Saturday 23 May 2009

Gift from god? I don't think so.

It happens to artists. Surgeons. When someone marvels at the eye, or bacterial flagellum.

"Your art ability is amazing. A gift from God, no doubt."


Just because something is hard to understand, just because complicated processes occurred that you did not witness, does not mean it was caused by a benevolent mythical being who hands out aptitudes like Santa with presents.

It has been a source of fascination to me, -and not a little frustration- that the ability to create art and the complexity of biological features each sit in the blind spots of members of the devout populace.

Like a gift from god. It's throwing your hands up in the air and casually (lazily) admitting ignorance.

I get it: it's supposed to be a compliment. But it actually insults me, though I usually reserve my cringing to myself. I have worked really hard to get where I am in my artistic ability, and I still reach and try to learn. There was no magic *poof* granted to me as a child that allowed me to render a decent life drawing or balance colours in a composition.

That was studying. That was attempts at keen observation. That was making countless mistakes I attempted to learn from. Feedback. Crits and criticisms. Learning from indifference. Trying new materials. Replicating happy accidents. Sharing techniques.

If this happens to you, encourage a bit of reasoning. I don't like being a jerk. Somehow, any response I can think of seems like a rebuke.

"Those years of school I paid for were earned. Not a gift. " (Those heart-wrenching hours when you push a painting too far and ruin a perfectly good life drawing don't feel like gifts either.)

How does one say it? How do you lead a person to reason? How do you encourage them to pull the holy book out of their mouth before they speak?

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Sean Craven said...

Dead on.

Whenever someone tells me I'm talented, I say, "No, I'm stubborn. What you're seeing is the result of hard work and lots of failure. It's no gift."

Stephen King once wrote something to the effect that some people are born with a knife, some with a sword, some with an axe. But if you don't keep them sharp...

Stephanie Zvan said...

How about, "That's what my mom said. My teachers and critics insisted I learn something, though."

I guess there is something to be said for everyone thinking they can write. This isn't something I ever hear.

Anonymous said...

The fact that you were able to work so hard in the arts, is an amazing thing. This amazing act (your participation), is part of the process of creation. You are in the flow of this. {I'm assuming, sometimes it flows evenly sometimes it feels like you are squezzing too hard.But in the end, it comes out and you have created something.) "They, the observer commenting on your talent and labeling it as "talent from God" are their words that define talent (that stem from their vocabulary and their experiences with their limitations.)Your creation might be their definition of "Gift from God." The fact that you are working on your art so dilegently is an amazing thing. How people, the observers define the origins isn't as important as the actual act of your creations. But on the other hand, the fact you defend this work of yours may have a purpose for you, too. What I really want to say is "You are a gift from God. We all are but some are a little lazy. Good work! You have inspired me and I haven't even seen any of your work, just your passion.

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey Sean,
Yeah, stubborn sums it up. I have a love-hate relationship with my artwork. I am much more pleased by end results than process much of the time. Except pencil drawing. That's just relaxing.

Stephanie: it's interesting that it doesn't come up for you as a writer. I think perhaps it's that superficially, people understand how writing works. They have to write some of the time, though it is not crafting a tale. Painting starts to fall under some sort of mysterious process for many people.

Anonymous: I'm a gift from some god now? Um. Thank you for your comments. Working on my art diligently may be "amazing" to some but it is not supernaturally induced.

Ash said...

I agree Glendon. It's not a gift of any sort. It's the combination of many things.. Practice, education, creative intuition and a little luck.

I hate when people tell me "Wow! It must be nice to be born with talent!" I wasn't born with any 'talent' I worked my butt off to get to where I am now, and I'm still leagues away from where I want to be with my art.

Artistic ability is learned, not given.

The Nerd said...

Kind of insulting - why can't it be that you worked hard to become that good? Why must it come from god?

Michelle said...

Usually the "its a gift" comment is followed by "I can't draw" or "I wish I could draw". Which effectively kills any, 'I've been doing this/practising for x-amount of years', because if you deny it is a gift, suddenly you are insulting them. If it is not a gift, but hard work, but they want it, but don't have it ... It is their fault, which is just as much nonsense as the 'its a gift' argument.

