakfast every morning and crap out finished 12x16 canvas later the same night (never mind how painful that might be. And I know they mean nothing hurtful by these words, so I just smile and nod hoping they don’t notice my white knuckles as I grind a fist into my leg. If they only knew the mind-boggling stack of past failures it took to get here and the paralyzing knowledge that there are many more failures to come... the years of study and frustration to achieve a level of competence where I wouldn’t throw up at the thought of showing my work in public... the amount of research and planning it takes before I ever dip a brush in paint.

I love what I do, but there is no “magic” in the process. It’s simply work. Not the kind of work you do with a wrench or shovel. I’ve done plenty of that in my time. And not unpleasant work, but a continual task of study, experimentation, evaluation, and then application of a learned knowledge. It’s a skill… not a talent. The magic happens when someone stands in front of a painting and says something like, “I’ve been there” or “I can almost smell that water.” Now that’s magic!

I don’t deny that it’s possible (maybe even necessary) talent may play a part in the stages of artistic development. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an obsession with drawing. Still, I didn’t understand much about it until I started studying the work and teachings of others who were highly skilled at the craft. To dismiss what any skilled craftsman or woman does as some whimsical gift by a higher power is an insult (though it’s almost never intended that way)

There will always be folks that disagree with me on this subject (though very few of them are professional artists), and that’s okay. I’m not really hoping to change anyone’s mind. These merely the ramblings of my own tormented mind (discussed in an earlier post). It’s fine that there is some mystery to art. It adds an element of romantic notion to what I do. But I’d rather that romance be directed toward the finished piece than any mistaken enchantment in its creation.

I think he says what we all think at some time or another. We have a tendency to dismiss the work that goes into a finished product. If you go to a restaurant and get a really amazing meal, your thought is not that the chef was know that he/she studied to combine those elements of the food to make it work. If your mechanic fixes your brakes, you know that he/she studied to learn how to do that. An artist is no different. We study, we learn, we fail, we flail, we recover, we have ah ha moments, and we succeed every now and then.

Just to let you know, we appreciate your comments, bad and good. We listen, and sometimes we learn, but you are the reason that we do this. If no one was there to look at our work, why would we do it?

Thank you.


Linda Besse said...

Very well put Vikki. Your analogy of the chef is an excellent one.
This talent/skill discussion reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago. I had just shown some of my early painting attempts (my first 6 paintings) to an artist I admired. Gamini Ratnavira. I wanted his feedback but the driving question I had for him was, Do I have "it"? Do I have talent?
He very wisely said it didn't matter if I had talent. How bad do I want it? How bad do I want to be an artist? That is all that matters, he said.
How right he was. I have never forgotten his valuable lesson. I am only going to have better paintings if I work to have better paintings. If I strive to push myself, go outside of my comfort level, try new things.

One of the definitions for talent in Webster's is "a special often creative or artistic aptitude." Aptitude is defined in Webster's as a "capacity for learning."

Being a full time artist is a lot of work. Juggling shows, hotels, deadlines, framing, shipping, and taxes are just some of the more mundane tasks we need to employ. Utilizing every ounce of artistic skill to create a painting can be joyous or frustrating or both at the same time.
These skills are constantly honed.
As for talent, if someone sees my work and thinks I have an "artistic capacity for learning," I am flattered. And challenged to learn more.

B Lancton said...

What an excellent couple of posts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts at the perfect moment for me, as I shift gears in order to spend my time pursuing art full time.

naturegirl said...

@ Linda,I feel the same way about being an artist. We do not do this to become rich. We do this because we love it. If I were really good at math, I could be a scientist, if I were good at biology, I could be a vet. But when it comes right down to it, I love being an artist. I don't know if I am good at it or not, but I love what I do and it is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
I am blessed to have people like you in my life that encourage me, and make me keep on..keeping on. Thank you.

naturegirl said...

@B..Congratulations for making the big jump. If you ever need someone to talk to or even just vent to...I am here. You are welcome to call my studio any time.