Saturday, March 5, 2011

What Makes an Artistic Genius?

By Eric Fortune.

If you've read enough artist's bios you may notice a pattern. Many include the statement "I've been drawing since I can remember". Years of practice and drive to master our craft definitely plays a part. It also reminds me of a saying I heard back in art school which is "Everyone has a 1000 bad drawings inside. The sooner we get those out the sooner we can start making better drawings". But is that enough?

I've had people approach me with their portfolio and show me work that was definitely not at a professional level. When asked how much time was spent on the work I've heard "about 10 hours". It makes you wonder why someone is trying to be in the field if 10 hours is the limit they've devoted to a "final" piece of art. Are people interested enough on a personal level to put in extra hours and to refine their work beyond what is necessary even when not asked or to pour themselves into a personal piece they aren't getting paid for? But perhaps this is a different issue.

So what are the factors that make a great artist? Why is anyone good at anything? This gets into the old nature vs nurture concept. A friend of mine shared this three part documentary series with me entitled "My Brilliant Brain ~The programmes look at a group of remarkable people and poses questions about the origins of genius: are these extraordinary abilities genetic, developed or acquired by accident?" This documentary isn't about art alone but does shed some light on these questions. It also makes me question my own upbringing and influences(my step father was actually a pretty good artist who would draw and paint with us as children sometimes. I think the bigger influence for me is probably cartoons in the 80's and video games which had me obsessively drawing robots for about 10 years. I actually made cut out paper robots that could transform into different vehicles with just a few folds. I later upgraded to comics and anime and my art upgraded to muscles, breasts, and a lot of sliced up body parts.....things haven't changed much since). This film was produced in 2007. I wonder what new things they may have learned since then. It also makes me wonder where I can get one of those magnetic brain pulsey thingies? FYI Small speaker magnets have no affect even after wearing them for my friend told me. If you haven't seen this before it makes for a great listen while drawing, painting, and getting your art on in general.

View the video here: "My Brilliant Brain"


T Arthur Smith said...

"I actually made cut out paper robots that could transform into different vehicles with just a few folds."

me too!

MJC *-* said...

Well, that's an interesting question. "are these extraordinary abilities genetic, developed or acquired by accident?" For me, different aspects drove me into painting/drawing every day. My parents both painted and drew a lot. I wanted to be better than them. I also hate to wait, so it's about 'being busy' while waiting/travelling etc. Now, it's like an addiction, there's no another challenge that satisfies me. What is it for you? (besides interest in robots and your steph father?_

chris bennett said...

The ability to see a synthesis where others see only separate elements. It is the basis of jokes, metaphors and analogies of course, and it is also what lies behind anything that is worthy of being called art - a work who's quality is broadcast by the electricity of the connectivity of its parts one to another without a single break. Otherwise it is just a list of lifeless nouns.

Marcy said...

I made an identical progression from 80's cartoons and video games to Anime and comics. Nicely put, and interesting to think about what influences a person to start drawing.

chris bennett said...

By-the-way Eric, how did that oil painting turn out that you were working on a couple of posts back?
I ask because I notice the latest painting is acrylic on paper and was wondering if you are experiencing problems with your 'new' medium.

Anyways, I like those early exploratory drawings you were making for this new acrylic piece very much - they seem to be a little bit informed by your experience with your work in oils to benificial effect.

EricFortune said...

Hey Chris, the oil was on the back burner while I finished the new piece. I'm taking my time with the piece. Though, I'm trying to wrap it up asap.

I noticed a similarity between mediums. That there's an ugly phase and I enjoy tweaking the image using oils as much as with acrylics. Or perhaps it's just my process. I'll keep working with oils but I do love working with acrylics.

sridhar m reddy said...

This was fascinating (although I couldn't get the third segment of the program to load, I'm dying to learn more about the savant brain). I guess the doc postulates that there is an overwhelming nurture segment that is kick-started by the nature of someone having a larger development of a specific part of the brain. Very interesting.

What is most fascinating though is the brain's "use-it-or-lose-it" phases, where stimuli at these key development periods will define what has greater retention. The notion of hard-wiring at such a young age is poignant; like you, at a young age I was saturating my brain with making robots out of paper and bringing them to life with motors from Radio Shack, a pursuit that was motivated by hours upon hours of dissecting shows like 'Robotech' and 'Transformers.' Legos had a huge role to play. And comics - tracing out of old issues of 'New Mutants' and 'Elektra: Assassin' and then wanting to write stories that matched my newfound art skills.

But the bigger question is what drew us to these aesthetic choices in the first place? Why 'Robotech' and why not 'Pound Puppies'? My father wasn't an engineer, nor was my mother. I didn't have anything close to a influence of robots in my house, and I didn't read Asimov or Clarke until my early teens.

The ethic we put into art is derived from the joy we get from the pushing of our own boundaries, an obsession that is driven by an intense passion (like Marc Yu). You're right - it isn't something we can just crank out in ten hours, because we demand both perfection and progression, because we are always curious of what we are capable of.

Your paintings bear the mark of genius because of the details, which are not simply for details' sake. This is pushing both the medium and yourself to discover something new, and that is where the true commitment and genius of an artist resides.

Endlessly fascinating. You've got me lining up neuroscience books at the library now, as if I needed more to read. :) Thanks for posting this!

EricFortune said...

This guy Dr Gabor Mate's lecture greatly influenced me on this piece in particular. A fantastic listen.

It appears people in this field consider the "nature vs nurture" argument over. It's now termed "nature via nurture" Here's another great doc that gets into this topic