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.



Aaron Traas said...

I'll agree with you that these types of things are learnable skills and most people can achieve a fair bit with simply practice and tenacity whether in art, music, engineering, etc., but there is a such thing talent. It's more about raw ability and predispositions in a given sphere. I have some natural talent that, when combined with training and practice, makes me very good at software engineering and architecture. I'm also really bad at the kind of math necessary for doing a lot of advanced 3D work, and that's why I'm not doing video games.

What people don't realize is that "talent" only really manifests itself after lots of practice and hard work -- most people can attain a baseline level of performance in a given skill with practice, whilst the truly talented can go beyond that.

I do wish I had given a more well-rounded education in the arts, music, philosophy, etc. I'm taking philosophy classes now, and frankly, it's made me a better programmer. I've given up on learning music because of time; I simply can't fit it in my life with work and family life. My daughter will have it better than me; she'll receive a more rounded education.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that anyone can be taught to draw - and that can then be improved on with much practice, however, your analogy with the musician is not really very apt. The musician is only interpreting what the composer has composed, and surely you can't deny that, say, Mozart at a very early age did not have some kind of a talent for creating beautiful music? Some people are more gifted than others with abilities in different areas, and whilst those who are less gifted may through a lot of hard work and application "catch up", whilst some of those with the gifts never really use them (or abuse them)there are also those who, try as they will, can never achieve artistic "heights". It is easy for anyone with application to be a copy-artist, but to be able to create something with originality,vision,and beauty, in my opinion, takes talent-(which is God-given.)

Lazarus said...

One of the problems with the romantic cult of the artistic genius is that it has destroyed the sense of the importance of competence. Most of us won't be more than competent drawers or musicians, just as we'll be only competent users of English and not literary geniuses. But that's still worth pursuing. As Chesterton said, 'If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly'!

Anonymous said...

Ah, but it's a fine line between competence and mediocrity. Of course anyone should draw/paint/perform music etc. and do their utmost to perfect whatever they see as their particular art form. It doesn't make them "great" artists, and as long as they don't want to be considered as such, that's fine. The problem arises when people who are simply competent start believing they are achieving great heights, yet they don't have the talent to go beyond that certain competence. There are too many "artists" out there flogging work, or performing in a mediocre manner who think they're great. They are not, and never will be; but if someone wants to stop at the mediocre level those artists have achieved (maybe through hours and hours of hard work) and spend their pennies on it, all well and good. It doesn't make for edifying and raising up to a higher level which great art (which does actually exist, due to a God-given talent that some people have) can do.