Over the past couple of weeks I have made it my goal to get up half an hour earlier than I need to get ready for work and to get some quick sketching time in the mornings.
Using this time has been a great help for me to form this sketching habit and I’ll be using to cover a range of themes and subjects, I began with still life drawing, next week maybe I’ll do some master studies.
Another bonus aspect is that with it being so early in the morning, tight detailed drawings are not the way; this helps me to keep the sketches loose and fluent.
The past few days have been a challenge indeed, I’ve been working on a new drawing for my Leaves of Hellebore project and had everything going nicely up until the end when it came to the hair.
Cursed curly hair, the photo reference I had failed me in those final moments and left me in dire straits.
That’s been it for the past few evenings, hours spent drawing in the hair and then erasing it and repeating until today, I decided to spend a few hours studying hair and drawing from life to gain a better understanding, with the aim of inventing the hair for my drawing and making it look as real as possible.
A couple of pages of sketches I did whilst studying hair.
All said and done, this evening I finished the drawing off and whilst I’m not entirely happy with the hair it looks better than all the previously erased versions I had drawn. Also on the bright side, I’ve learned a lot about how hair works and the fundamentals of drawing it with volume and texture which is the foundation of a lesson that I’ll be building upon for the rest of my life.
Anyway I’ll have the new piece published tomorrow evening accompanied by its part in the story for the Leaves of Hellebore.
When I think about what is probably my favourite era of history; the Renaissance period, aside from the superhuman skills and mastery of most of the artists alive in that era, one of the things that I find the most inspiring is the concept of La Bottega, or the workshop.
The Renaissance was undoubtedly one of the most profound moments of enlightenment, discovery and achievement in human history and a big part of me thinks that something that helped enhance the creativity of this period was the workshops.
With most things in life that people are good at, all too often the hard work, commitment and training of the individuals are brushed off simply as “talent”. With that in mind, I got to wondering if this natural aptitude or skill truly is the case, or is a person’s proficiency in something the result of an intense commitment to their particular craft?
I’m thinking in artistic terms for this particular insight, but following another trail of thoughts on the same topic (which is a very broad ranging topic); would any of the world’s most renowned thinkers and men of science amounted to anything had they had no former education? Can a boxer win the heavyweight without any training just because he was “born to be a boxer”? I personally don’t think that could ever be the case and helps to form my argument that “talent” is the result of a vigorous routine of learning and training.
There are some exceptions to the rule especially when it comes to child prodigies who defy all expectations and say for example, can memorise and play entire Beethoven sonatas on piano at the mere age of five years old; one particular account of this was featured in the Daily Mail a couple of years ago. Now these rare occurrences could make me eat my words but on the contrary, these are very few and far between and not common enough to count for the overuse of the term “talent”.
Let’s use the most world famous artist and genius who is the very epitome of the word Renaissance as an example for my theory. Born on the 15th April 1452, in Vinci in the Florence region of Tuscany in Italy as the bastard son of a wealthy Florentine legal notary; Leonardo’s future prospects could have seemed quite bleak, illegitimate children were not entitled to formal education or highly esteemed careers and usually lived and died as peasants.
Leonardo however grew to be a polymath; he was a painter, inventor, sculptor, architect, scientist, musician, geometer, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, astronomer, cartographer, botanist, philosopher, historian and writer. A very extensive list of attributes and skills indeed and all of these things Leonardo excelled in. He was not born as any of these things, they were all a result of his life, circumstances and interests that pushed him towards a lifetime’s work of genius.
Growing up as a young boy in the Tuscan hills of Vinci, Leonardo took an interest in the natural world and spent a lot of time studying it and sketching, he was also fortunate enough to receive an informal education in Latin, Geometry and Mathematics. His true education started once he reached fourteen years old and become an apprentice to the master Verrochio in 1466. By the age of twenty, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke; a guild of artists, doctors and medicine.
