Sunday, November 2, 2014

Words of wisdom about talent - the need to connect your art to life

Compiling selected quotes here from a long discussion. I was already aware of some of this, but it gets very specific and there's some stuff that's fairly new to me. One discovery is that talent is one of those super divisive subjects like religion or politics that get people all fired up - that actually took me by surprise. I'm sure I'll be writing more about some aspects of this as I process it and can begin to develop my own thinking on it more. I became aware of the importance of 'drawing from life' in my writing many years ago, and of course I know the importance of literally drawing from life, but now I'm seeing the need to draw inspiration and detail for characters and settings from life for illustrations as well as stories - makes sense. I was already basically doing that, just hadn't really connected it all together consciously. 

From a few people on Conceptart:

"My brother is 2.5 years older than me. He used to love to draw as a kid. I started drawing too. And within 6 months of drawing together almost every day I had gotten so much better than him that he quit drawing. He turned out to be an incredible musician, but art wasn't where his talent was. I remembered what I saw. He did not. I believed what I was drawing. He couldn't. I could close my eyes and see images. He tried and tried but it just didn't happen for him. Simple as that.

"I've heard similar stories from many other artists regarding their own siblings. These stories couldn't be simpler proof of the existence of talent.

"On the opposite end of things; I've known quite a few people who have been artists their whole lives and never got any good. Yet they practiced and practiced, and a lot of them even made careers as artists, although always at the low end of things (where most artists who are good enough to get work, but not good enough to distinguish themselves from the pack, reside in the industry). Most of those weak artist I have known are only too keenly aware of their limitations. They look and look at Frazetta and the Golden Age illustrators, and the Famous Artists Course, and Loomis' books, and the great painters, etc, and they appreciate with all their hearts, and try to learn, but they can't even begin to fathom. It just doesn't penetrate. They know art is not magic, yet they still can't learn the tricks. They don't have visions that they believe. They can't live in their work. The best they can be is weak comic book artists, hacky illustrators, or production people."

"Every super talent I've met has their own kind of unique mind, a guiding philosophy, a strong sense of humor, a great ability to tell story, and strangely keen perception. And all of them have an ability to engineer all manner of things besides artworks without ever having taken a single class in engineering.
 "This peculiar ability is the same thing that great actors have, great musicians have, and great artists have. Children, adults in dream states, and crazy people have half of this ability, naturally... the ability to fall into an imaginative belief state about their conceptions. But it is the ability to transmit the belief state as emotion-encoded fiction to an audience through a plastic medium that is the major difference." 

"All of us are limited in so many ways. For instance, we all have some level of imaginative ability; nobody's imaginative ability is the same. If we could truly imagine how people who are more imaginative than us imagine, we would be able to imagine as well as them, so they wouldn't be more imaginative anymore. But that's not how it works. Some imaginations have tremendous scope and some are insignificant. The insignificant, definitionally cannot imagine the tremendous. We simply cannot comprehend more than our potential for comprehension allows."

"Many can train themselves to copy stuff flawlessly, many can gather all the technical, factological, enciclopedic knowledge about tools, perspective, colors, composition, styles, teaching methods, history, cultures, many are devoted fans who know everything about their idols, artists can develop good working habits, humility, reliability and stay in the business for decades, ,... and it should be obvious that these artists possess everything there is needed to express their visions with authenticity and truth. But they can't and they don't. Their imaginary creations look good and correct, but don't feel believable, they don't provide the full depth of sensitive immersion.
I could settle for a big-T Talent to encompass Giftedness as well.
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit.
Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
–Arthur Schopenhauer
And I think this ties in with Schopenhauer quote like so; when you take "infinite pains" to create your work in your chosen field and medium, you not only begin to have an intuitive sense of how things are working in that milieu, but you also begin to see the domain in which you are working in with much greater clarity. You begin to see the light, so to speak. And that is when one begins seeing targets that nobody else sees. Which allows you to aim at them, and possibly hit them.
As well, "taking infinite pains" also goes hand in hand with the idea that "craft exists to maximize talent." So in taking infinite pains, one is pushing one's craft to the limit in order to maximize the results of one's talent. So Genius is wholly tied up with one's considerable gift of talent taken to its limit by ambition and craftsmanship.
And the goal of all this ambitious pushing of one's craft in order to maximize one's talent-gift is, I think, to produce a masterpiece in one's domain of endeavor. And, actually, I think the production of a masterpiece is really the only proof of genius we have. Even if an artist only produces a single masterpiece in their lifetime, I think it can be said that they were a genius when they did it.
I don't think there is such a thing as a genius without a masterpiece, without some astonishing discovery, without some profound innovation that isn't simply creativity for its own sake.
However, down the line, once some professional level competency is reached, making really strong art is always exhausting. And pushing through exhaustion takes some willfulness that the nominally talented may have more practice at, as compared to the super talented."

