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I have no talent

Post #1444 • January 15, 2010, 12:03 PM • 9 Comments

After spending three hours in the studio and three hours at home with a model, I went onto Reddit and found an interesting post by John Nunemaker:

It is true. I have no talent. What I do have is a lot of practice. And I am not talking about occasionally dabbling in Ruby on the weekends. I am talking about the kind of practice where I beat code that isn’t working into submission (though often times the code wins).

The kind of practice where all of a sudden I realize that it is 2am and I’m exhausted physically so I should go to bed, but mentally I feel on fire so I let the code have me for another hour or two (I imagine this state to be like a marathon runner or ironman near the end of their race).

(Yes, I follow Proggit.) Over in the Reddit comments on the post, user Ohsin linked to Journey of an Absolute Rookie, in which Jonathan Hardesty went from this to this by working his ass off for seven years.

There is no sweat equity in art, as Walter Darby Bannard used to remind me. And indeed, I had a good, eight-year run of paintings that never took more than two or three hours to polish off, even when I was working six feet high. But I exhausted that impulse. The painting I've been working on since moving into the new studio last July, the only one I haven't thrown out upon completion since then, represents weeks of effort, not hours. Soutine and Balthus have been the brightest stars in my personal sky, and for whatever reason (Hitting forty? Moving all over the damn country for three years?) the emphasis is moving from the former to the latter. I may throw out this one too. But the drawings I did yesterday, slow things constructed with attentive noodling, felt like coming home. (I'll post pictures once I get them scanned on the really nice scanner at school in a couple of weeks.)

That Proggit thread repeated a common missive - someone had talent, and it resulted in skewed expectations and laziness. I have talent. I understood gesture drawing without explanation the first time I saw someone do it. But Degas noted that everyone has talent at 25 - the trick is to have it when you're fifty. Now that I'm closer to fifty than 25, I see what he's talking about. There's no sweat equity in art, but a long-term, productive, self-critical life in art is the very equity of sweat. I'm feeling how intensity of expression can build into a considered statement instead of a furious one. A proverb in Aikido says that beginners make big circles; masters make small circles. So be it. Long hours are coming. I welcome them.



Chris Rywalt

January 15, 2010, 12:30 PM

You've probably seen this more than once on my blog but I'll repeat it here because it bears repeating. I spent about ten years in a singing group at my alma mater directed by Professor William Ondrick, whose 40th year there passed while I was a member. Glee Club consisted of four hours of practice a week going over the same material, hammering it out, getting it as right as we could, for four or five months, followed by two hours of performance.

One thing Professor Ondrick said again and again, to generations of singers and students before me and even a couple after me: "There's no substitute for the work, not even genius."

You put yourself into the work. Bad things happen in your life, and good things: Alcoholism, car accidents, children are born, parents die, operations, colds, the flu, marriages, all of that. Everything gets in the way, but the work is always there when you get back to it.



January 15, 2010, 1:35 PM

"no sweat equity in art" means that hard work guarantees nothing, and, conversely, that you (and others) may whip something off in an hour that is wonderful and sells for a lot.

The flip side of that is that you're unlikely to get a payoff without hard work. Maybe Mozart could envision an opera in his head and write a divertimento in an evening, but he worked his butt off.



January 15, 2010, 4:17 PM

I expect that in art, like most things, it's a combination of talent (or aptitude) and enough work or practice/experience to feed and develop talent. The work alone can only go so far, never as far as it could coupled with talent, but talent alone will never go as far as it could have with sufficient work.

A similar situation occurs with art appreciation. There has to be an innate affinity for and attraction to art, but that also has to be developed and refined. Fortunately, the innate aptitude tends to drive or propel the requisite leg work, so to speak. It's essentially a kind of synergy.



January 15, 2010, 5:50 PM

The work is so compelling that it isn't really work until you lay the brushes down and realize how thoroughly beat you are.

I had a similar experience to Chris with music. (Chris, I don't mean to one-up you here. It's just that your comment brought some very fine experiences to mind.)

For some reason in Dallas there was a big emphasis placed on music in the public schools. Grooming for high school concert choirs began in about the 2nd grade. Part of the elementary school curriculum was learning to write music in the treble and bass scales, and studying the work of the masters. I still have a notebook on the cover of which I drew a mad orchestra conductor with long hair flying all over the place as he furiously waved his baton.

The beloved Jean Brown directed the choirs in Greiner Junior High School. She was a born mentor, and the perfect one to introduce those of us fortunate to have been chosen for her classes to the delights of choral singing, which is ALL about listening.

Then on to Sunset High School, famed in Texas for its football dynasty. I will never forget those football players turning themselves inside out in their attempts to get into the Concert Choir under the direction of the brilliant Wm. F. White. The musical ground we covered in that choir was miraculous. Rehearsals were one hour a day 5 days a week, then Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 9, and no homework exemptions. About two months prior to performances, there were rehearsals all day on Saturdays. Performances were announced all over the local media, and sold out in advance.

The choir was utterly rehearsed, and we all marveled, shivered and teared up at the sound. White mixed the choir up on the risers, barotone next to alto, tenor next to soprano, to enhance our listening to each other. He would give a downbeat with a very small white baton, then gradually drop his arms and conduct us with eye contact alone through music extraordinary for any choir. He was a task master of the first order, who really got it out of us. He would work so hard that he would lose his temper and have to leave the room to compose himself. We looked past that because we knew what level he was trying to attain, and he got us to want that level too.

That is about the finest experience I could've had then, because it was an early lesson in what is required to make a very fine thing.



January 16, 2010, 9:48 AM

For the artblog runners and health-nuts, I found this in the Reddit pile. Some interesting info that contradicts prevailing ideas around nutrition, form, and shoe tech. The piece affirms a growing movement in support of less support.



January 16, 2010, 10:04 AM

As for talent, finally a site that tells me what one of the best is up to. Everybody check the links and also the roguish Tatransky piece under 'writing'. Good sense and careful thought charting a shift away from 'format'.

When you open the sections by year, note the 'more 200X' button at the left.



January 16, 2010, 1:17 PM

First rate work, Dude. Almost shocking to see after a season of Art Basel and its ilk.



January 16, 2010, 3:53 PM

Walsh is better than Richter, but I suppose that sounds like damning with faint praise.


Chris Rywalt

January 16, 2010, 8:25 PM

"Better than Richter" is like "more fun than smallpox".



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