I am reposting with his permission a great blog posting by Jim Bortz, a fellow wildlife artist. You can check out his blog at: http://jimbortzart.blogspot.com/
Talent... or Skill?
by Jim Bortz
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. Or the fact that if it were physically possible to “shit out a painting”, the “important” galleries in London, LA, and New York would be fighting over my so-called “art.” But I digress). 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 much rather that romance be directed toward the finished piece than any mistaken enchantment in its creation.
Cathy's thoughts on the topic:
I am re-posting because it is a topic that I have almost posted about myself several times, but never been able to figure out quite how to do so without offending. I get told that I am "so talented" often with both my photography and my artwork in recent years and each time it causes a bit of a clenching of my jaw. I know it is a well meaning comment, but the term talent indicates that the skills you see before you are something that someone was born with, not requiring further development, and I know that is only a very small part of it. And yes I am talented, but it is maybe 1% of what makes me the artist that I am. As a matter of fact throughout high school I was little more than an average artist, but I enjoyed it and I pushed myself to improve through practice and seeking honest and constructive feedback and learning from those who were more skilled than me. I have literally spent 20 to 40 hours a week for over 10 years learning my artistic skills. I have messed up many drawings and deleted hundreds of thousands of bad photos, but through it all I have taken my 'talents' and learned and honed my skills, and honestly I still am still learning and still honing :) I learn new things with ever work that I create. Yes, it is nice to be talented, to have a natural affinity for something, however like most artists (or top sports figures, or world class musicians) talent will only take you a little ways by itself. To truly become a good or even great artist requires much more than talent - it requires sweat, tears, and MANY hours of hard work. I once heard an art teacher say that they would much rather have one hard working student than ten talented, but lazy ones (and that the hard working one will usually go further with their art in the long run that the talented one), so go forth, work hard and prosper, with or without any natural talent!
My thanks to Jim for allowing me to re-post his article.