"My understanding of talent; the ability to sustain emotionalized belief in an imaginatively synthesized fiction as it is performed through a plastic medium, such that the emotionalized belief state is sensually encoded in the fictional enactment. Thus, an audience member when experiencing the enactment, may also receive the emotional encoding aesthetically."

"Pyle once said that all truly great paintings are popular, but not all popular paintings are great. He obviously was living in a time before people could be so brainwashed by media or academia, and so controlled by the same, that they not only have no idea who Brangwyn, Fechin, or Sorolla were, but they wouldn't even know how to process such work except according to received dogma, buzzwords, and soundbites. My feeling is that great work will always be celebrated by those who have that sensitivity. The problem for any particular great artwork or artist is having access to an appreciative audience that has not been either brainwashed by "elite" pressure to hate great art as inherently fascistic, undemocratic, commercial, bourgeoise (or some such bullshit) or been conditioned to consume only entertaining sensationalism by mass cultural forces (peer pressure, marketing, bandwagonism, etc.)"
"That not all people are equally talented, or equally sensitive to talent or creative energy, again, does not make any of this magic. No more than a telescope or a radar system is magic when compared to the naked eye.
 "This is why I think it is absolutely the case that only great mathematicians can fathom just how great the really great mathematicians are. Same with engineers, same with actors, artists, musicians, rhetors, atheletes, pilots, or whomever. Laymen can appreciate the heck out of a true master in any discipline, even worship them, but they will never truly appreciate the greatness without have some degree of it themselves in the relevant discipline. It takes talent to truly appreciate talent, it takes intelligence to truly appreciate intelligence, experience to appreciate experience, wisdom to appreciate wisdom, depth to appreciate philosophy, imagination to appreciate imagination, craftsmanship to appreciate craftsmanship, etc.
"Equally, it is so that the smarter we get, the more we realize how little we know. And this is where epistemology comes in and saves us from so much assumption based on second hand ideology and received "wisdom.""

"Talented people are much better at constructing an authentic imaginary world (which doesn't necessarily mean scifi/fantasy) because they can sensually experience reality more deeply, intensely and subtly and then weave these felt experiences into the visual structure of their work. Because they can do that, their work arouses these feelings in the viewer so we can not only see the imaginary world, but sensuously experience it too. Not just in terms of nice colors, dynamic designs, perfect perspective and cool monster heads, but in terms of honesty, truth and universality. The drawing of a tree doesn't just look like a tree, it feels like a tree." 

"I think the snag here is in terminology. When that immersive and empathic (einf├╝hlung) capacity and sensitivity reach that ‘super’ state, incorporating high creative capacity resulting in a strong ability to poetically communicate essence as well, it transcends the basic notion of Talent and enters the purview of Giftedness (in need of a better term), with the third and higher quantum level being artistic genius."
"There are levels of talent, levels of giftedness, an issue of range rather than a difference in the essential quality we are talking about. One might say that everybody has talent to some degree, but there are some people who are more gifted with it, have it in great preponderance, than others. And those people can make a living in the arts in some capacity. And among those who are tremendously gifted with talent there is the capacity for great success in the arts and even genius. And in this regard, I like how this Thomas Carlyle quote about genius plays into it: Genius is the capacity to take infinite pains."
"It seems probable that the greatly talented work at their art more often than the weakly talented simply because the talented get immediate encouragement from their quicker results and so keep doing it, while the less talented are more likely to get frustrated or exhausted because they are working harder for weaker results. Plus the stronger talents will be given more offers to use their talent, both in collaboration and on professional assignments. Thus they will be incentivized to continue. Weaker talents, if people are honest with them, will be dis-incentivized and will seek out other, more productive uses of their time. Unless they have some kind of sad obsession with being an artist. (Howard Pyle said, "If you are going to be an artist, all hell can't stop you. If you aren't going to be an artist, all heaven can't help you.)"
Read more:

And by Fritz Lieber from his speech/essay Fafhrd and Me, which incidentally I just re-read 2 days ago and covers very similar ground, without ever calling it Talent:

"We were using all our characters, including Fafhrd and the Mouser, to comment on life and the affairs of the world.

