Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

Art, Talent and Practice

Practice piece in a notebook

Oh, and practice. A lot of it.

I have several art-related heros. Those who could paint really well, and did, tend to make it onto my list. However, those are particularly artists, and I’m going to talk about something slightly different. I’m going to talk about creating art. The people who consistently get on and draw, paint, write, or create are the ones who succeed. Most notable among the people I follow on Twitter is the writer and main artist of Schlock Mercenary. He has had a daily comic up on his site for over a decade. That’s dedication.

This post is sparked by a few things, most notably A Long, Lonely Road: Advice to New writers by the SciFi writer David Brin, on Twitter as @DavidBrin1

‘I perceive science — the disciplined pursuit of truth — to be a higher calling than spinning imaginative tales…’ – @DavidBrin1

That’s a pretty good intro when it’s said by a sci-fi writer who has been a scientist. He talks as well about artists who think of themselves at the pinnacle of human ingenuity. Here, my Whiggish Fallacy Klaxon goes off. We are not at the pinnacle of anything. He put it better than I did, but then again, he’s a writer and I’m a painter. If you asked me to represent that, I’d probably draw Icarus and stop halfway through to doodle pictures of root vegetables. Art does nothing to put food on the table. Art only appears in its higher, complicated forms, when there is already food on the table – when there is already a surplus that can support professional artists. The quest for rational knowledge is, in my opinion, worth more. It’s a painful opinion, and it’s been dragged out of me by that writing, but I believe he is right. I definitely believe that art does not heal people. Psychotherapy and surgery heal people. Art can help that, but so can catgut.

So, interspersed with some of the things he said, here are some thoughts of mine.

‘Anyway, I believe a person is behooved to help pass success on to those who follow.’ – @DavidBrin1

Well, I’d use ‘it behooves a person’ but he’s American. He also has several awards for writing, and he can use the passive tense if he wants to. So here, in a nutshell, is the secret of the success I have had in art:

Luck. Most things in life are.

‘Despite all of the raging ego trips, writing is much like any other profession.’ – @DavidBrin1

Yes. I would go further and say that painting, as a profession, should be like any other freelance work. People ask me what something costs. I do it for them. I put in all the skill I can in the time allotted to me by their budget. (Sometimes, if I like the project, I put in more. But that’s a slippage, and I cover it by the fact I don’t have other work on.) If I let my ego get in the way, or tried to express my feelings, I would not be putting my skill onto canvas. I would be putting myself onto canvas. If you want to hire me by the hour for my own sake, there are laws against that. When people want to know what I felt while painting an art work, the answer is usually ‘cold. It’s chilly in my studio’.

There is value in paintings that touch on human feelings. You can tell that there is value, because people will pay money for them. Ultimately all art, written, sung or drawn, is a vanity – it is a luxury and not a neccessity, and it is supported by the fact that people want to pay for it, in money or applause. To me, if someone is drawing instinctively but has not learned to draw, they are selling a pup. They are concentrating on expression and not on method, and that puts them in a box I won’t buy. Other people will; fair play to that. But it leads me to a problem.

I think a lot of modern artists have one method and do not move on. If you insist that your work is good enough now, you often fail to get better. That, I think, is why I distrust the notions of modern art. So many people are taught that art is a special beautiful thing. It’s not. It’s a process with highly subjective outcomes. People I believe to be talented fail to make money by art. The supply side so far outweighs the demand side that if I spent half of my working hours marketing and promoting myself, it would not be too many. Self-supporting success may or may not happen in my lifetime.

If you want to communicate with an artist, that is great, but don’t get sold a pig in a poke. It’s not better just because they hugged it. It’s better because they thought about the method as well as what they wanted to express. Don’t look for innate talent. It’s not there. Nurtured talent is what you want. It means someone has really worked at what they do.