"I could paint/compose/write that too, if I wanted to" (art rant)

Wow, my second pit thread in a day. This is a first. (Don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of it.) I’m also somewhat sleep deprived, so accept my apologies in advance for this ramble.

A rant in two parts. (Well, maybe three parts.) This isn’t just related to art and creative things, it could be any skill. But the instances I’ve seen have always been for creative stuff.

First: I don’t want to hear how you could really be good at this thing, “if you really wanted to.” The fact is, that you aren’t good at it, because YOU CAN’T DO IT. Did you get that?!? YOU CAN’T DO IT. And until you can do it, all the hot air in the world, and boasts about how you could do it, are meaningless bullshit.

I’ve had people do that when they see my artwork. “Oh, I could do that too, if I really tried.”

As if by saying that they could means that they’ve already done it, and deserve the same amount of respect as those of us who actually have developed the skill. This scenario was even in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Lady DeBurgh (sp?), an obnoxious and overbearing character in the book, claimed that “had I ever learned the piano, I would have been a great proficient.” Yeah. That’s all you need to do. Talk about how great you would have been, had you bothered to learn.

I’ve just encountered a particularly obnoxious version of this type of person on another message board. Not only would he be good at EVERYTHING (yes, he claimed this) but he’d be a MASTER at it. Everything. “I have never tried something that I wasn’t a MASTER at.” And yeah, he’d know that he’d be a master before even trying it. Because, after all, he’s always been a master at EVERYTHING. But when it is pointed out that it takes a great deal to be deemed a **master **at composing music, or art, or writing, he starts in with, “Who can judge what a master is, anyway? You are not in the position to judge!”

Well, you moron, if none of us are in the position to judge what a master is, then how the hell would you KNOW you could be one, before you’ve even tried?

And this leads me to the second part of the rant. The part about “creativity” being some sort of great equalizer, or something.

On the subject of creating music, some pouty guy on another message board started to preach a little sanctimonous sermon about how the “creativity” that his three-year-old expressed on the piano was on the same level as Mozart. Because, well, you know—they’re both “creative.” Oh sure, he concedes, most people would decide, subjectively, that Mozart sounded better, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. They are both on the same plane. Both “creative.” So who are we to judge?

The response to this was quite amusing. It was deemed absurd.

Now, of course it’s true that there are different tastes and one person’s masterpiece is another person’s crap. But COME. ON. To get all pouty because the rest of the universe won’t consider your three-year-old’s music the same as Mozart? Or that your beginner, totally newbie efforts in whatever are, horror of horrors, criticized? That you want those people who have spent years honing their craft to automatically give your newbie efforts the same amount of respect and admiration, even though, in their opinions, you haven’t earned that respect yet? All because it’s all “creative”?

What a steaming load.

I could write a better rant if I wanted to.

::shakes fist at Diogenese::

Okay, I haven’t seen your paintings, but art is so subjective that what is beautiful to one person isn’t to another, etc… However there is another thing going on here as well. Some people feel like they need to take artists down a peg. Why? I don’t know. Being artistic is one of those things that you have to be born with. I don’t care how much i take art classes, I’ll never have the spacial perception to be able to render things on paper or in a sculpture. You know, this is sort of hard to swallow in our “You can be anything you want if you try, culture.” We value equal opportunity so much that we can’t take it if some opportunity is shut off from us. For instance, i can become President if I really tried, or maybe a multibillionaire, or maybe a moviestar, or maybe an author, or maybe an artist? Which of these are widely held by society and reinforced by “rags to riches” type stories? The multibillionaire one is for sure. Being a president? That would be another example. Holywood actors? Take normal guys Ben Aflek and Matt Damon. Honestly its no different that all of these skills do require some sort of inborn talent, or a least something that everyone has. We tend to think that we can be whatever we want, the question is just motivation. As they say, a genius is 1% motivation and 99% perspiration. Well I can sweat all day long over a beautiful sunset, but I’ll never be able to convey the feeling in some permenant visual form.

Back to your case, you do have to realize that there is some sort of line that has to be drawn, though. I am pretty liberal with art, and I realize that it isn’t easy and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there is some of it that I could do. If you have ever seen poor abstract art you’ll know what I mean. And yet people think they deserve to be sold for hundreds of dollars. It reminds me of George Costanza buy the “triangles” so they would be expensive when the guy died!