"Fafhrd began as a somewhat regulation hero, though he has grown much less so. As for the Gray Mouser, one can point out faint similarities to Loki, Peer Gynt, Fran├žois Villon, Etzel Andergast in Wassermann’s Kerkhoven trilogy, Spendius in Flaubert’s Salammbo, Jurgen himself and Horvendile in The Cream of the Jest, even the Pied Piper of Hamelin and Punch as a young man, but they are greatly outweighed by the differences—quite unconvincing. The Mouser stubbornly remains the Mouser alone.

"Authors, of course, inevitably put much of themselves into their characters. So in a sense Harry Fischer is the Gray Mouser and I am Fafhrd.

"Being Fafhrd to some degree has been, over the years, an interesting responsibility, which I have fulfilled more in imagination than reality.

"I do fence with the three weapons and I have owned workaday sabers, both the fairly comfortable weapon of the Civil War and the ponderous straight blade issued to the U.S. Cavalry just before World War I, which I can liken only to a skewer suitable for broiling roast-size shish kebab. I have occasionally toyed with one of the latter weapons in the manner of Fafhrd, handling it as a foil rather than a broadsword, and I find it really is better for thrusting; if you swing it in a great swashing stroke, you’re apt to fall down.

"And occasionally I look down at my unexercised frame and I think of Fafhrd and I go out and climb a fifty-foot mountain or scale a ten-foot rock wall. Or drive a mountain road just fast enough to make the tires start to squeak. Or sail a sailboat in a lagoon. Or plunge into a medium-size Pacific roller, but not one of the really big ones that come crashing in for three days every three years, all the way from Japan.

"For a while I was handier at living up to Fafhrd’s reputation for wine-bibbing, but I discovered that this was incompatible with being the skald and scribe of the expedition. As the poet Peter Viereck puts it, “Art, like the bartender, is never drunk” —though he rightly stays in the midst of every wild party.

"I was working up a many-chaptered novel of the Mouser and Fafhrd, which had as a working title The Tale of the Grain Ships. In the written chapters of this novel Lankhmar became more real—a sort of dark counter-Rome, eventually “The City of the Black Toga” —but, perhaps more important, another country emerges into view. In a letter to Harry Fischer postmarked December 9, 1936, and sent from Los Angeles to Louisville, I say that I am planning a new story, “...set in a country that has just been sent by kind dreams: a land a little like Norway in its houses, but more like Thrace because of its city-states and empire.”

"Later, in the body of the same letter, I drew a rather blocky, yet moderately detailed, map of my new country, this Land of the Eight Cities. Borders were left open, names incompletely listed. And while I seemed to want the world of Nehwon definitely linked to the real world of today, I didn’t want to specify exactly where it lies and whether in the past or the future.

"In the following years the World of Nehwon, mapped in greater detail and artistry by Martha Fischer, became more definite and self-consistent, but its linkage with our reality has never been precisely determined. It seems to lie in an alternate universe.

"...the real origins of the intrigue-ridden, pleasure-sated, sorcery-working, thief-ruled city of Lankhmar, its fat merchants and cut-throat rogues, its gilded courtesans and shrewd mountebanks, and its linkages to a certain city in our own world (New York), than perhaps even Sheelba knows...

"Fantasy must be fertilized—yes, watered and manured—from the real world."

He imagines Lankhmar as "A dark Counter-Rome" mixed with modern New York. It's clear if he would only have based it on his ideas about ancient Rome it would not be so sharply drawn or keenly observed. But he lived in the Big Apple, knew its stinking steaming dirty alleys and its loud vulgar people and its hustle and bustle intimately, so he was able to impart some of that feeling into what would otherwise have been a lifeless fantasy city based entirely on similar fantasy cities depicted in the work of other artists/authors.

The best artists unite their art with life on an intimate level, all across the spectrum. No part of their art is entirely artificial - they don't compartmentalize the two like most lesser artists do. The hacks are the ones who base their work only on the work of other artists, and don't draw their inspirations as much as possible from life itself. 

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