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Just Say Yes

by Stede Barber on 2/9/2011 10:11:27 AM

This post is by guest author, Stede Barber.  This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. We've promoted this post to feature status because it provides great value to the FineArtViews community.  If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 13,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  This author's views are entirely her own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.



Most often when I tell someone I am an artist, I hear something like, "How wonderful! I wish I could draw, but..." and then a string of statements about how they would LOVE to be able to draw but can't even draw a stick figure, how someone else in the family is the artist, their 5th grade art teacher really embarrassed them and they'll never do that again, etc.


I taught high school art and some of these statements were already in my students' minds. My response was and is, "Have you ever learned to play a sport? Baseball, tennis, bowling, whatever...? How'd you do the first time you threw the ball, swung the bat/racquet/golf club, rolled a ball down the alley?" Most people have a good laugh remembering those early attempts to learn something new.


My proposal is that art is like a sport. Some people are more gifted initially and may learn faster than others, true. But even Babe Ruth had to learn how to hold that bat the first time.


How artists have somehow been stuck into a category where they must produce Rembrandts and Van Gogh's the first time they hold a pencil or paintbrush is a mystery to me...but that idea is out there in a big way.


Handling the tools of art is learned through practice, often with the guidance and support of a good teacher. Then, lots of practice, hopefully focused, messy, and fun. A good teacher gives you clear instruction, step by step, and plenty of time and space to play with what you are learning. When you're ready, they are there to offer pointers about how you might do something better.


With time and good support, every person can find their own voice. An atmosphere of adventure, exploration, and fun...a safety zone for creativity...allows anyone with the interest to learn and grow, and keep getting closer to creating the masterpieces they may see or sense in their creative heart.


When I was five, I collected a series of rocks, laid them all out, and proceeded to mix a variety of "colors" with dirt and water. Who knows how a child's eyes really see...mine were seeing the most magically beautiful colors, with which I carefully painted my rocks, then laid them in the sun to dry.


I came back later and was stunned to see that all my rocks looked the same dull brown. I put my fantastic project away, never showing it to anyone. In fact, I have only remembered this little adventure in the last couple of years.


What does that have to do with believing that you can learn an art form and create beautiful works of art?


I never gave up. I have always had the urge to make something beautiful. I have had some equally disastrous results, but--I have also made some drawings and paintings that fulfill my inner vision and more. And I keep on going.


It seems harder as we become "adults" to realize that yes, we still have LOADS of things that we don't yet know how to do...I see that as good news! Those five year olds can really show us how to dive in, have fun, make a mess, and learn how to create beauty out of it.


Every student I have worked with has had their doubts and not wanted to feel embarrassed. But they have also each had their own amazing, personal way of seeing, drawing, and painting, and a deep yearning to do so.


Try listening to that small voice inside asking to do something new...watercolors, pottery, drawing, collage...whatever. Step past that little, "I can't" ...and give yourself the experience of creating something with your own hands, eyes, and heart. No one else in this world could possibly create what you make, simply because you did it yourself.


For those of us who have already said, "Yes," and are working away at our art...I am reminded of the value of play, of enjoying the practice and the process as well as aiming as high as possible for results.


Read about the best of them...the masters were all learning, enthralled with their personal adventure of creating.


Here's to Art, straight from the heart.

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I also believe that people can develop some kind of artistic expression, even if they don't think they have any natural aptitude. I watched an episode of PBS' Charlie Rose a while back in which he interviewed a researcher who studied highly talented people from various fields. The one surprising thing that came out of the research was that those who are considered extreme superstars actually devoted a huge amount of time developing that skill, much more than others, and were a little put off when people disregarded their determined discipline and characterized their achievements solely as the result of natural ability, although that was certainly a factor. The differed from others in the ability to focus intensely and sustain their training or practice over time.

Michael Cardosa
Hi Stede,

Good posting. I firmly believe that we all need to keep trying to learn something new for our work. If we don't just jump in occasionally then this would just become one more job. Where's the fun and really, who needs that!


mimi torchia boothby watercolors
I can't count how many times people have told me "I can't draw" and I try to explain to them that they CAN, a lot of what we do is a skill that we learned.

I used to collect pebbles and admire their beauty under water as well. I know I spent hours doing that! :)

Jo Allebach
I couldn't agree more. People always tell me they couldn't draw a straight line to which I too reply well it takes losts of practice.
If someone likes doing something they tend to do it over and over so they get better and better. I'm sure if someone did not like to play football they wouldn't get to the pros. Same with art. If you don't enjoy it then you won't do it and get better. I practice my art hours and hours everyday. I don't think I will ever reach the level I will be satisfied with so I practice and practice and sell some of the successful along the way.

George De Chiara
I really like the sports analogy. My life drawing teach use to compare drawing to golf all the time, "Make a stroke, if it's not correct make another one, just like a golfer. Rarely do we get a hole in one". It seems like just yesterday when I'd hear him say this to the class, but it was over 20 years ago. It's funny how these things stick with you.

Carolyn Henderson
I like the drawing part -- in today's art climate, the concept that drawing aptitude is an element of the discipline is largely disposed of, resulting in a lot of "art" that depends upon novelty, shock value, and technological twists to fill up the canvas, but little ability to draw.

Like you, Steve enjoys working with individual students as they learn to see first, and then interpret what they see. Once they grasp and acquire the basic skills, then they run the gamut in how they choose to use them.

If only art could be taught to people on the same level as science, mathematics, or language -- as a valid, serious subject that requires more of one than just their "feelings" and "connections to the muse."

Sandy Askey-Adams
Very good article Stede..

I think every artist has ran into people who have commented that they had no talent and could not even draw a straight line.
AND yes, they often go on to tell about the person in their family who does have talent.