That’s what really pisses me off about America. Due to the whole idea of the “American Dream” we have the wrong impressions about a lot of things. For some reason so many seem complacent with a small miniscule chance that they may in the future be able to achieve whatever they want. This is reinforced. For some reason this is enough for people. The man obviously saw your beautiful paintings, got jealous because he realized that he could never produce something like that, and then decided that if he WANTED to he COULD do it as a matter of justification. I went through things like that a lot in High School before I figured it out.

Again though art is funny. One could say that a lot of art now is just for shock value. For example the use of feces and religious symbols. This is true it is meant to be shocking, but weren’t the methods of Low Renaissance meant to be radically different than those of the middle ages? On the other hand, it could just be an easy thing to do to get attention. Its a hard question to answer.

Haha, I just saw your website, and I gotta tell you that I doubt that he could be as talented as you, “if he wanted to.” Your drawings are cool, and I certainly wouldn’t claim to have some innate yet unexpressed ability to draw that well.

I can play “On Top of Old Smokey” on my recorder!
Rather than getting a swelled head about this, it leaves me with a deep sense of Humility towards the Giants whose shoulders I stood upon to reach such a musical pinnacle. Of course, there’s no limit to the lofty creative peaks I shall scale in the future. :wink:

Sounds like he’s just baiting you. But at least he’s a master at it.

Ha! I went to art school and I saw all the people who tried, not just the ones who got to the stage where they displayed their stuff to the public. Turns out you really can’t just be a great artist because you want to. It takes some amount of natural ability and a lot of hard work. Or luck, but luck works for everything, not just art.

“Oh, I could do that too, if I really tried.”
“Be my guest, then. What’s stopping you?”

People who’ll make that assertion (about any profession, not just art) don’t merit more than an “Uh huh, yeah, go right ahead.” If if really were that easy to drop everything, declare themselves artists, instantly start selling lots of works and making a bunch of money, they would. Deep down, they know that, which is why they aren’t quitting their day jobs. Challenge them to put their paintbrush where their mouth is, and if they’re wise they’ll either shut up, or discover how difficult it actually is.

If they continue to insist that they are in fact latent Rembrants, per your examples, everyone knows they’re just being ridiculous. They’re not worth getting upset over.

Thanks for your kind words about my artwork, Merkwurdigliebe!

Ironically, I do believe in the idea that a lot of people can do a LOT more with their latent artistic abilities if they try. I believe that. I believe that we have more “talent” buried in us than we realize, and that if we try, we often can be much better than we imagined. Unless, of course, we’re a deluded blowhard who thinks that we’ll be a MASTER at everything

I don’t think that “it’s all talent.” Like hazel-rah said, you have to work hard at it too. But I don’t think that anyone can do anything and be just as good at it as someone who does have a healthy dollop of talent, aptitude, etc. You can’t make someone with a tin ear a great singer. They might learn to do something music-related, and they might even get fairly decent at it, but they aren’t going to be a great singer.

Yes, it is so high school!

I don’t even know if he looked at my artwork. I think he was speaking on general principle. Some people, amazingly enough, are like that. They are so arrogant (or so insecure) that they HAVE to insist that they are ALWAYS RIGHT. And that they can do ANYTHING. Scary, but true.

Squink: :smiley: You’re hilarious! Thanks for that!

Gyrate: Yes, it’s occurred to me that he’s trying to bait me. And if he is, he’s doing a really good job. The thing is, I’m not sure he’s trying to bait me. I truly have met people this arrogant and deluded and there’s something about him that indicates that he might be one of these kind of people. But I’m not sure.

hazel-rah, yes, I know! I went to art school too. While I believe that anyone (well, almost anyone) can get down the basics of drawing, etc., I don’t believe for a second that anyone, simply by putting their mind to it, can be “great.” I saw a great disparity in aptitudes and talents. For instance, I might have been able to, if I had sweat blood and struggled very hard, been able to draw detailed car parts with accuracy. But I’d NEVER be as good as some of the guys in class who loved drawing machinery. I’d never be as “inspired.” My love for car parts wouldn’t be there, because I don’t love car parts. The artwork I’d produce would look strained and probably a little dead.

