Saturday, January 26, 2008

Art: Nature or Nurture?

I caught a bit of Front on TVMobile just now, and there was a short discussion about this topic. Are artists born with the talent (by nature), or do they have to undergo art education (through nurture)?

Photographer Geoff Ang stated that he was self taught, so I guess there must have been a talent there, but as he described himself as self taught, there must have also been learning and acquisition of knowledge there, so can that be counted as education? For me, I'd see education as formal education, ie one goes to an institution where there are formal instructors giving formal instructions and most importantly receiving a grade for the works produced, nothing can be more educationising as grades. Hence, I'd see Geoff Ang as an artist constructed by nature.

However, school directors from both La Salle and NAFA both stated that their institutions provide art students with the fundamentals which they would then use it to their own benefit in creating their art pieces. In a way, I guess they both agree that artists has to be borned with the talent, and that education to them is not a nurturing process but more of a catalysing process. I would have to agree with that if not for the fact that a formal instistution has a grading system. It's not a conscious process, but more of a subconscious process, talent through institutionalisation can be nurtured into losing their use of the talent they have.

To me, everyone can be loosely categorised as "cautious" or "daring", some maybe be of varying degrees in between, but everyone is one or the other. This trait is portrayed in how we want to get things done. A safe person is cautious and makes sure that everything goes well. It doesn't need to be spectacular, it just has to be well, and that's enough to satisfy the "cautious". A risk taker is daring, and goes out to strive for only the best, but when he fails, he sinks the deepest. In effect, he's polarised, when he does well, he's superb, when he does badly, he's shit.

Similarly, artists can be loosely categorised as a safe artist or a daring one. Let's just say that both start out with equal amounts of talent, which do you think would be the one who'd make his mark? I'd say, for better or for worse, the daring one would find his name carved in history whether it's a praise or a criticism. The safe artist would find his name lumped up with half a million other artists. The safe artist would end up living a nice and cosy life, contented with what he has, while the daring artist would most probably be either in debt and living like a cockroach or living lavishly and very happening.

The key here is which would you choose. The opportunity cost for this choice is very high because of the extremely high opportunity cost a daring artist has to pay.

People learn by trial and error, and maybe watching other people making the same mistakes, or learning by their own mistakes. Let's take the daring artist into the classroom to undergo formal art education where his works are graded.

The daring artist will be at his daring best and come up with highly controversial art pieces. Say, if he gets A+es for the first few, he's become cocky because he knows that he's talented and he's getting the grades equivilent to his talent. From there on he'd be coming up with more and more daring works. And at the end of his education, he'd come out into society as an artist created by God himself.

But let's just say that the daring artist comes up with art pieces that somehow doesn't catch the attention of his instructor and gets a bad grade out from it. Remember, art is subjective, teachers are biased humans, and the high opportunity cost a daring artist has to pay. The probability of the daring artist getting a bad grade is very high, say after a few Fs, do you think the daring artist still dare to be daring? I'd say at this point in time, the daring artist for the sake of his grades and overall performance would take on a more cautious approach to his art.

Even though grades might fluctuate, a daring artist would find his slew of A+ grades being pulled down by an equi-number of Fs. The daring artist would still be disheartened and look for ways to salvage his grades. That's where the model behaviour of the safe artist comes in.

The safe artist comes up with normal ideas, take on a more average approach to his king of art. He might be following a certain trend, or might be that he has little originality of his own. Either way, he's be having a constant stream of B grades, with the occasional As and Cs here and there, but never anything lower than a C. Yes, this is your safe artist. And when the daring artist sees the safe artist and see the successes he got out from his little Bs, don't you think that the daring artist would feel neglected and strive to work towards a better grade, or at least something that wouldn't fail on him.

This is the process where the daring artist becomes a safe artist no thanks to the pressures put on by the institution. Yes, I am very much against art education because I think that there is only so much that art students can learn out from it, much of them still rely on coming up with your own original ideas.

A god artist has to be one made by nature and not nurtured. However, we must also agree that putting grades aside and concentrating only on the learning part of education, picking up skills and knowledge, that would have been the most beneficial to the artist without all the other stress. Of course, putting grades aside, the best artist is still one who is has the natural borned talent but must also be capable ofabsorbing knowledge to the best interest in himself.


Anonymous said...

Wow! This entry is so well written! I agree with u that grades can kill daring artists with bold dreams. Really, our system is so sad. Fr: xing_e

xxoos said...

that's what singapore is currently lacking, vibrancy. but not sure how long we take to get there... oh well, hehe...