Straight lines? If you look at nature, there are no straight lines and that is what I tell people who say that to me.

I had a great art teacher (she even won teaching awards) when I was an art major in High school and I do remember many of the things she said to the class.
As a matter of fact, she would have us write some of it down on small index cards which, btw, I still have three that are hanging in my studio.
Actually, one of them is about the straight lines in nature. I am still looking for a straight line in natue...LOL after all these years.
Man-made, yes, I can find it there, but not in nature.

She told us also that we would be forever students of art...and would never stop learning...and should never stop learning -- to leave wide open the door to possibilities and opportunities to constantly improve.

However, I Do not believe that anyone who wants to become an artist can....just as NOT anyone who wants to become a singer or a dancer can. (Witness to that ..if you watch American Idol..LOL) There are those who cannot become surgeons, scientists, mathmaticians, etc....etc...
There are those who can frame a painting, but cannot paint one. There are those who study art history, but cannot paint, and there are those who study art for perhsps the purpose of working in an art museum or an art gallery and KNOW a great painting when they see one, but they cannot paint.
We need those who have an appreciation for art just as much as we need the artists who draw and paint.

Holly J Banks
Thanks for some timely encouragement. I believe that the born-with-talent myth is responsible for a lot of that negative self talk. Now that we have books such as "The Talent Code" and fifty years worth of Suzuki talent education we should know better.

Carol Schmauder
This is a great article Stede. I know I don't create masterpieces but I do sell my work and the people who buy it are happy with it. I will keep plugging away until I improve. I like the statement "Here's to art from the heart".

Carolyn Henderson
Very well said, Sandy.

Sandy Askey-Adams

I still feel that there are those who will have talent to be artists and there will be those who are not meant to be artists.

Their talent will be elsewhere..and some will have that talent in many areas, not just one.

We all just have to keep on learning as best we can.
I also DO believe that some are born with the ability more so than others. and some DO NOT appreciate it and do not use it...a pity.
While there are others who have the ability although not quite as easy do they catch on, but work hart and surpass others who had been born with more ability then they had been.

SOME are born without the ability at all. Yes, I do believe that...or I would tink everyone could be a scientist or a doctor or a mathmatician. (AND heavens, I know I could never have been either of those. That is not where my talent is.)

Sandy Askey-Adams
Sorry for the mistyped words up fingers, mind and keyboard are fighting one another again.
I am starting my own dictionary. :)

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
I agree with you Sandy. We are not all possible Michelangelos.

Stede Barber
I love all of your comments...our stories are so rich!

Sandy, your comment that not anyone who wants to become an artist actually can brings up some more thoughts.

I differentiate between those who want to do art as their livelihood and profession, and those who want to express themselves through color, line, etc. for the pure joy of the experience.

An artist once gave me a great gift when he shared his first landscape painting...he laughed too, as it shall I say...not so great. Yet now, he is a premier landscape painter. I love remembering this as I learn and grow.

I do believe that the pleasure anyone can take--if that's their inclination--in laying color or line down on a surface is part of basic human nature. But doing so simply may not be what truly "floats their boat".

The difference comes in for those of us who not only find making art is our passion, but also want to make it our livelihood. Now THAT is a more rare bird! And thank goodness for those who love art by purchasing it and having it around them, while their true passions lie elsewhere.

I guess that leaves the question: is it possible for someone who is passionate about making art to never learn and grow to the point where they can become a professional if they wish? With time, practice, and a truly good teacher, can someone who wants to never become good enough to find an audience for their work? I honestly don't know the answers, but suspect that those must come from within the person as part of their true knowing of what's right for them and doing what it takes to accomplish the real dreams of their hearts.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Well Stede...

I was brought up to believe that God gives everyone gifts (talents if you wish to call them that.) And He gives us those gifts to not hide, but to use to the best of our ability and to share and help others with those gifts......

He also gives some more of an ability or talent to be a doctor, a writer, a dancer, a singer, (the last two being performing arts)or a visual artist.

Each one is given a special gift to share...some more than others.
I know how bad I am at math and I know I could never be a talent does not lie there..and how often I have been frustrated because of that realization. But, It is something I must accept.

IF someone keeps trying to be an artist and it is NOT within capability ..sure, I think they can PLAY wih the paints as much as they wish to do so...have the fun....but, they will have a deeper talent elsewhere to be found.

PASSION? With passion I think also comes KNOWING that you are able to do something.
When you really know you can (have the talent), then the deeper passion is astounding!!

Sure, I guess someone can have a strong feeling or emotion to WANT to be able to draw or paint...BUT, that does not always make it so....If one cannot recognize that they just simply DO NOT HAVE IT, then why should they waste their time?
There are better things for them do in their life and that time can be spent FINDING what it is.

Look at the pianist.... Some are trained from when they were little children being taught by the book. When they play, every note is perfect, no mistakes...eXCEPT there may not be that deep passion, the soul ..and yes, in many cases there is too.

BUT, what about the person who is a child prodigy...JUST KNOWS and PLAYS the piano with an amazing and unbelievable Passion.
When you listen an compare the two, you can tell the difference. The one has that GIFT beyond measure of what others may possess while the other can play, but the FEELING or emotion is NOT as deep.

Only GOD knows why this is.
I do not think that any fancy writer can make that conclusion of why one is and why one is not.
IT JUST IS. AND, we all know it when we see it or hear it. NO matter where or what the gift is.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Oh,..when I said writer up above in my last sentence......
I meant someone who researches this type of subject and then writes a book saying that everyone can be an artist...or a doctor, a surgeon, a teacher, or whatever they want to be.... I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT...but, in the meantime, he or she is selling their book and making money.