By the same token, some of these car parts guys could draw a portrait tolerably well, when they really, really worked at it. But few of them would probably be as good as I was at portraits, because I had more of a natural talent for it, loved drawing portraits, and they clearly did not.

I’m a professional illustrator and I encounter the same sort of inane comments from time to time, although sometimes it takes the form of “my sister in-law draws like you” or “my son draws, too”. Sometimes I think that they are just trying to find some kind of way to connect, some sort of surrogate middle ground. Other times, though, I get the feeling that they’re trying to say, “well, you’re not so special, I know other people that do the same thing you do!”

I have to admit that before I went to college for art and embarked on my career in illustration and design, I used to think that it would be easy for me to ‘become a master’ at whatever I wanted to do; my high school self thought that I could become a skilled artist, poet, writer, musician, actor, scientist, etc., and it was only after I began to seriously pursue an art career that I came to appreciate the level of dedication and work and in some cases inborn talent that is required to be considered even competent in those areas. Now, I can play guitar and write songs, but I’m not under the illusion that I’m destined for greatness…I act sometimes in short films but I haven’t deluded myself into thinking that I’m Oscar-bound, etc. And I am much more appreciative of people who have mastered their craft now.

I think that there are a couple of reasons why people may honestly think that they could be good at art ‘if they tried’. One reason is that people who are professional artists tend to make it look easy; of course when people see a finished piece of art or even a sketch, they’re not seeing the thousands of drawings and paintings and so forth that came before, the hundreds of bad drawings that aspiring artists often make before they begin to make good drawings. Another reason is that artists sometimes tend to make art look fun (and for many, including myself, it is), and give the impression that they would still be drawing or painting even if they were never paid a dime for it (and again, for many including myself, that’s true). So the thinking goes, anything that fun has got to be easy to do. I used to also think this was true about some professional sports, especially baseball. How hard can it be, to stand out in right field scratching yourself throughout most of the game, and maybe getting a hit once or twice every ten times at bat or so? Truth be told, I still feel that way about baseball, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that there is much more hard work and skill involved that got them to that place to begin with.

What bugs the hell out of me are the people who buy (or steal) computer software, and think it’s a substitute for training, talent and experience.

No, if you have Photoshop on your computer, it doesn’t make you an artist. If you have Sibelius, it doesn’t make you a composer. And if you have Word, it doesn’t make you an author.

Once, when I told someone I was a Graphic Designer, he said, “Oh yeah, my 14-year-old does that.” When I informed him that I had over 30 years of experience, he looked at me blankly and said, “Well, the kid’s got all the software.”

I also paint, and have developed a technique that I’ve never seen anyone else use. A couple years ago, I had a one-man show, and I got a call from a guy who seemed to be really impressed with what he saw. He wanted me to teach him my technique, over the phone, so he could do the same thing. I told him it took me arduous decades to develop my technique, and if he really wanted to be an artist he should try to develop his own ideas, rather than stealing someone else’s. He was really pissed at me.

My friend made a similar comment as we were looking at some Kandinskys at the Art Institute of Chicago. Pity there wasn’t a two-by-four handy to smack him over the head with.

Don’t sweat it. Even the great canonical artists get these comments.

Well…my aunt used to drop worms into a patch of paint and toss them onto a canvas, let them wriggle out a painting for her, then she would hang her worm artwork all over her house, and would boast to everyone and anyone about what an artist she was and how she would make it big some day… sorry, Aunt Maddie, and OP, but I always thought “I could do that if I wanted,” but why would I want to? (She gave up her wormy ways when it didn’t pan out and make her rich rich rich.)

And I work for a doctor who hangs her mother’s gawd-awful paintings all around the office. They are impressionist I’m told, (Who could tell what the hell they are? They are ugly paintings painted by an 80+ year old woman who must be having the orderlies dip her in paint rub her wrinkled ass all over the canvas. They are butt ugly!), and well…our patients comment all the time, either "Jeez, who painted those ugly paintings? " and I have to explain it’s the doctor’s mom (which either embarasses the person or more often prompts further heckling), or I hear the “I could do that” comment and hell, I believe they could!

