How Much Skill Do You Need?

An old article on the hyperrealistic work of Leng Jun circulated through my news reader this week. Hyperrealism is probably the epitome of drawing and is practiced by only a few artists. And while such work is interesting, even amazing, it seems to exist for no other reason than itself. Perhaps that is enough.

The real question in my mind is how much skill does an artist need? Certainly not all artists have to draw as well as Leng Jun or any of the other hyperrealists to create their work, but how well do they need to draw? Do they need to be able to draw at all? It seems that if one is a visual artist, drawing is a basic skill. Even Banksy has an opinion on the matter: “All artists are prepared to suffer for their work but why are so few prepared to learn to draw?” (from his book Wall and Piece).

For that matter, how much skill does any artist need? The intuitive answer is “as much as s/he can get.” But is that the right answer? Certainly every artist needs some skill, but does very artist need as much drawing skill as Leng Jun? Some would say “no” and cite successful artists who seem to have excelled without being able to draw. Some would even use Picasso as an example; those, however, would have demonstrated that they were not familiar with his early work. The man could draw, perhaps not on the level of Leng Jun, but certainly competently.

Others, of course, would say “yes” and point to that exact same early work, arguing that had he not been able to draw well, Picasso would never have gotten to the pinnacle of his success. But did Picasso need the extreme technical mastery that Leng Jun’s work requires? I would argue that that artists do need competency in basic skills; however, they need not be “the best” at any one skill unless their specialty demands that.

Readers of this blog know that I am a fan of John Chamberlain’s sculpture but probably do not know that I have had welding training (I do not claim to be an expert, but I am competent). I have examined Chamberlain’s welds on a number of his works carefully and can verify that he was not the best welder on the planet. He did not need to be; he needed to have enough competence at welding to assemble his sculptures securely enough that they could be transported. And that he did; he had no reason to reach the level of competence expected of, say, a gas pipeline welder.

So the answer to the question, how much skill does an artist need? is that s/he needs a level of competency that allows him/her to produce his/her work without first having to improve his skill level. Certainly, artists-in-training should seek to master skills basic to their art, but have no real need to go beyond that. There is much more learn about to creating art than an extreme skill level. There is creativity, thought, expressiveness, and ability to communicate just to mention a few. To do the sort of work that he wants to do, Leng Jun needs a very high level of drawing skill; other artists, doing other sorts of drawing/painting do not need that level of expertise. For example, LeRoy Neiman needed drawing skill to produce his paintings, but because his work was far more expressionistic, he did not need the same level of that particular skill; it did require, however, other things.

So as we prepare ourselves for our next projects, it is well for us to remember that we need not be absolute experts in every skill that our work requires; we do, however, need a level of expertise that allows us to create artifacts to carry our ideas to our audience, with maybe a little left over.

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Date: Monday, 18. February 2019 0:20
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Education, Quality

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