I’ve been taking a watercolor painting class, and although I make industrious, concentrated efforts, my paintings all look like crap.
The teacher is an interesting woman, seemingly undeterred by her students’ uneven results. You know the kind of teacher I mean. One who, when presented with an unrecoverable steaming pile, will at least manage a compliment on the warmth if not the composition.
Luckily for the poor dear’s sanity, in every class there are a few who excel. A few who only need a nudge in the right direction. A few whose latent talent flowers under skillful tutoring. And then there are those who only have desire, hope and effort.
After she repeatedly told us that drawing is a skill that can be learned. Painting is a skill that can be learned. I asked her, what about talent? She shrugged.
Excuse me? Talent dismissed with a shrug?
No, I persisted. You know what I mean. Talented youth. Those students whose painting seem to flow from a well unmapped. Whose work is amazing, from its very beginning.
She shook her head.
Our class was in the art room of the local high school. Every week, the high school students’ current projects were displayed in the hallway. A short stroll by this display wouldn’t take an art critic to see the range between the kids. Some still drew like they were in Second Grade. Some flashed with brilliant ideas and struggled with technique. Some had everything going on. Their work stood out like a bare ass at the symphony.
Surely, you must admit, I said to the teacher, some students have a talent for art and others do not.
“If you want to learn to paint,” she replied, “desire is the most important ingredient.”
Desire will make you work hard enough to learn any skill, is her point.
Wishing don’t make it so, is mine.
Of course, she probably could not make a living if she only taught talented youth. It is in her interest to encourage everyone with desire. Although, I was aware of this reality as our conversation progressed, I didn’t hold that against her. If she couldn’t produce results with her students, she wouldn’t make a living either.
I wanted her to say that talent mattered. Talent is a gift, unevenly bestowed, perhaps, but an important gift, nonetheless. Talent counted toward success. Desire only counted in bed.
Her final answer - wanting is what you must have.
Professor Harold Hill took Iowa by storm with the Thinkology System. If you think you can play music, you can. I wonder if there was an Art Corollary -- If you want to paint, you will.
Those tricky steps between desire and result remain a mystery to me.