Not to say the OP’s deluding himself/herself. Not at all. I agree with the points made. I just remembered my aunt and her worm art and wanted to comment. There are those who don’t appreciate the wonderful talents and hard work of others and try to diminish it by saying they themselves can do the exact same thing, when you know there is no way in hell they can. They aren’t fooling anyone, anyway, they just come off a jerks. And then there are those who have no talent at all yet continue to insist they do and are insulted when it’s not recognized by everyone around. It’s okay to feel good about what you are doing, but, jeez, don’t get all mad if I don’t find your accomplishments as impressive as you do.

I’m surrounded by art and graphics design majors so I fully sympathize with just how hard art really is, and how much effort and training it takes even a talented person to reach the level of skill that’s marketable. Few things awe me more than a really talented artist (or musician, or writer.) I had some talent at the piano as a child, but I didn’t train and now I’m no better than any other shmuck who sits down at the keys for the first time. And I’ve been working on writing (not that you could tell from my post quality) for a long time, but I’m still nowhere near ‘master’ or even ‘marketable’ for the most part. I salute the artists who train with such dedication for so long to fulfill their innate talents.

Also, you have my permission to punch the next person who says something dumb like that to you in the stomach. :smiley:

I can attest some people have jealous and weirdly uninformed reactions to creative endeavors.

I don’t know much about art, but I’ve always wanted to be a musician. I played for my living for about a year before I went to college (I still play several nights a week). When I’d been working as an electrical engineer for a few years, I got together with two friends (one a fellow Doper) to write and record song parodies. (This was before karaoke, so you needed musicians to record such songs). We were just doing it for grins, but we got lucky, and sold some to various radio stations. Then we got one on the Dr. Demento show, and at one point actually came close to getting signed with ABC. It didn’t happen. But we had lot of fun.

Most of my co-workers at the time were very supportive and happy for me , and I made a point of returning their kindness by giving them copies of any songs they asked for.

As always, though, there were a few idiots.

One guy asked to speak to me in private. Once there, he basically asked me, “So tell me, how do you do these things?” He’d never played or written music or words, but saw no reason he couldn’t pick it up, and he wanted to get in on this ‘lucrative’ scam while it was still hot. I was actually a little flattered that he considered me that knowing.

Others would ask me, essentially, “Why do you waste time on those stupid songs?” The ostensible point being, an engineer should be doing something practical with his free time. (FWIW, I find to this day, engineers tend to be more ignorant in this way than most other occupations).

One asshole stands out from the rest.

I was at my desk when ABC called asking for a demo. I was on the other line, and the secretary took the message. I returned the call, and by the time I hung up, word had gotten around the whole office, and most everyone was very happy for me, coming around to congratulate me, jokingly asking for my autograph.

A little later, I bumped into aformentioned asshole in the hall, who’d heard about my good news. He managed a strained congratulations, but suggested I might want to decline submitting the demo, because “You might not be ready for the big time yet”.


I think the whole mystification of creative work is bizarre. (For some values of “creative work”; I’ve had times when I was putting as much creative energy into writing computer code as I was into my “creative work”, but somehow that doesn’t count as much.)

There’s this combined myth of “it’s not work, anyone can sit down and do something just that good” and “only the Touched and Gifted may enter”. Neither is true.

(This will be written from the point of view of dealing with my art – I write fiction.)

I’m willing to posit the possibility that I have some particular knacks for phrasing or story or how to engage an audience or something. But having those knacks does me no damn good unless I fill in the skills around them – there’s no way of trading on just the talent. Talent can’t cover all the gaps. I know folks witha knack for dialogue who can’t do descriptive text. There was a guy came into a writing group a few years ago who thought he couldn’t write because he didn’t have a visual image of his story. Then there are the folks who can write tremendous page-turning prose and couldn’t do characterisation to save their lives. Or the folks with vibrant, living characters and no damn plot (I’d put me in that category; fortunately, I can fake plotting ability by dropping characters next to each other and seeing what happens).