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey Ash, Hey The Nerd,

I agree. "Born with" and being "a natural" are up there too as head-shakers.

Oh well. I don't usually openly state my disbelief, preferring to operate about inspiring ideas in science. I am firmly in the camp that learning and understanding science can make you an atheist, the same way reading about history can make you anti-fascist.

Kevin Zelnio said...

Not to distract from the art, but what always irks me, and this happens surprisingly alot, is when people we don't know see my family and my kids and tell me how blessed I am. This is always frustrating, whether its my from grandma or a passerby on a walk.

Yes, I have a beautiful wife and my kids are so adorable and good that it melts even the coldest of hearts. But my wife and I married each other for our own reasons and we are very happy together. My kids were the result of the combination our genetic information. We had no idea when our son or daughter were born how they would look what they personalities would be. But, thanks alot to some great doctors before and after the pregnancies we have very healthy kids. They are well behaved for the most part because we discipline them!

This rant ties into your post though because of the christian's fear to accept responsibility or let anyone else accept responsibility for *good* things. Anything bad or horrible that happens is clearly man's fault. Its OK for you to say my wife and I do a great job raising a family! We like compliments, honestly!

Glendon Mellow said...

Kevin, you are a beautiful man with a beautiful family. And a beautiful beard.

There! Take that! Ha-ha!, not so easy to take a compliment after all, is it!?

(You are correct of course - compliments for what one has accomplished instead of praising sky-gods.)

Heather Ward said...

You worked your butt off in school and people say it wasn't your hard work but a gift from some divine being? That's insulting. I don't want to get into a rant, so let's just say I agree with you.

Glendon Mellow said...

Hi Heather! I know, it's absurd right? I think it comes back to that "art is hard" so it's hard to fathom that practice makes someone good at it.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Sorry I'm a little late one this one.

I think my favourite retort to this "Wow it is a great gift. So why does God hate you so much?"

When it comes down to it God really is an ass if it is him handing out such talents and abilities!

Why do only some humans get certain gifts and abilities, and never all of them...

If we are created in his image, why does he have such bad self image when building each and everyone of us?

Suddenly the loving perfect God up in the sky becomes either a supreme jerk, or a really senile coot. In either case not someone I feel comfortable running the universe (that alone worshipping and telling him what a great job he does!).

Christopher Zenga said...

What an endearing comment "may god bless you" or "you have a gift from God" My wife will say God bless you if I do something nice for her, but it's not pre meditated, she COULD have said " hey, thanks big guy" but she chose to go with God. I try not to think about it to much and take from it what it is, a compliment. The problems start to arise when I hear my mother in law saying that this or that turned out the way it did because she was praying to God for it. Wow, lucky for us God heard her voice above all the others and granted me a safe journey home, or my daughter to have the discipline to listen at school. Funny, I took driving lessons for years to master that skill of operating a motor vehicle and my Wife and I spend countless hours with my daughter teaching her proper social behavior. have I failed to see Gods handy work? These are just two examples of learned skills, and no where have I seen evidence that any God intervened and blessed my daughter or myself with the ability to make good decisions.

Now the holy man will say you don't see God's work per-se, but the ability to make good decisions or "paint well" is God's work! and there couldn't be more of a cop-out statement! Lets just decide to take something that is unexplained like artistic or musical talent and give credit to God. "I'm not sure how you did that...I know, it was God!" Praise him!

I am not going to stand here and claim that I can prove that there is no God, no one can, but rather I'll argue the point that no one can prove that there is a God. It is just an insane thought to say that there is one creator, one ruler, one maker of all things with no proof. You may hope there is a God, you may wish that there is a God, you may truly believe that there is a God, but believing something to be true does not make it true!

As an Atheist and a free thinker I will always question, and I will refuse to accept that a one all mighty God had anything to do In my artistic ability, my ability to raise my daughter or my ability to drive my car. Just because millions of people say he does.

Great painting G-Mel, your years of practicing and mastering your craft have given you the skill sets to create such wonderful art work.

Your Friend,

Christopher Zenga

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