Without now writing a complete biography of Leonardo da Vinci’s life, it’s clear to see that his circumstances; despite being born out of wedlock, and his interests drove him forward to become the man he did, he dedicated his entire life to his work and worked harder than most in doing so. Leonardo da Vinci died on 2nd May 1519 aged sixty-seven and his dying words of modesty were “I have offended God and Mankind, by doing so little with my life.” – that quote alone could be a very interesting topic for a post and debate.
With all this in mind, Leonardo was obviously a talented man but his life’s work can’t be simply put down to “talent”; it truly is the result of a lifelong servitude to his curiosity and thirst for knowledge, sacrificing both relationship commitments and children (not in the pagan sacrificial sense) in order to become the world’s most diversely skilled man.
As may already be evident with what I’ve already wrote, my belief or theory is that “talent” in respect of the connotation it carries is a non-existent force. A person’s talents or attributes/skills as I prefer to call them are the result of a series of different elements:
Circumstances – Where and when one is born and grows up have a massive effect on who one is as a person and who one becomes in later life. The same goes for events in one’s life. Circumstances play a huge role in more than just what skills and attributes one acquires but it is definitely a key element responsible for such things.
Interests – Interests also play an important part in the skills one acquires, without interest in a subject one wouldn’t be willing to learn about it and even if one tried it would be extremely difficult to take in. I have this problem with sports history, I love history beyond most things but as soon as sports history is mentioned I’m looking out of the nearest window and seeing random familiar shapes in clouds. Without interests in a subject, it’s highly unlikely that one would bother with it in the first place, let alone excel in it.
Time – The most valuable thing in the entire world and the one thing no one can get enough of; on the flip side of that though, when it comes to time we were all created equal. Both you and I and everyone else for that matter have the same amount of hours in a day as any of the old masters whether that is in art, science or any field. In order to excel in one’s field though, time must be taken and used wisely to commit to the preferred field of study. If Artist A and Artist B both started studying at the same time and at the same level of experience, but Artist A spent one hour per week drawing whilst Artist B spent one hour per day, it’s pretty hard to imagine that Artist A would become the more proficient draughtsman of the two.
Willingness – Along with the previous three elements, willingness is probably the father of all of them, without willingness there is nothing. The willingness to dedicate oneself to their field of study is paramount to the acquisition of any attributes and skills.
These elements; and there are definitely more, combined with the blood, sweat and tears of a hard worker are the key ingredients for the recipe of a skillset. So where does that leave “talent”? As stated before, talent can be used as an interchangeable word for skill or attribute and thus that is the recipe for talent; talent in the more common use though, as a natural ability one is born with is left as a non-existent entity as far as I’m concerned.
To suggest that artistry is a skill of a selective nature only to be given to a certain percentage of humans makes it seem quite an elitist craft, one that can only be entered into if you were fortunate enough to have been born the recipient of such a skill. It also suggests that if you can’t pick up a pencil or paintbrush and create a work of art instantly then there is no point endeavouring to learn, even if you are extremely interested in it; this puts me in mind of art historians, such formidably knowledgeable people, but most of which never bother to learn to create art due to a sense of inadequacy because of a previous experience of attempting a drawing or painting and it not coming out how they had envisioned it. Personally I think if certain art historians did dedicate themselves to learning the craft, they would have the potential to initiate a new world Renaissance of art.
Questions for Readers
So what do you think about this topic, is artistry a natural talent only gifted to a select number of people in society, or is this skill available to be learned by anyone that holds a keen interest in the craft and who is willing to dedicate their time to learning it?
Do you have a similar or differing theory to this one, or do you perhaps share this theory on talent?
Please feel free to add any comments with answers to these questions or to have a discussion about this topic, I’m all ears (or eyes as my laptop suggests) and more than happy to engage in discussion.