I don’t know what talents I actually have in the realm of writing. The thing is, I just write. And I’ve been writing for over twenty years. And twenty years of writing – starting from being the sort of kid who’d write Smurfs fanfic and working up to where I am now, about two thirds of the way through a novel that’s a sequel to the one I’ve already written – will build up those skills. I write all the time, it’s one of the constants of my life – and people look at it and say “you have talent”.

Maybe. What I have is a lot of work, a history of a lot of work. And a lot of the graphic artists I know are people who spent their school years doodling in the margins of their notes in school and sketching things. And the musicians I know studied their instruments, or music in general, and noted down riffs that came to them, and worked at it.

Maybe the reason there’s this mythology of magical talent is that a lot of people called into the arts are doing that sort of thing starting young, so that by the time anyone notices them they have that ten, twenty years of fiddling around and building up skills – maybe they’ve taken classes, maybe they’ve just learned on their own.

And no, folks aren’t just going to be able to sit down and turn out that sort of work. They can sit down and do the ten, twenty, thirty years of skill-building, though – I expect most folks can do that.

Very good points, yosemitebabe. I do wonder what makes people declare loudly that they coulda had class, coulda been a contendah.

I dabble in a lot of different kinds of creative stuff, principally drawing and music. I’ve gotten a fair distance in both, though not enough to satisfy me, but at least I know what it takes to make visible progress in something artistic. It takes a lot of effort and repetition and effort and practice and effort. Talent helps, but what it takes most of is the drive to keep at it until you see that progress.

I used to teach keyboard at a piano and organ store. There was a lesson program, mostly aimed at middle-aged to retired buyers who had lots of money to spend and time to kill. These were the people who had Always Wanted To Play but who never got around to it. I heard the same stories from them: how they used to play piano when they were 8, and if they Kept At It, then today they would be able to play.

Well, they didn’t and they aren’t and they can’t. And if they want to start learning, they’re starting at the beginning with everyone else. Maybe they’ll show some aptitude and maybe they won’t. I was happy to show them what I’d learned in my then-fifteen years of playing, because, well, when I had the opportunity to learn it I did.

If this guy in the OP keeps saying he’s never taken anything on that he didn’t master, you can tell him, “So you’re afraid of trying anything at which you’ll fail, right?”

If he says, “I could do that if I wanted to,” then you can reply “Some day you’ll be seventy-five years old and you’ll wish you actually did try.” (Trust me, I seen 'em.)

Or you could say, “And ten years from now when you say that again, you’ll wish you’d started today: and then you’d already have ten years experience, wouldn’t you?”

Me? I don’t mind when people say, “Oh, our daughter is taking piano!” or “Yes, I have a brother-in-law who plays really well.” I’ve come to grips with my level of talent and achievement (so far) and I’m not offended or threatened when someone wants to bring up someone else who also plays.

I used to work at an ordinary public high school. I would frequently hear students say, ‘I’m going to be a rock star/ movie star/ tv star, so I don’t need to learn this stuff.’ This, from students who played the guitar in the basement or sang along to the radio.

Now, I work at a magnet school for the performing arts. And I NEVER hear my students- even though they’re only twelve- say they’re going to be stars. They say they’re going to be an actor, or a dancer, but they’ve done enough real performing to know that for every ‘star’ there’s a thousand working artists doing just fine even though no one knows their names.

I guess the moral of the story is, the overinflated ideas of your chances only last before you’re actually tried it.

Unless the moral of the story is ‘don’t post while drinkking rum.’ Which is also possible.

Eh, as someone who has been called “artistic” at many times in my life, I don’t mind when people tell me they could do art like mine if they tried, because I know that if they’re saying that, then the point is exactly that – they don’t try. On the other hand, it pisses me off when people tell me I have talent – I really think that almost everybody can be at least a passable artist with the right amount of dedication and the right kind of training. It might take a special kind of person to be a Leonardo (especially considering that he was the first to do so many things), but I think anyone can learn to make satisfying and relatively realistic art.

On the other hand, when confronted with hackneyed and/or inane art or music, I quite often say to myself, “I could do that if I wanted to.” The point being, why would I want to make bad art? I could probably be a Thomas Kinkade or a “conceptualist” wanker if I wanted to, but I have no desire to make a living through shameless hucksterism.