Yes, we are in America and are brought up to believe that we can be whatever we want to be and do whatever we wish to do, but, there is reality.

Which reminds me...speaking of teachers...there are bad teachers in the school systems. People who should not be teaching. Some of us have met them. That too is a talent, a gift to be able to teach in the proper manner.

Carolyn Henderson

I have a friend who simply cannot knit. Try as she might, she cannot figure out how to click to sticks together with some fiber and come up with anything that approximates, well, anything.

She does, however, use a different textile tool to create scarves and hats, and always laments that she's not creative like everyone else.

Because she's my friend, I don't slap her, but I do remind her that she is still creating, still satisfying that urge inside of her to make beautiful things from yarn, but she is doing so with tools other than knitting needles.

Steve and I think that this is the same with art. He has worked with and alongside people who just don't get it, from the perspective of two-dimensional art, and cannot grasp the concepts and ideas that many people pursuing art come to eventually intuit. These struggling people continue to struggle, but they become frustrated as they try to fit themselves into an area of expertise that just never clicks for them.

Like my non-knitting friend, this does not mean that they cannot pursue their artistic drive, but perhaps they would be happier on an alternative, around the back door route.

As Sandy says, not everyone has the capacity to become a surgeon, and we certainly do not argue with that (especially on the operating table). But just because someone who wants to go into the medical field cannot become a surgeon does not mean that he or she can do nothing in the medical field.

They just need to -- excuse the pun -- look further afield.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Oh Stede..

I re-read your last paragraph about someone who paints and may never find an audience for their work...or someone who sells their work and it really is not so great, but sells it anyway.

Does this topic start reaching into the subject of what bad art is and what good art is or is not??? LOL

I think I am going to go off and play with my pastels now hoping that I can come up with something really good so I can put it in the next art show coming up....Trouble is I do not think I have enough of the myelin cells in my brain like Einstein had.

I have written too much on this topic. Sorry everyone.

Joanne Benson
Great article Stede. I look at my first landscape and cringe! If the passion is there, and a little bit of natural ability then I think we can prevail! Of course, as Sandy said, we all have our special areas of talent and some people will never be capable of doing certain things that others are genius at. I do believe that is true. But many of us are in the middle somewhere and can become proficient, if not great, with the proper motivation, practice, training and perserverance! Sometimes luck plays a part as well....right place...right time, etc....

Sandy Askey-Adams

Your post/comment is right on. Exactly what I have been trying to say too. LOL

For sure, the surgeon can find something else in the nedical field that he or she has more of a talent for.

Just as the person you spoke of found her creative outlet.

there are those who are born to be painting, and those like me that have to work hard to paint!

Carolyn Henderson
Barb -- working hard at doing anything is good -- and those who work hard are those who learn most.

Even with natural talent that makes some things come easier -- if you rest upon that and just flit your paint around and wear your beret, you will not reach the potential that you could.

Think of the rabbit and the hare -- the rabbit was born with inborn ability and speed, but look who won the race.

Sharon Weaver
The sports analogy is a good one. Painting plein air, I am often asked how long it took me to paint a painting. I like to use the sports thing to and ask how long does it take a pitcher to throw a fast ball? Not long but think of all the practice that went into that throw.

Teresa Tromp
Just the fact that so many people wish they could paint, or wish they could draw, makes me appreciate, even more, that God gave me the desire to create art, and the drive to actually do it.

Esther J. Williams
Setting aside any religious beliefs, I believe we are either hard wired to become an artist or we can learn to be a better artist by re-arranging our wires. It`s all in the mind, body and soul. Get those three things together in sync and you can do anything.

Teresa Tromp
I can't get my mind, body and soul in sync if I have to set God aside?

Holly J Banks
Very Good Teresa, I like that!

Tracy Wall
Seems to me we're talking about different things. Your view of the world is your own, though can be influenced by experiences. The technical and fine motor skills of using your chosen medium is a learned skill to be managed by practice. (Just like learning to make a free throw.) On top of that, getting your technical skills to create your vision is the challenge. :)

Perhaps this could also has to do with what type of art you'd like to produce. Any type of art production can benefit from practice. The more representational you'd like it to be, the more skills you may need to develop.)

Holly J Banks
Exactly, Tracy. I appreciate your discerning comment.

I agree, Tracy, and the earlier point I mentioned was the role of sustained practice in developing an interest, whether in someone with a innate talent or a strong interest but less natural skill.

Jane Hopkins
I agree wholeheartedly with Stede. Art seems to run in my family, but it's up to you to bump it up from the talent to the artist skills. I did not choose art when I began my career, the "starving artist" stories scared me away. But, I always kept trying to take the occasional class, and expected to really pursue art after I retired. I have kept that promise to myself and have really seen my artist skills improve. I paint almost everyday, and that makes all of the difference.
When I first started out after I retired, I was disappointed in my results, I always felt that I could do it, but the results were frustrating. You don't become an "artist" quickly, you've got to put in the time, and if you do, it shows.

Jane Hopkins
Write another comment . . .

Spencer Meagher
Stede I agree. Almost every non-artisan's response to the prospect of learning art is I can't even draw a straight line (or the stick man...multiple straight lines). I believe everyone can learn to do art to some level of expertise. They have to want to. I like your analogy of remembering the first time you tried to play baseball.

Donna Robillard
I remember I was one who use to think an artist was "born" with that ability and never had to practice - that he/she would only have to pick up that pencil or paintbrush and a beautiful painting would come forth! Then one time an artist told me otherwise, and I was so excited to know that. It takes repetition and practice to get better and better. I have definitely see improvement in my work. That's a good thing!

