Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A child can do it

I get tired of hearing "Oh, you must be so talented, I can't draw a straight line..."

We have banned that phrase from this blog.

There is no such thing as "talent" if you mean by it some kind of Harry Potter gene that magically allows you to draw without lessons practice or effort. Leonardo da Vinci was apprenticed to the art studio at the age of 15. All the great masters started full time formal training early in their lives.

This belief that drawing is some kind of magical ability seems ridiculous if you apply the same idea to music. Yoyo Ma was indeed one of those young prodigies that became famous for being a wonderful interpreter of Bach while still in his 20s. But who would suggest, listening to him play, that he had just picked up the cello one day and started at that level? Who would say, "Gosh, he must have natural talent, I can't play the cello that well..." He started lessons when he was five.

If there is "talent" involved at all, I would rather call it love. Yoyo Ma loved the cello and loved music enough to pay very close attention, to want to become better, to examine problems in music and find solutions, to set higher and higher goals for himself. Love is essential of course, but so are a lot of other things that a person can't control. He was born into the right family; his father was his first instructor. He lived in a class and at a time when he was able to devote his time to study.

Ability in art has very little, if anything to do with "talent". I think, in fact, people talk about "talent" to give themselves an excuse not to try. "Oh, there's no point learning or practicing, I don't have the natural talent."

Until recently, instruction in drawing was routinely given to all children and anyone with an education past the primary level could at least render a scene recognisably in charcoal. I will say it again, it is a skill, like cooking or driving, that can, and very much should be taught.