Is Artistic Skill Natural or Learned? Natural

Skills are learned, by their very nature; artistry, however, is inborn.

In the artistic sphere, skills are tools with which one makes art. They are not art in themselves. Such skills might range from the ability to draw a recognizable face, through the ability to play the guitar, to the ability to string words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. The utilization of those skills to draw a picture, or to play a song, or to compose a story is art.

Skills are merely techniques for the creation of an effect, and anybody can learn the basics. If one places one’s finger on the sixth string of a properly tuned guitar above the fifth fret, and then strikes the string, one will sound the A note. Pick a different string or a different fret, and one can sound a different note, with a total of 12 possibilities before repeating the cycle. One can learn scales of five or seven notes, and know that as long as one picks only one of those selected notes, the piece will be in harmony with itself; one can learn to select different notes of the same scale on three to six strings and strum them together as a chord. All of that knowledge is useless, however, without artistry.

Artistry is an internal drive and vision. It is a drive that propels the artist to create, and it is a vision that shows the artist what kind of an effect to seek. These two impulses exist together, rather than striking independently. One does not think, “I really feel like creating something, but I don’t know what.” When one truly wishes to create, one wishes to create something in particular. One wants to write a short story or a poem; one wishes to play a certain kind of song, or perhaps to compose one; or one wants to draw a picture to express that image that hangs vaguely in the back of the mind. One starts with a sense of something that one wants to express, and then looks for a medium with which to express it in a meaningful and satisfying manner.

At its most basic level, artistry is intrinsic to humanity. This is due in part to the faculty of imagination, which all humans share to some degree. Imagination is crucial to all artistry; it is where all artistic ideas begin, and where they grow until the person needs to direct them outward into some kind of external form, usually where the end product can be shared. When that happens, a sort of “magic” results: the idea that has taken hold in the mind of the artist now begins an independent life in the minds of dozens, or hundreds, even millions of other people.

All humans have some degree of imagination, but not in equal measure. Some are content with playing a cheerful ditty on a kazoo, while others must compose a symphony. Some may aspire to the latter, but find that their efforts never take them past the composition of a good song. This is due in part to the unequal distribution of imagination. One’s share of imagination is not completely cast in stone; neglect can cause it to atrophy, while active use can cause it to grow somewhat. At the same time, it is not infinitely plastic. Practice cannot make a Mozart out of an accountant, nor can disuse perform the opposite transformation.

Learned skills are not irrelevant, however. They are the techniques that permit the artist to take the ideas forming in the imagination and give them an independent existence. Without them, an artist is reduced to a daydreamer. Generally, an artist is more comfortable with some skills than with others, and chooses to emphasize them. At the same time, the idea forming in the imagination may demand one treatment instead of another. Sometimes an artist needs to learn an entirely new skill to give the proper form to a given idea.

As is always the case with tools, having a good selection at hand makes for the most satisfactory results in the long run. One doesn’t need to have all possible tools, but some variety is important. Perhaps a writer usually prefers to work in the medium of short stories, but once in a while develops an idea that demands a poetic treatment. One doesn’t need necessarily to know how to compose a Petrarchan sonnet, but some ability with poetry helps. Then again, perhaps a given idea requires a more radical shift; perhaps it needs to be conveyed musically, or in a drawing, rather than through writing. Many of the most creative people have cultivated more than one medium of creative expression for just this reason.

In short, the essential qualities that create art are intrinsic to the person, and not learned. Skills that can be learned, however, play an important role in the creation of art. The better the artist knows his skills, and the more options he has at his disposal, the more satisfactory the end result is likely to be. This, of course, is the final end in art: to create an effect that does justice to the vision that sparked the creative endeavor in the first place.


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