Keith Bond
I'm sure you've all heard comments like:

"What a great piano player. She must spend hours and hours practicing."

Then in the next breath, the same person says:

"What a talented painter. I wish I could paint."

The truth is, both have talent and both practice for hours. If you recall the parable of the talents in the Bible, each of the three servants were given talents, one 10, one 5, and one received 1. What did they do with the talents? The first worked hard and doubled his talents. The second did the same. The third hid his talents. He had his taken away and it was given to the first.

This raises several thoughts. If we don't use what is give us, we will lose them. People who have the ability to create art, but don't, will sooner or later loose that inborn ability.

The first and second men eventually gained talents that weren't originally given them. How or why? Because they used the talents that they DID receive and through their efforts and hard work expanded them and gained new talents.

So, does this mean that someone who isn't born with the talent to create art can develop that talent? Yes, and no. It depends upon what his other talents are and how they are used and developed.

The first point being that they must first develop what they are given. Then they can and will gain others.

The initial combination of gifts or talents that we were born with are unique to each individual. The combined growth and influence of each of them as they are developed may lead to the development of other talents. But since we each receive a different combination, they will not all lead to the same successive talents. There is a natural progression in the developments of the talents. In other words - not everyone can or will be able to develop the ability to do art, even if they want to.

Perhaps if someone is diligent long enough with developing one talent after another, sooner or later the art one will come around. But I don't think you can necessarilly skip or bury what you are given because you covet someone else's gift.

That's my belief anyway. I could be wrong. It is impossible to know definitively what was inborn and what was developed. I believe it is a combination.

Keith Bond
Sorry, one more point. I'll try to be brief.

We may have inborn talents that we don't realize. So I agree with Stede that we need to give them a try. Try anything and everything. The ones that click are the ones that we have a gift for. Does that mean that you are good at it the first time? No. My first paintings are awful. I keep them as a reminder. But even though I was no good, there was something that did click. I also tried other things - many didn't click. I recognized that and moved on.

Sandy Askey-Adams

I agree with what you wrote Keith...most of it..........Which is pretty much what I wrote in my several comments up above.
It was very good to read similar thoughts on this subject.
I do believe that people are born with certain talents or abilities more so than I stated way up above. Each and every person has some kind of talent or talents. It takes some people awhile to realize what those talents are.
AND yes, I also believe it is up to us to use them to the best of our ability and to improve upon them.

I also do not believe that someone can just suddently haphazardly out of the blue decide they are going to be an artist...just because they want to paint or draw beautiful art work like they have seen artists doing.

The true test comes when someone can actually sit down and draw what is in front of them. I think drawing ability comes first.,,then you can fly as high as your spirit takes you after that.

Holly J Banks
Point is that drawing is a learned skill not an inborn ability.

Sandy Askey-Adams
No, it is not simply a learned skill... and apparently it can be an inborn ability for many.

I was drawing when I was a very young toddler and not because it was a learned skill. I simply was able to draw what I would see in front of me. I saw it, I drew it. AND, I am positive there are other artists out there who would say the same exact thing.

HOWEVER, I would certainly say that we can IMPROVE upon our drawing ability.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Oh, and if we do not nurture it and use it, well, you know how that story can go.

Holly J Banks
This is not an opinion. As I mentioned before, fifty years of Suzuki talent training does not leave us with any doubt. Yes. there are people who have ability without training that we call talent, but that same ability is available to anyone who has resources to take advantage of the training and is willing to p8ut in the time and effort.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
As to Suzuki, his students definitely excel, but don't forget the other students that couldn't handle the training and dropped out. Suzuki needs fertile ground in which to grow.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Suzuki training is not the beginning and the end.
It is only one more way to better one's talent. That is all.
It does not create the talent or the ability. It helps the artist along as they travel their journey if that artist wishes to use Suzuki training and it does not make them better than one whe does not use it........that is all.
I still remain the same in what I wrote.
I am sorry, but I am not going to give Suzuki training which has ONLY been around for 50 years the credit for artists who have the talent and ability who have never heard of Suzuki training.

Joanne Benson
I agree with Sandy about the natural drawing ability. I also drew from the time I was a toddler. Some people can "see" better than others and are able to reproduce what they see. Some people can "see" and draw with training. And some people have other talents.

Brian Sherwin
Holly said, "Thanks for some timely encouragement. I believe that the born-with-talent myth is responsible for a lot of that negative self talk. Now that we have books such as "The Talent Code" and fifty years worth of Suzuki talent education we should know better."

Having worked with small children as a class observer I can tell you that natural talent DOES exist. I observed at a school in one of the poorest counties in Illinois-- these were children who most likely had never been to a gallery-- and probably had never stepped foot in a museum for that matter.

They live in an area that is not known for embracing art-- I don't mean to stereotype by any means, but the closet most of those kids had been introduced to art came in the form of campy wildlife scenes their mothers had bought at the county fair. Yet a few of the children were far more advanced with their drawing ability than the blunt of their peers-- with no direct encouragement or support from the adults in their lives.

Speaking from my background in psychology I would suggest that some little ones are naturally more intuitive than their peers-- which reflects in their drawing ability. They pick up on the little details-- such as adding some form of shadow or taking the body beyond a simple stick figure. In that respect the intuitive drive within them is where raw talent can be found. True, one can learn to be more observant of their surroundings-- but some people are naturally better at it than others with no training at all.

Talent is not everything though-- if you want to excel at drawing you have to practice just as much as the next person. With that in mind-- I have seen adult students, who at one time lacked solid drawing ability, who now create some of the most impressive drawings I've seen. In fact, when it comes to art school 'raw talent' is often viewed as a burden for instructors because those students tend to cling to it rather than develop further through practice and dedication.