So many people in this world are scared of change, whether big or little; I see it as an opportunity to adapt, start anew and build up an empire, alas, don’t ever fear change but on the contrary, embrace it. – J Glover
I recently made a decision that was found to be shocking by the people around me, my friends and even my wife, who knows me better than anyone. That decision was that after 2 years of working hard in education in order to go to uni, I will no longer be going. This decision wasn’t an off the cuff spur of the moment change of heart about my future caused by being unsure of what I want from life; my end game is the same, my objective clear and concise, a set destination of immovable strength; it’s just the road that I’m taking to get there that is different.
This was incited by troubles in getting the funding that I needed, a lot of hassle and stress that isn’t needed at the best of times, but this minor tribulation set off a whirlwind of thoughts and deep contemplation, tropical brainstorms and meditating until my pulse stopped, weighing up and reasoning on every aspect of my decision to go to university and the course that was available to me.
I had chosen to take a Fine Art BA (Hons) Degree; now when I initially pictured Fine Art, I had a beautifully romanticized vision of a modern Verrocchio’s workshop. Tutors that would teach me to draw and paint like the masters of the Renaissance, Sculpt like Michelangelo and provide plenty of hours worth of figure studies each and every week. Research on different narratives, mythologies and a study of philosophy. Obviously my definition of Fine Art is very outdated and too far gone to even be sniffed at in a modern Fine Art degree. A Fine Art Atelier would probably be better suited to my needs, but due to lack of funding available for such a course and locality this isn’t an option either.
Instead of what I envisioned, the course has dropped figure studies from its curriculum and the rest is more Contemporary than I would like to be involved in, Conceptual art, challenging conventions and Installation work; whilst I have seen artworks from each category that I have liked, it’s not what I personally want to create or be a part of. From unmade beds to condensation cubes and glittered excrement I found myself questioning if it really was for me. The end result of my contemplation was that I don’t want to invest 3 years and so much debt into something that I’m not 100% dedicated to. I’m not suggesting that the course is worthless or that I wouldn’t have learned anything because that would be a ridiculous idea, it’s just not going to teach me what I want to learn and will involve me spending too much time away from what I do want to do and my personal studies.
My next step now is to self educate, with the power of books and the internet on top of spending every day in practical work I will learn to draw and paint in the way I want to, whether frowned upon or not to prefer the traditional methods, that is what I’m going to do, staying true to myself rather than going to university on a whim for the experience or conforming to the Contemporary art industry. It’s funny really that they spend so much time trying to find new ways to “challenge convention” that they’ve lost their way, it’s turned now to the point that I’m challenging convention more by wanting to draw and paint in the traditional manners and techniques.
Also underlying all of this is the fact that I would love to work as a concept artist, for film,TV or computer games and although a lot of this work would be done digitally through software such as Photoshop, it still offers opportunity to be traditional in the sense of creating a narrative using paint, drawing and sketching, research and practice; these are the things that appeal to me more than anything. The thing that would get me a job in the field of Conceptual Design will be my portfolio based around that area, not a degree and a portfolio full of glittered turds and “this is art because I say it is” pieces.
Time is a very important factor as well, by not attending university five days a week, I have the time to go to London regularly to visit galleries, places of interest, museums and draw inspiration from them; I’ll also be able to make more trips to my home away from home that is Italy. Trips to other places of interest and long walks through natural landscapes, sketching and painting as I go will also now be a part of my itinerary. In addition to these things, I’ll have more time to build up my blog and remain consistent with posts, not having to neglect neither this or my artwork due to having to write essays or dissertations and not running on fumes every day. My creativity will be nurtured and in full bloom due to my decision and inspiration comes from within as much as from without, if not more so.
I may have rambled a fair amount through this post but the point of me posting it is to show that change is not something to avoid, change of mind is not a sign of failure or fear to commit, it is something to embrace and use to your advantage wherever possible. We are human, adapting to new situations is part of our being and a skill that comes naturally, never having to be learned as long as you don’t fear to utilize it.