Can innate talent compensate for poor technique? Can excellent technique compensate for lack of talent? Talent versus technique is a continuing dichotomy in art theory. The lack of classical training and the self-discipline associated therewith is decried in both West and East. Much of current contemporary art is primarily concerned with the conceptual, and there is cause to wonder if technique or training has any place therein.
The technique versus talent debate is particularly relevant in the world of Japanese art where traditional ‘teaching’ methods were unstructured and students were expected to learn by osmosis. Treated as little more than studio servants in their first years of apprenticeship, the goal of aspiring student artists was to be able to replicate the work of the master.
The role of copy books and the transmission of ‘secret’ techniques is put forward as a stultifying influence on the development of creativity in traditional art studios. Post Meiji restoration (1868) and the establishment of art schools and universities, artists had the chance to learn in a structured and academic atmosphere quite different from that of the traditional studio.
In contemporary Japan the two co-exist- the traditional studio system and the academic alternative. In each though it may be said that the mastery of technique is paramount. It is through the mastery of technique, through an understanding of past masters, that the novice arrives at a point where an interaction between talent and technique conceive originality.
In the West, T.S.Eliot, in discussing creativity, wrote of the historical consciousness and the significance of tradition (1920): “Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour.“; and in the East Han Zhuo (1095-1125), a Northern Song court official wrote “ No one has ever become skilled by not studying. Generally a scholar should first adhere to one school’s fixed methods. Then, after he has successfully mastered them, he may change them to create his own style…”*.
In the artists represented by Lesley Kehoe Galleries we see the interaction of talent and training, of creativity and technique. Talent cannot compensate for poor technique, rather it is hidden thereby. Excellent technique cannot compensate for lack of talent, rather it accentuates a lack of soul.
It is our belief that the commitment to training and technique as a means for the expression of individual creativity is a hallmark of Japanese art, one which gives it a unique place in the world of art, both historical and contemporary, and which continues to have a significant impact worldwide.
*Jordan, B. & Weston, V. Copying The Master and stealing his secrets. University of Hawaii Press 2003 p. 28.