As for art books and guides on how to draw-- I'll agree that they can be helpful. Books of that nature have become a multi-million dollar industry-- so obviously they help some people. However, the blunt of those books and guides rely on rote learning methods that come at the expense of individualism. Often what makes a drawing interesting is the individual marks made by the artists-- when those intuitive choices are structured down to a mere formula the end result is often stale work that is uninteresting to the viewer.

As for the Suzuki Method-- do realize that is just one of many educational philosophies. His work has been criticized for fostering rote learning application at the expense of individualism as well. The ability of students who have been trained under that method is often described as "robotic". Not to mention that students under the philosophy are often burdened with the need to return to it even as adults. In a sense, they become trapped in the methods.

What excites people about a song, a book, or a drawing for that matter-- is the creators ability to express his or her 'authentic voice'. You can't really learn that from a book, guide or educational method. It comes from within.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
Brian, you're almost right about Suzuki.
the way they teach it students do learn to read music, almost at the same time as learning by ear. So as students advance, they have a tremendous advantage, as they learn to read music by sight and also learn to pick up music from the air. This gives them more tools for learning than by the other method.

Spencer Meagher
Brian I like your response. Indeed God does bless some with more talent than others. However, anyone can learn art and improve on their ability. It just takes practice.

Brian Sherwin
Mimi, the problem with the Suzuki method is that it has so many interpretations. How one instructor uses it may be very different compared to another instructor. That said, the criticism of the method is still present-- I found page after page from one mere Google search.

Also, the method itself is not exactly original-- it is more like a hodge-podge of other instructional methods, some of which have been around for more than 100 years. My point-- don't give Suzuki too much credit as the end all be all of instructional methods. Especially when it borrows so much from time-tested educational methods.

With all of that in mind-- I still say there is something to natural, raw, or whatever you wish to call it-- talent. That goes for both music and art. The problem with instructional methods-- in regards to both music and art-- is that they often don't place enough focus on developing an authentic voice, so to speak.

In my opinion, individualism spurs interest far more than solid application as dictated by an instructional method. I am of the same opinion in regards to drawing/painting instructional books. True, they can teach solid technique-- but that flare of individualism is still important.

Esther J. Williams
Brian, your last comment about raw talent rang true in my ears. In elementary school, I was one of those children. I am not trying to toot my own horn, but these are facts. I came from a large family of ten children, my mother was too busy mopping floors and cooking dinners to be able to take us anywhere to view art. Not one of my brothers or sisters exercised art abilities, my father was a vacuum cleaner salesman and a drunk at night. I started in creating at the age of 2-3 and as early as first grade was recognized as exceptional in the classroom by the teacher. I have clear memories of praise from each teacher and many students all the way through school into college. Yes, it was raw, I sometimes think it was wild and needed to be tamed. Funny how decades later of learning art principles I feel semi tamed and still a little wild. The wild part is my uniqueness, my voice, my passion, the tame part helps to refine it. The crudeness slowly disappears as we artists age. Being intuitive is what steers me to make choices in art production, it always has been and always will. Thanks Brian for your words, I feel a little better today when I needed it.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
I forgot to say, Brian that I agree with you completely on the rest of your post and I thank you for the anecdotes about the kids. i love to hear stuff like that.

Brian Sherwin
Children can do amazing things. We would all be wise to pay more attention to what they accomplish.

Sandy Askey-Adams
My goodness,,,, what a subject that has been going back and forth.

Like Esther, I was one of those kids too that had the natural ability. I grew up thinking it was the ONLY thing I was good at doing which was unfortunate too.

But, There was another young girl in my class who was exceptional at art. (Grade school) She was amazingly gifted. Many years later when in my twenties, I ran into her while out to dinner with my husband. She was our waitress. I asked her what she was doing with her art. She said NOTHING at all and she had not drawn or painted for many years. I was stunned. I said to her "but you had such talent...why are you not doing anything with it?" She shrugged her shoulders and simply said "Why? I don't feel like it. I am interested in art." I found myself almost begging her to go back to it because of her great talent and ability...and reminding her it was a gift from God to be used and shared and given back to Him.
I had already been selling my paintings, entering art shows and running art shows...and taking art classes., there was someone who had the talent and I kid you not... She was excellent...and this was in grade school. I always felt that she was going to go big places with her art. Nope. I could never understand.

Do I feel that anyone can learn to do art? NO, I do not. When I hear or read those kind of words, it is like reducing the talent and ability to do art into nothing. It is a gift to be used, to be appreciated and to improve upon also...but it comes with that gift being there comes with having the soul of an artist.

Sandy Askey-Adams
My goodness,,,, what a subject that has been going back and forth.

Like Esther, I was one of those kids too that had the natural ability. I grew up thinking it was the ONLY thing I was good at doing which was unfortunate too.

But, There was another young girl in my class who was exceptional at art. (Grade school) She was amazingly gifted. Many years later when in my twenties, I ran into her while out to dinner with my husband. She was our waitress. I asked her what she was doing with her art. She said NOTHING at all and she had not drawn or painted for many years. I was stunned. I said to her "but you had such talent...why are you not doing anything with it?" She shrugged her shoulders and simply said "Why? I don't feel like it. I am interested in art." I found myself almost begging her to go back to it because of her great talent and ability...and reminding her it was a gift from God to be used and shared and given back to Him.
I had already been selling my paintings, entering art shows and running art shows...and taking art classes., there was someone who had the talent and I kid you not... She was excellent...and this was in grade school. I always felt that she was going to go big places with her art. Nope. I could never understand.

