No one is born good at art.

Welcome to the other side, I hope you all made it through the New Year’s alright.

Over the Holiday break I have immersed myself in fixing the major weaknesses of my art. There are several things I have just been ignoring or putting off. There are still preconceived notions about art and how to work that I am tearing down in my own psyche. It is amazing how many of these preconceived notions there are.

I think I have mentioned how I struggled with the idea that art skills were something people were just gifted with at birth. I struggled with this issue big time early in my art career. It nearly caused me to quit hundreds of times. It is difficult as a new artist to look at good or professional artwork and imagine that artist in their adolescence being frustrated when they were trying to convey an image on a page or tearing pages out of their sketchbook because their anatomy makes no sense.

Let’s get this out of the away: No one is born good at art. Nobody is born good at anything. Even the prodigies weren’t born with the skills they needed to execute their profession. They just had an environment that pushed or nurtured them from a very young age. Just because someone has mastered something by age 12, don’t discredit the amount of hard work that went into that skill.

No one is born good at art.

Often, when I hear professional artists talk about this issue, they compare becoming a great artist to being an athlete that plays professional football or basketball. I think these are probably the two worst sports analogies that can be made. Genetics play a big role in these sports. There is no denying the immense amount of hard work that had to go into becoming a professional football or basketball player. They are elite because they worked harder than anyone else, but the average height of an NBA player is 6’7”. I can’t make myself grow taller than my genetics allow barring new scientific discoveries. However, if I was that tall and never practiced shooting a basketball or dribbling I wouldn’t be in the NBA either.

Example: Kam Chancellor 6’3 231 lb Pro Bowl Strong Safety for the Seattle Seahawks. Go Hawks!

NFL athletes are another breed of human. Again, I am not denying the amount of hard work these guys have to put in to get to the league, but they are essentially your modern day comic book characters. It is insane for a man to be 6’2”, 254 lbs and able to run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds. These athletes have to have a genetic bone structure that can support that amount of muscle mass, and the power generated from those muscles when they are exerted.

Now obviously these guys have to practice the skills needed in order to operate at the professional level for these sports. However, I think comparing what it takes to become a good artist to a sport like golf is more accurate. It may not be as sexy but it is far more accurate. I am not a golfer but I can imagine the amount of time and practice it would take to become a professional golfer. Almost anybody could become a professional golfer if they practiced enough and in the right way.

Based on stories I have heard. Frank Frezetta was born with a Photographic memory. Image from www.frankfrazetta.org
Based on stories I have heard. Frank Frezetta was born with a Photographic memory. Image from www.frankfrazetta.org

Based on what I’ve observed from really good artists, it seems they fall into one of three categories.

Born with a Photographic Memory. This is the one genetic trait I can think of that can give a person an advantage from birth. This is also known as an eidetic memory. I think most of us picture every great artist as having this talent when we are starting out. But this is so rarely the case.

Starting Young . It may seem that some have been good at art their whole life, but this can be because they have been drawing since they can remember. This doesn’t mean they didn’t work hard. They just put in an incredible amount of work early in their life. Eventually, they probably hit a point where they refined their skills with focused study.

Anthony Jones didn't start working to beome an artist till his 20's. www.robotpencil.com
Anthony Jones didn’t start working to beome an artist till his 20’s. www.robotpencil.com

Starting Old. Then you have people who love art and don’t start till their 20’s 30’s 40’s, and become amazing artists. I fall into this category.

Often if you ask an artist who has been creating art from a very young age why they draw some of the things they do, they find it difficult to communicate because it is so natural to them. This leads to the idea of art being a magical talent that someone is born with. Let’s run with this line of thinking a second.

At what point in history has art been such a viable profession? It has probably only been in the last century, maybe even half century that anyone has been able to just pursue the life of an artist without living in abject poverty or having a wealthy patron. Many of the artists in history came from a more privileged background that gave them access to a mentor or to attend a prestigious art school. Now I could be completely wrong about this because I don’t have a whole lot of art history in my education. (Which is why I will be doing some art history posts with more facts and less hypothesis in the future.)

What I do know is that in the past (and present), schools that had credible arts programs tended to be very expensive. Add to that the artists who have started so young they’re unable to articulate how they’ve learned to do certain things and the fact that out of 100 people off the street, only one could probably draw anything better than a stick figure and you get a generation of mystery. This all leads to the preconceived notion that art is a skill reserved for those born with natural skills. It lends itself to have a mystical air about it, when that isn’t true. It is a skill that should be taught like math or science. Unfortunately, art hasn’t been regarded as important as some of the STEM disciplines in the traditional academic model.

Fortunately for us, the internet has completely changed how art education or any education can be consumed. In fact, art education has never been so available to the masses as it is now. Becoming a good artist is not magic, it is not something someone is born with, and it is not a gift. There are no shortcuts, there are no special brushes, or tricks that are going to instantly make you a good artist. Becoming a good artist is just years of extremely hard work, and if you love being an artist that work will extremely fulfilling.

What is something you are currently struggling with in your art journey? Let me know if the comments.

I have been messing around with watercolors lately, and they have been super fun and rewarding.
I have been messing around with watercolors lately, and they have been super fun and rewarding.
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