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A little rant, for your mental consumption:

March 12, 2008

He’s two or three rows behind me in the auditorium. I can’t see his face but I know just by the sound of his voice what to expect. Big guy, porcine complexion, little squinty eyes from staring too long down the barrel of his rifle, football t-shirt, maybe a ball cap. I’m stereotyping, but that’s the sound of his voice: Midwest Redneck.

His voice carries farther than my row, but that’s all the farther it needed to go, anyway.

“Naw,” he chuckles, “you jest raight-click on the pichure and it’ll save it.” (Yes, this is how he talks. No, I’m not exaggerating. Much.) “‘N’ even if’n they’s got it so’s you cain’t, you kin jest do a screenshot of it. That’s what I do. ‘S how I got my logo fer my team. Shit, I wa’n’t gonna pay four damn bucks for a logo.”

In my palms four crescent red welts appear: the artist/graphic designer’s stigmata. We bleed every time an art thief gets away with it. I want to climb, Samara-style, backwards over the seat, disjointed as a spider, until I’m looming over him, my eyes pitch-black and demonic, and vomit up four dollars in his lap. Then scream in a banshee’s unholy wail “IS FOUR DOLLARS TOO EXPENSIVE FOR YOU, YOU TIGHT-FISTED REDNECK FUCKTARD?” Unfortunately, I’m not hinged that way.

The thing is, it got me thinking again about how the arts are regarded in this country. It got me thinking about what a misnomer the word “talent” is, and how every day I hate it a little more. “Talent” denigrates artists of all kinds.

Think about this: if a ten year old kid likes to tinker with his bike, fixing the chain when it busts, installing new accessories on it, and such, although most of his friends wouldn’t know a socket set from a screwdriver–do we call him talented? Or the computer whiz that figures out how write their own game, is he talented? Or the kid who can do all his math in his head without counting on his fingers, and who understands long division when everyone else is still on multiplication? What about the kid in science class who figures out what you can do with some sodium and a toilet?

Do we call those kids talented? No. Not usually. But they are.

The same as the kid who learns to play the piano early, or the little girl with the Christina Aguilera voice and ear for pitch, or the kid who draws star-spangled bunny rabbits on their preschool homework that actually look like bunny-rabbits.

The problem is that in ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years, our artists will still be “talented” and our mechanics and mathematicians, scientists and computer geeks will be “skilled.” Their jobs will garner them respect because people *know* how difficult it is to be a mathematician or a mechanic or a computer genius. People know that it takes years of hard work and study to reach the skill level that allows you to make a living in those fields. More importantly: they most often get that respect from people who wouldn’t want their job in a million years.

But artists, actors, musicians, writers, dancers… pfft. That’s talent. It’s easy, right? Easy to paint a picture, or sing a song, or act in a play, or write a book for that matter. Hell, deep down, everyone secretly suspects THEY could do it, too. If they just had the time, or a little more talent. They don’t see that we go through the same growing process. That for us to be truly good at what we do, we have to acquire a rather advanced skill set as well. That it takes more than a natural inclination and a little imagination to do what we do.

The assumption that art is easy is one of the reasons why Arts Education budgets have been so severely cut across this country. Why should they spend money teaching kids something it’s easy enough to learn on their own? Why should taxpayers pay to teach kids how to be artists or musicians or writers instead of how to get *real* jobs? Why teach them hobbies? We *need* more mechanics and doctors and computer experts and engineers… but we don’t really need artists or musicians or actors. To that I say: imagine if you will a world where there was no art, no music, no design, no fiction or poetry or song or dance. Who would do the technical drawings in your anatomy textbooks? Or draw road maps? or design your cars or websites or merchandise? Who would write music that makes you remember someone you lost, or proud of your country, or angry at politicians? Who would design your clothes, or sew them? Who would make you laugh? Still think we’re not necessary?

But I digress from my original point. Let’s clarify something:

“Talent” is, really, a natural inclination towards a subject. It’s what drives you to pick up that pencil or screwdriver in the first place. It’s what allows you to see the true colors in clouds or the way program code works. It’s what tells you that two notes will sound nice together or that you can divide that number by that one and get a whole number. It’s what makes a class clown funny.

“Skill” is Talent plus Training. It’s the years of study into human anatomy, whether you intend to apply it on paper in a drawing or in three dimensions on an operating table. It’s the years of practice that allow you to hear the individual notes in a chord, or the difference between an engine running smoothly or with a cracked mount. Skill is in the hands of a doctor, or a writer or an artist or a musician. It’s in the voice of the opera singer or the politician or the professional actor. In the timing of a professional athlete or a comedian or a marksman.

But until people start seeing that, we’re still going to have to deal with people like my grammatically-challenged art thief, who won’t shell out a few bucks for a logo. Because to him art doesn’t represent anything he understands. In his peanut sized brain that logo probably magically sprang into being, straight from the artist’s pen like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Someone didn’t have to come up with the idea, or figure out the best way to execute it, or try and find the right colors for it. It’s not even worth less than the price of a Whopper. You can bet that same four bucks, though, that he wouldn’t just walk in and steal a Whopper. Or a four dollar object from a store. He’d never ask a plumber to fix his busted toilet for free, or a mechanic to change his oil for nothing.

But his morals don’t apply to art because it’s just a hobby, a talent, something he doesn’t even think about.

And hey… it’s not like he’s ever going to get caught. Who cares about a little piece of art anyway?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2008 9:43 pm

    “I want to climb, Samara-style, backwards over the seat, disjointed as a spider, until I’m looming over him, my eyes pitch-black and demonic, and vomit up four dollars in his lap. Then scream in a banshee’s unholy wail “IS FOUR DOLLARS TOO EXPENSIVE FOR YOU, YOU TIGHT-FISTED REDNECK FUCKTARD?” Unfortunately, I’m not hinged that way.”

    This is a beautiful image, and deserves it’s own portrait, or wall to wall capture.

    I don’t know. I’ve never been able to see art as easy, because everything I make I end up hating–seeing where I could have done better, or seeing where I screwed up, or seeing where I should have done this or that.

    I do envy other artists their talent, but I never think it’s something easy. If I had the money to spend on it, I think I’d have a house full of it.

  2. Arianna permalink
    July 27, 2008 3:11 am

    AMEN to that. Few things piss me off more than people who just dismiss artists as people with “a silly little hobby” who should “get a real job” (someone said that to me once. and never said it again.) Or people who go around stealing other’s art and don’t care to think that someone might have put effort into the art.

    It takes work to make a painting look just the way you want it or a story to play out just like you dreamed.

    But then, for me it’s worth putting up with people like your redneck friend when the guy in the desk next to me sees a simple sketch i’ve done and tells me how cool it is and that he wishes he could draw like that. Or when i overhear a conversation where someone is telling his friends how he found that drawing well was harder than it looked and how he realizes how much effort artists must put in to their work. It reassures me that there are people who don’t consider art a stupid pastime and can actually appreciate it.

    and if that made sense, great. if not, then oh well. it made sense in my scattered brain.

  3. June 15, 2009 1:24 pm

    Couldn’t agree more – and that’s speaking as a writer, not a painter. At least when we’re plagiarised we can Google for it >.<

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