Do I feel that anyone can learn to do art? NO, I do not. When I hear or read those kind of words, it is like reducing the talent and ability to do art into nothing. It is a gift to be used, to be appreciated and to improve upon also...but it comes with that gift being there comes with having the soul of an artist.

Sandy Askey-Adams
I missed the word NOT in the sentence that the woman said to me about not doing her art...Sorry.
IT should read "Why? I don't feel like it. I am NOT interested in art."

COuld have sworn I typed it in...Maybe it was too fast and did not pick it up.

Spencer Meagher
Sandy I have disagree a bit with your statement that not everyone can learn art. Everyone can learn to draw or paint. Most will never develop to a proficient level, for whatever reason, but they can still learn from and enjoy the process of creating.

Sandy Askey-Adams

Why do you say that?
My thoughts do remain the same. Guess we will have to agree to disagree.


Spencer Meagher
Hi Sandy,
I'm not quite sure what you are asking in your response, but perhaps if I state my thought this way it may be clearer.

Every student that goes to school must learn to write cursive. It is a basic element of education. However, not all students will develop beautiful handwriting. In fact most students handwriting is atrocious. (Just look at your average high schooler's penmanship.)There are those that love writing and take great pride in the way they form the letters that make up the words in their sentence.

My point is this; they all learned to write. They were all able to be trained. But those that truly enjoy it and see writing as something wonderful excelled far beyond those that just see it as a necessary evil. I hope you can see the parallel I've tried to draw with the art world. At any rate, that's my two cents worth.

I hope I haven't offended you, for certainly that wasn't my intent.

Keith Bond
There will always be a divide between those who give God credit for their abilities and those who give themselves credit.

I for one, give God the credit. Do I work hard to develop my abilities? Absolutely. But God blesses my work by giving me more ability. There's an old saying - God helps those who help themselves.

Another thought - it is impossible to prove whether someone began with talent or not. Just because someone doesn't appear to have talent when they begin, doesn't mean that the seed of talent wasn't there from the beginning.

One might be given a seed and another person a tree. The seed can grow to surpass the tree if the seed is nourished and the tree isn't. But you cannot grow a tree from no seed at all.

So for me, I believe that talent is an inborn gift from God. It is given in different quantities. Others are given different talents - again in varying quantities. This is not to say that I am better than someone without the talent. No, I'm just different. I lack more talents than I possess.

These are my beliefs. You are each free to have your own beliefs. Agree or disagree.

Keith Bond
One more thought -

Yes, anyone can hold a pencil and make marks on the paper. They can even have fun. You may call it drawing, you may call it scribble. It might be half decent.

Does that mean it is art?

I can hold a scalpel in my hand. I have a pretty steady hand. I can make incisions in someone's body. Does that make me a surgeon? I hope not.

Creating art is much more than drawing or painting or sculpting or whatever. Just like surgery is much more than just cutting and sewing.

Art is a talent. So is medicine. So are sports and mathematics and physics and biology and public speaking. Can anyone learn some aspects of each of these? Absolutely. But that does not mean that just anyone can become a surgeon or athlete or mathematician or physicist. Or artist.

It takes something much more than can be learned. It takes something from within. A gift.

Jo Allebach
WOW! What a concept. And all this time i thought it was the working hard that made me an artist. Now I can realize it is as my best friend Michael says to me all the time, "a God given talent."
I'll still be working hard though.

Sandy Askey-Adams

Thank you for stating it so well.
It is true. It is a God given talent. One that we, as artists, are to nourish, and yes, that includes working hard. AND that is my belief. It has been my belief ever since I was a little girl.

Talent and being an artist does not come from just working hard. IT began, as Keith said so well, as a seed planted there by God. It is up to each artist to nourish that gift.
No one will ever lead me to believe otherwise. I am grateful to God for the talent I do have. All I can do is work hard to improve upon it and offer a prayer of gratitude everyday to God. (I usually do pray before or during a painting for God's guidance.)

It is up to each artist who has been given this talent to acknowledge this gift, work hard and do their best with it.
NOT everyone has this talent. But, they will have other talents.

AND it is not like learning to write from way back in grade school. It is a totally and completely different thing...the two cannot be compared. There are those who could draw before they could write. Some have miserable handwriting, but draw incredibly well.
BTW, I know a couple of calligraphers who are great at what they do...fabulous. They cannot draw...and they tell me... in the true sense of drawing,they cannot.

I cannot imagine any artist NOT giving thanks to God for the gift they have...and remembering every time they pick up that pencil, pen or brush or pastel that it begins with God and His gift. It is not there without His grace. (And I realize there are those who do not believe in God, but these are my beliefs.)

AND "working hard" is part of "nourishing that gift."

Sandy Askey-Adams
oh, btw,,,,
I do a lot of the outdoor art shows and have done them for over 27 years or more.

As you can imagine, I have met thousands upon thousands of people in all those years. Never has anyone said to me after viewing all the artists works in the show....that just anyone could be an artist.
Quite the contrary. They say all the time it is a Gift from God...and even thank me for using and sharing it with them.
Most also go on to say that they have tried drawing and/or painting and simply cannot. They further say that they do not have it in them.
They tell me they have an appreciation for the artists and their art (or they would not be visiting and buying art at the shows.) It seems to me that the majority of the public out there realize this, including those who have tried.

Carol Schmauder
Keith, I really like the fact that you give God credit for your talent. He has blessed all of His children with one talent or another (or many) and we are expected to improve them and share them with others. It is nice to see so many others in this forum also give credit to Heavenly Father for their talents.

