Inborn talent or Acquired Skill: What makes artists tick?
The debate of whether great artists are born or made has raged on, with arguments from both sides. While some argue that art can be learned with practice and dedication, others believe that a unique vision and talent are innate.
Are great artists born or made?
Is becoming a fine artist a matter of genetics or a process of rigorous and refined learning?
Quite recently, I was going through my Facebook feed when I stumbled upon a post in an Indie Game Developers group.
The question seemed to evoke both – a certain amount of interest as well as ridicule.
It was a programmer asking, “Can I train to become an artist or is a great artist born and not made?”
Is an artist a product of pure genes and talent or can someone work really hard to become one too?
Nature vs Nurture
The nature vs nurture debate has raged on for centuries in almost every field of work.
It’s not much different with art either.
Years ago, famous British artist Damien Hirst said, “That’s the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice, you can make great paintings.”
He denied the existence of ‘innate artistic genius’, adding that great art can easily be learnt.
He even went far enough to say, “Anyone can be like Rembrandt (renowned Dutch artist)”. “I don’t think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius. It’s about freedom and guts. It’s about looking. It can be learnt.”
To many, the idea that artistic inclinations are inherited seems too far-fetched.
Like Hirst pointed out, anyone can become a great artist. It’s only a matter of hard work, determination and consistent practice.
Having a knack for producing good art is certainly useful but insufficient. The willingness and desire to put efforts into perfecting your craft and skills matter too.
Advocates of the ‘nurture’ camp emphasise on the fact that with the right training, education and environment anyone can blossom into a great artist.
For them, artistic abilities are no different than others. You can learn to master them if you put the right amount of effort and heart into it.
But can you really acquire the vision some people have? How is it that they have the ability to envision unique and innovative things while others don’t?
British visual artist and winner of the acclaimed Turner award, Jeremy Deller once said something that quite fiercely negates what Hirst said about art.
“Not everyone can paint like Rembrandt, however hard you try,” he said, emphasising, “It’s not about hard work, it’s about something else, which is what genius is, I suppose. It’s about that sheer quality.”
There’s something distinct about the way certain artists paint or create artwork (digital or otherwise). That distinctiveness emerges from their vision. A vision that is natural and innate.
That cannot be learnt.
People from the ‘nature’ camp point this out often. That creativity demands a certain element of divergence in thinking. And this isn’t something that can be taught in schools.
Someone who really wants to be an artist can put years of practice into it and produce good art. But this person can only produce artwork that is limited in its scope and vision.
They can turn their affinity for art into a profession but producing artwork that makes history is a matter of genes and natural talent.
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This really brings us to the question,
Can anyone be an artist?
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”
Anyone can be an artist.
Anyone who finds drawing their heart out interesting. Anyone who is willing to work and grow that interest into something bigger and much more tangible.
Anyone who is ready to take their creativity to the next level by putting efforts into developing it day by day.
Everyone paints and draws as a kid. We paint things we see around us and dabble with colours and pencils. As kids, our curiosity is at its peak. And we don’t have barriers to confront when we paint.
As we grow, we start understanding our interests and inclinations. And pursue what seems to matter to us the most.
Yes, some innate talent is required to become an artist. But that talent needs to be balanced with the right amount of hard work and efforts.
Both nature and nurture then, have important roles to play in determining who becomes a great artist.
But I’d lean towards the ‘nurture’ camp a little more and say that with a little talent, a creative mindset, the right tools and the willingness to practice, art can be learnt.
Can digital art be learnt? Or does it need an innate vision as well?
The 21st century is the century of digital art.
Paintings are no longer confined to traditional canvases. Technology has enabled hundreds of tools and methods to generate captivating artwork.
The computer is your canvas.
Innate talent is helpful and probably tells you what you want to do. But beyond that, it really is a question of having the right aptitude, skills and the will to work on those skills.
If you have the technical skills and computer aptitude, half the battle is already won – you’ll be comfortable learning and working with the complex software that artists have to use these days.
At a very basic level, it’s really about knowing the fundamentals and using tools to build on and enhance those fundamentals.
No matter what you’re creating – traditional 2D art of digital 3D art or art for a game or simply drafting building plans – there are some art essentials that you absolutely need to know.
These generally are the building blocks of any artwork.
Like Colour theory. Colours help your artwork evoke a certain mood or emotion. Knowing how to use colours effectively makes your work more attractive.
Composition is another essential aspect of learning how to create art. It deals with organising visual components of an artwork in a manner that makes it appealing and improves the way your art conveys a story.
Learning and working on Perspective is really important. Most people find this intimidating. But without perspective, your work will not have depth.
Understanding Form is crucial too. It gives a piece of art the illusion of volume. It helps you draw using different angles. And create more realistic artwork.
Value and lighting are other basic elements of art. They contribute to the mood of an artwork, enhancing its quality altogether.
Learning, understanding and practising these elements is crucial. Because they form the backbone of your artwork.
There’s no dearth of tools and platforms in the 21st century for someone wanting to create digital art.
And knowing how to use these tools goes a long way in establishing oneself as a digital artist.
Here are some of the most common and popular software you can use to learn digital painting:
Apart from the right software, you will need a drawing tablet (which is like a digital version of a pencil and paper).
It could be a graphics tablet (where you draw using a stylus) or a pressure pen tablet (that has to be attached to the computer).
You could also go for 3D modelling using tools such as
Learning how to use these tools and becoming adept at it can make a lot of difference in how good a digital artist you become.
In conclusion: Learning to be an artist
It does not matter if you’re a programmer wanting to learn a few ways to make good art or someone who dabbles in art but is scared to venture further.
You can learn how to produce good art, digital or otherwise if you’re willing to put the right amount of effort and practice into it.
Of course, some level of talent, interest and inspiration are necessary. Talent and interest are necessary to keep your motivation to become an artist alive during the mandatory dry spells in the life of a creative person.
As for inspiration, you don’t necessarily need to have an inborn gift.
Raphael Lacoste, Brand Art Director (at Ubisoft) of the Assassin’s Creed Franchise, says, “Inspiration is work. It’s not something that falls from the sky.”
Like most things, you’ve to work on it as well. It keeps the cycle of creating and recreating artwork alive.
Working the right amount with the right heart and tools can make all the difference in you becoming a great artist.
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