Talent or skill?…or is it even art?

Moving sculpture from junk

Talent or skill…or is it even art?

I’ve had some pretty lively discussions with artist friends this week about what is authentic art.  Boy, that is a can of worms. Fair warning; there is no definitive answer to this question but come along for the ride.

We were reviewing submissions for the gallery for next year (2019).  About 50 artists entered their portfolios this year for about seven slots.  This is usually a good variety (some years we’ve had up to 200 entries). The committee was also given a list of about 15 artists to consider who didn’t actually apply but who might add to quality of the line up.  (Debatable.)

The committee is comprised primarily of professional artists and art teachers.  But…we do not always agree on what would make a good exhibit.  A little background is that this is a public art gallery so we have to be somewhat cognizant of our audience and the fact that we are receiving tax dollars.  We like to bring in new and different work but we’re not out to shock our audience.  We also understand that many people enjoy viewing art they are familiar with.  Trying to meets the needs of everyone is challenging.

A little more background.  I have been on this committee for about 30 years, and was director of the arts center and gallery for many of those years.  I’m back to being just a citizen volunteer now.  And I’ve been a professional artist for 35 years.  I’ve probably seen more art than most people will see in several lifetimes.

And I’m still confused.

I believe that some people are endowed at birth with talent.  That is a given aptitude for doing whatever they are going to do, whether it’s shooting a basket or drawing a portrait or playing a musical instrument.  Skill, on the other hand, requires some work.  Continuous practice, that 10,000 hours thing.  I appreciate that.

But sometimes I’m reminded of the story about the Emperor’s New Clothes.  I just feel as if someone is pulling the wool over my eyes and I want to be that kid that says, “Hey, he’s naked!”  I look at a piece of art and wonder, is that really art?  Or is it just hype? I try looking beyond the artist to see where they’re coming from.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, pile of candy installation

For instance, here is a photo of an installation piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres of a pile of candy.  Really?  That is art?  Not to me it isn’t, but a whole lot of high-highfalutin’ people think it is.  I think it is good marketing.  Just my humble opinion.

Helicopter at MOMA

Or how about a helicopter hung in the stairwell of the Museum of Modern Art?  Art?  Or is it engineering?  Who really gets credit for this? By the way, they also own Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World which is exhibited in a dark hallway next to the bathrooms.  Really?

Gabriel Orozco exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum

Or how about this installation by Gabriel Orozco of junk (artifacts) that he collected along a certain part of the beach on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.  (Exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in 2012-2013.)  I like the way he’s laid this out.  I like the fact that he took photos of EVERY piece and made photo montages of them.  It certainly makes me think.  But is it art? Who says?

Wise Man, Cesar Santos, charcoal on paper

On the other hand, there are the wonderful and amazing drawings of Cesar Santos.  Just watch the video of him completing this awesome pencil sketch of an old man.  I’m overwhelmed with appreciation for his talent AND skill.

Juliette Aristides, painting of soldier

Or there’s Juliette Aristides and her wonderful atelier for training artists in classical drawing and painting.  Boy, do we need that! No, she isn’t exactly trying to do “pretty” but her work is pretty amazing.  I’m so glad to see someone still promoting classical training in the arts.  Not just hype.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that realistic art is more popular than abstract art or assemblages.  People can relate to it.  No, I do not think that realism is better than abstract or installations.  But I certainly do not have patience for anyone who believes that obscure art or that which needs an explanation is better than realism.  To each his own, I guess. There is no room for art snobs.

And this is my humble opinion.  Go check out your local gallery or museum to see for yourself. What do you think?

Hey, how about these ties at the local Good Will? I think this is an interesting composition. Is it art?

5 responses to “Talent or skill?…or is it even art?

  1. Curt Uebelhor

    In research I conducted, I found that Christina’s World is in a well lit area near the elevators. A high traffic area where I would expect a popular work of art would be located. In response to your statement that realism is more “popular” than abstract art: I’m guessing that McDonald’s food is more “popular” than fine French cuisine. That does not make it better. No, just different.


    • The last couple of times I’ve been to MOMA, Christina’s World was upstairs in a dark corridor near the bathrooms. I even had to ask where it was. Perhaps they have moved it around, but that is where it was. Comparing realism to McDonald’s food is ridiculous. Would that apply to Rockwell or Sargent? Most people appreciate seeing the skill of the artists as in drawing and painting. As I said, there is no one right answer.


  2. Pingback: Talent or skill?…or is it even art? — my90acres | Kurt Emans

  3. Curt Uebelhor

    I wasn’t comparing realism to McDonald’s. I was using the comparison to fine French cuisine to show that comparing the two vastly different cuisines, (yes I know that cuisine is a strong word to use there), by which is more popular implies that the one that is more popular is “better”. There are higher levels of realism and higher levels of abstraction in art. Sometimes that revolves on the skill of the artist as craftsman and sometimes the thought process is just as important. It is ridiculous to argue that one is more popular than another or that more people enjoy one style over another. Enjoy ALL artforms but be discerning and thoughtful when looking at ALL of those artforms.!


    • Thank you for your clarification. Between this blog and my Facebook repost, this entry has received a lot of input. My eldest son says it seems as if the world can’t be in such bad shape as it appears lately if people are arguing about art instead of politics. I agree.

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