Esther J. Williams
Just to let you know, there are people who are artists who are not practicing, devoted Christians and believe that their ability is from their soul, their spirit, it belongs to the individual and comes from a deep place within and maybe even the earth`s soul. For example, native Americans have a distinct belief in nature Gods or symbols.
I for one feel attributing an artistic gift to a divine power outside of yourself is not giving your own being empowerment. I am sensitive to the fact that there are many different religions, native American beliefs and other divinities in this world.
What causes wars in this world is people who push Christianity onto everyone. It is not a blanket worldwide belief, their are millions of people in this world and not all believe in God as the sole creator of earth and man.
Art is a human asset, part of man`s emerging consciousness to be used in his physical life to the best of his abilities. You can say it comes from God and that is your belief, you have your rights to that belief as long as you live.
I believe differently and I am not an atheist, but a spiritually aware being that acknowledges powers coming from a higher consciousness, not Jesus Christ.
In all fairness, I disagree with your statements that we need to thank God. In my terms, art and the natural gift of being an artist comes from within the individual and the spirit of that being. The differences in each individual`s thoughts or beliefs are vast as to whom they owe gratitude to as a divine power.
I say this with love, love that I have for art, this earth and all it`s inhabitants, humans, creatures and Mother nature.

Sandy Askey-Adams

I do not think you had to let me know that there are other people practicing other beliefs and I said that somewhere in my comments. We are all sensitive to the fact that there are many different religions.

I never said my belief was anyone else's belief...other than those people I have met at art shows who have stated that was their belief, be they Christian, Jewish or not. Nothing wrong with that...and no offense intended.

I always stated that it was my belief. Not your belief. I never said this is what Esther believes too.
I never mentioned the name of Jesus Christ...I always mentioned God...although I am a follower of the teachings of Christ and believe in Him and His teachings..and that He is the Son of God.

I attended Catholic Schooling where they believed it was a Gift from God and I am of that same belief. Many people who are not catholic also believe it to be a gift from God.

Christianity does not cause wars. I am not attacking anyone's faith as that statement does. No one is narrow-minded enough to think that there is only one faith or belief in this world. I was stating where I was coming from.

And when I said I cannot imagine any artist not giving thanks to God, I meant those who believed in God. I did not think I had to explain that. I should have re-read it and re-written that part in a better way. My apology for not doing that.

I will restate that we need to give thanks to whatever or whoever we believe those talents come from.
If you believe those powers come only from within you, then if you want, you can give thanks for those powers.

I also believe that we have powers within ourselves and I am grateful for that, but, I believe that God bestowed those powers within me to use...and for that, I do give thanks.

When we think of Positive thinking, etc...that can come from within us and the way we control our thinking. For me, all of that begins with God.
Obviously, He does not take my hand and paint the painting for me, but my belief is that He did give me the ability to paint a painting...and I welcome His guidance.

TO believe in God does not make me less than you.
To believe in God does not take away my own empowerment.
I believe also that being an artist is in the soul, the spirit. However, my belief is that the soul comes from God.

I still say we should give thanks that we are able to use this talent. TO be grateful to whoever we are and whatever we believe.

And, I still believe it is a gift to be shared.

Brian Sherwin
Esther said, “What causes wars in this world is people who push Christianity onto everyone. It is not a blanket worldwide belief, their are millions of people in this world and not all believe in God as the sole creator of earth and man.”

I don”t want to turn this debate into a battle of religion. However, as a Christian and world observer I feel obliged to offer a few thoughts on this statement. I would say that extremists of any given faith-- or lack thereof-- shine the blades of war in this world. It is absurd to put all the blame on the backs of Christians-- which so often happens in the media.

I realize people have strong feelings against Christianity-- I've actually lost friends after they realized my chosen faith. I've even been told I should conceal my faith if I wish to be taken serious by fellow art writers. The mainstream art world is very, very, very anti-Christian... yet tends to embrace all other faiths.

Brian Sherwin
As for war-- true, religion can be used as a morale booster during times of struggle. Some world leaders do it directly while others merely hint at it. That said, at the heart of war you will find resources. That has, in most cases, always been the reason if you look just under the surface. One group of people want what another group has-- be it gold, wood, oil... what have you.

There will always be war as long as there are resources that people need. Take the Crusades for example-- both sides wanted resources, trade routes, and strategic offensive and defensive locations to secure their empires. Even if religion did not exist people would still be fighting for those things.

Religion aside, that struggle goes back to nature. Even the beast of the field fight for resources, better ground, and so on. Have you ever seen a small child smack another child in order to claim a piece of candy for himself or herself? Or a child who breaks another childs toy so that he or she has the "better" toy? I have. The ability to act on violence in order to reap a reward or degree of status is one thing that we can be certain everyone is born with.

Joanne Benson
Very well stated. I agree with your observations on religion, war and resources.

I didn't realize that the mainstream art world was biased against Christians....but then again...I'm just small potatoes! I guess I have never experienced that bias.

Brian Sherwin
Joanne, having interviewed 500 artists since 2006-- many of whom have exhibited in NYC and other art world hubs... I've picked up on a few negative things. The ones who are Christian often try their best to keep their spiritual life hidden from the professional side of that world. I could drop names-- but that would be a major blow to my integrity as a writer and interviewer.

You can also observe it in some of the exhibits that take place. For example, when religion is explored at a mainstream art gallery it often comes in the form of of exploring Christianity in a negative manner. That is perfectly acceptable in my opinion. However, I'd like to know why we rarely see an art exhibit exploring the negative aspects of other faiths-- especially ones that obviously impact global affairs. You just don't see that...

Some will suggest that art museums are pro-Christian based on exhibits/displays showing Christian themed art that is several hundred years old. Fair enough. That said, when museums focus on exhibits exploring religion that involve living artists you rarely see any work that explores the positive side of the Christian faith-- though you will see other faiths explored in a positive manner... often with Christians being cast as the 'bad guys'.

