Artwork by Whitney Waller via Creative CommonsIs this drawing reflective of skill or talent?

Artwork by Whitney Waller via Creative Commons
Is this drawing reflective of skill or talent?

Today is a standing on my soap box kind of day.

A few weeks ago at work I had a conversation with a colleague I’ve had more than once in my life. Someone with limited to no art education started a conversation with me about skill versus talent. It ultimately led to the same larger question many people ask me “my opinion on:” Is art a skill or a talent?

This is a question that I get really passionate and riled up about. In schools parents use the art as talent justification to argue their kids deserve higher grades if they “try” at the course, even if they have no skill. (I’d love to see someone posit that argument for a math class). Adults I know use it to justify their lack of skill and their discomfort talking about and practicing art. The most recent argument I heard art was equated with sports and people’s performance in sports (people can practice but that doesn’t mean they will be an Olympic athlete). (Funny, still feel like I could argue that for math or any other subject).

When people ask me this question it is still framed as “my opinion.” I want to kick someone in the shins when they do this. Especially when I share my opinion, based in years of education and experience, and they push it aside and hold to their beliefs, as ignorant as they might be.

Art has elements of SKILL, just like learning to write an essay has techniques, or playing football has techniques. If you never learn those basic skills and steps, then of course you will have limited skill! But, if your education incorporates those techniques and skills, you will become more skillful. This isn’t rocket science people.

Is art skill, or purely talent? Artist Strong has the answer: read to learn more.

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I see this especially from my experience with students from Korea who come to our school. Almost every student I’ve worked with from Korea here can draw nearly photo-realistically. This does not mean the stereotype people hold is true (People from Asia are better at art). Actually, their education incorporates drawing skills as part of their curriculum from a young age. And as we all know the sooner you put hours into something and if you are taught a skill and made to practice it, you will get more skillful.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards also proves “art as talent” is fallacy. Look at some before and after drawings done by adults after one year of practice and techniques taught.

Now, I’m not saying there is no such thing as talent. Just like any subject (math, sport, English), some people are predisposed to specific skills. And that predisposition can lead people to their choices in school, and/or even a career. I just HATE IT when people use this “story” as an excuse. It’s okay if you have no interest in learning how to draw or don’t have the time, but admit to it. “I just don’t have the talent” is an excuse. Own that it is. And its more infuriating to me that someone with no background in the arts feel they can make that justification with the same authority as an arts educated individual (which leads into a whole question of how the subjectivity of arts allow people to feel authority of statement and opinion without educated support or justification). Yet, is it their fault when our society and institutions do not support arts education?

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What’s your take on the art as skill or talent? How do you handle the question of art versus skill? What responsibility do we have to educate others about the arts?

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