Once upon a time, many moons ago, I was talking with my mother about art. She said something encouraging about whatever I was doing at the time (which was dreadful, I’m sure, since this was years ago) and I, having something of a notion that it wasn’t very good, said “Come on, Mom, you’re just saying that because you’re my mother. You’re like, required to be supportive or something, no matter what.” To which she replied, “That’s not true! Have I ever once told you that you could sing?”
Wise woman. Had I wanted to be a singer instead of an artist or a megalomaniacal tyrant, I would have been sadly disappointed–my voice is a nasal monotone, excellent for hynosis but not terribly well suited to much else. (I think I cultivated a sense of humor solely to keep people actually listening to me instead of falling asleep on their feet.) Years of intensive voice training might, at best, give me a vocal quality not unlike a crow with a sinus condition, but nothing short of divine intervention could make my singing anything but painful. (Having no sense of pitch and very little range doesn’t help. And the less said about my rythym, the better.)
But that’s okay, because I’ve never particularly aspired to be a singer. I will occasionally belt out a few verses of “The Curse of Millhaven” in the shower, but that’s the limit of my ambition.
This little anecdote came back to me today as I was contemplating that age old question of the art world–namely, is there ever a point where it would be more merciful to tell someone that maybe they should considered a career in accounting?
I don’t believe in talent, or rather, I don’t believe talent is terribly important, compared to things likes hard work and bloodyminded stubborness. I don’t know if there’s some magical “it” that some people have and some people don’t. I do know that drawing, for example, can be taught, and that you can make a conscious decision to set out to learn to draw well, and do it, having done so myself. But I also have a sneaking suspicion that if there’s an “it” some people…just don’t got it.
Disclaimer: I am not referring to anyone I know, so if you’re reading this and thinking “Oh, god, she’s talking about ME!”, don’t. I’m not. I don’t know anyone at the moment like this, but occasionally the topic wanders past my mind, usually while poking through DeviantArt, say, or listening to am-I-any-good laments on various forums.
I’m a snob, I’ll give you that, but I’m trying not to be one in this case–lots of people, self included, start out dreadful, and go somewhere. I gots no problems with learning, because we’re all doing it, and I’m no great shakes myself–we all suck, and most of us get better eventually. On the other hand, as everyone probably knows from reading my rants, I don’t particularly believe in Speshul Snowflakes, and the whole “art is a personal journey and no one can judge another’s art because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc,” strikes me as a cop-out to avoid having to injure anyone’s feelings. Some art just plain sucks. I know, ‘cos I’ve made some of it–we all have. That’s not really the point.
My point is that if I wanted to be a singer, and I spent ten years trying to become a singer, I would waste ten years, because I just don’t got it. It’s a misplaced ambition, and the kindest thing someone could do is tell me, after it’d become obvious that I was hopeless, is that I just don’t got it, and thus hopefully keep me from wasting those ten years of my life and sinking into a miserable depression when it became obvious that I had no talent.
However, in our current society, that’s a big no-no. We are told that we can do anything we want to do, be whatever we want to be. Sky’s the limit. And while I find that a generally laudable and good thing to tell people, I wonder if a lot of grief derives from misplaced ambition. Not everyone can do everything. Some people just aren’t good at some things. And if you spend a lot of time and energy and devotion trying to do something that–sadly–you just ain’t any good at, then what? To relate it to art, assuming that someone just wasn’t any good and wasn’t getting any better, would it be better to just let them go on year after year, getting depressed because they’re bad, and they know it, and no matter how hard they try, they aren’t improving–or would it be better to say “Look, buddy, the visual arts ain’t your thing. You don’t have the eye, you’ve tried everything, you’re miserable, and I think you should maybe just give it up and find a new hobby before you kill yourself.”
This is not an excuse to insult people, by any means, nor am I suggesting anyone run out and start telling unsuspecting young artists to go into accounting. The literature is full of people who are told they suck at something and go on to greatness in it–it’s practically one of our foundation myths. I’m just idily contemplating the morals inherent–other people’s views are more than welcome. We’re told that perserverance will overcome all, and I believe that’s often true, but then again, if you suck–really, fundamentally suck, and you just don’t get any better, is it worth spending your whole life trying to improve to mere medocrity, or would it be better all around if somebody just sat you down and said “Look. Try something else, because this isn’t working.” And who decides that, and when? What do you do? Stage an intervention about how bad art is ruining someone’s life and try to talk them out of it? Seems a little extreme, but then again, there are people who stage interventions if their baby smoked a single joint ten years ago, so god only knows. Is it just my inherent arrogance, that I tend to think that if you aren’t capable of achieving greatness at whatever you’re doing, you oughta be doing something else? (I know, I know, everyone’s special and nobody can judge what constitutes greatness, etc, etc, ad nauseaum, but it’s my misguided belief that people LIKE bein’ good at stuff, and if they’re not happy and believe that they’re lousy, maybe they’d be happier if someone talked ’em into doing something they could be good at.)
If I was trying to be a singer, I’d want someone to do that for me.
In other news, I finished up a painting–more fun with short anime chicks, as a break from some realism I’ve been laboring over lately, mostly for commissions. I dunno why all my anime women are albinos. I was traumatized by a mime at a young age, but I don’t think that’s related.