For whatever reason Christianity is an easy target within the contemporary art world. When other religions are explored in the same negative manner it is not uncommon for said works to be stamped as "hateful", "intolerant", or worse-- and for the artist to be told that he or she is being "reckless" or cultivating "violence".

Create an image of Christ out of cow dung with plastic soldiers melting around the image and you may end up being called "brilliant". Create the same kind of image involving a religious figure from another religion and you will be called "racist", "prejudice", or worse. That is how it has been for decades within the mainstream art world.

I've had some heated debates over this issue... and more often than not the critic denying religious bias will end up saying that there is no "good example of Christian themed art" or that artists who happen to be Christian make "mediocre" art-- or that Christians only make "Jesus art". It is absurd.

Maybe I'll write something about this issue... forgive the lengthy comment Stede. I know we have all got a bit off track with the focus of this article. That said, I'm enjoying the debate that has been spurred by it.

Carolyn Henderson
Brian --

Thank you for your insight based upon your rich experience; I found it most enlightening.

I'm thinking that being a Christian artist brings to it the same challenge of being a Christian, period. How does one integrate one's faith so completely and totally into the fiber of one's being that the two are inseparable, and yet, one does not spout off pithy sayings and "Jesus" this and "Jesus" that (one of the most intolerably rigid people I have met posted Bible verses on post it notes throughout her house).

I read something by George MacDonald last night that gave me pause -- paraphrased, it was that we should never teach children that they have souls, because then they will have the idea that when they die, their souls will go elsewhere and their selves will be stuck down in the cold ground.

Rather, we should recognize that we are souls, and that we possess bodies that stay behind while we go elsewhere.

Looking at the same facts from a different perspective provides startling differences in interpretation.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello Carolyn, Brian.. and Stede....
(See what you started Stede, LOL)

Never teach children that they have souls? Amazing. If he believes we have souls, then he is not being honest with the children.

Why not tell the truth??...that the body and soul reunite at the end of time as we know some of us believe. Nothing is impossible with God.

Someone (A psychologist I had been seeing years ago) who did not share the same belief that I had told me as he was trying to force his belief onto me....(and he really was trying to do that) that when death comes, the soul becomes a part of the earth, the air and nourishes the earth..and that is it. I ended our sessions. This was totally unrelated to why I was seeking his help. Anyway..........I could also say that this is also unrelated to the art, but for me it is not.

Brian, you had mentioned about writing somethng in reference to this type of subject.
Perhaps as it relates to artists and the art world would be a good thing to write.

I think our faith (whatever that faith or belief may be) is or can be part of our personal growth as an artist and the process of understanding out true self. As artists are we not meant to speak the truth of what is inside our souls. What we believe goes into that.

Carolyn Henderson
Sandy --

It's not that we are bodies that have souls, it's that we are souls that have bodies. Same words, different perspective.

Stede Barber
What an amazing conversation this has been! Sorry I was rather out of the loop for the duration...I'd just started my largest canvas to date, a wonderful, challenging ride. I paint in the field a lot, and this involved 4-wheeling up to a friend's cabin at the foot of the Pedernal, a well-known mesa in the Abiquiu, NM area.

So...I wanted to get back to a few of you...

Kim, I really enjoyed the information you shared about accomplished people and the seeming lack of respect for the WORK they put in to get where they are! Funnily enough, someone later mentioned how most think of how much work and time an accomplished pianist puts into his excellence, but think a wonderful artist was born that way...

Carolyn, a key part of my intent for this article is exactly what you describe...thanks for wording it so well!

Holly - I'm going to look into The Talent Code, it sounds interesting.

I'm reminded of a teacher I love and learned so much from, Scott Christensen...he is a great believer in practice with not only do we need to put in the time, but time with purpose and focus. Funnily enough, he really was an athlete before turning to art, and brought the discipline of sport into his art.

Sharon, what a great answer to how long did it take to do that painting? I used to answer with my age, but am getting to the point where I prefer your answer to revealing just how long I've been at it!

Keith, thank you for taking the time to write so well on this topic.

Brian, I especially appreciate your comments about students with little exposure to art who had natural "talent". Your comment about natural intuitiveness and observation is wonderful.

I recommend looking into Betty Edwards work (Drawing in the Right Side of the Brain, Drawing on the Artist Within, etc) I did a project with high level scientists who wanted to learn to draw (and definitely felt they couldn't) using her techniques...and my students all had tremendous, obvious success in gaining an ability to see with an artists eyes, improve their drawing ability, and just as important, enjoy their experience. Interestingly, none of them wanted to be artists...they were all high-level physicists, scientists, and engineers and were happy and successful in their work. But...they also wanted to draw.

This is getting long, I'll continue in another post...

In general, thank you everyone for your intelligent and heartfelt comments.

Stede Barber
Keith...I wanted to say more specifically Thank You for interpreting the story of the Talents as you's a wonderful tale, and I appreciate yet another way to look at it.

Esther, thank you for your beautiful writing.

Once religion and spirituality become a topic, we are on very sensitive and personal ground. I find it wonderful and fascinating that a conversation about art and talent goes here.

Jo, Love your sentiment...perhaps part of the gift of an artist is that we choose to work on our art!

I will circle back to Carolyn's early comment. I wish that art was considered in our education to be as valuable as science, math, language, and history. We'd probably have more collectors who realized the value of having art around them.

Thank you all for contributing to this conversation. Given the sensitivity of some of the subjects we covered, I also appreciate the efforts made to be accepting.

Here's to each one of us as we explore our art. My loving and support goes out to anyone who feels a call to draw, sing, write, do something creative. May you find your form of expression, and good companionship along the way.


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