AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’S TERMS OF ART #31: SKILL

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Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

This week, we’re looking at terms that have to do with artists themselves. Most of these words will be ones that actual practicing contemporary artists think are off-limits. So buckle up for a sacrilegious week!

Terms of Art #31:
skill

so skilled

Pronunciation: nothing special

Definition: Skill is just a special ability, proficiency, know-how, or whatever. It’s used to talk about someone who is especially practiced or otherwise (through some natural talent, say) unusually good at something.

So we talk about skilled pilots and skilled conversationalists and skilled gamers.

But we can also talk about artists. And some people think that when you talk about artists, you’re automatically talking about people who are skilled. So an artist who paints is a skilled painter.

Why it matters:
“That painting is so stupid. A five-year-old could do that!”

Okay. First off, BARF.

Now, this view assumes that good art has to demonstrate the skill of its author.

In fact, it most often means that, for example, good painting has to be as realistic as possible or good music has to be complicated and harmonious. So a painting that’s just a white square on a white background or a piece of “music” that’s just silence can’t be good.

skill.jpg

“My kid’s finger-painting looks better than that!”
Cy Twombly, Untitled (Bacchus) (2008) [source]

Why artists think it’s a dirty word:
Artists nowadays roundly reject this view of artistry.

Even if skill is necessary to create good art, it seems like skill by itself doesn’t make an artwork good (because it 100% doesn’t)…
What’s missing I wonder (actually I know)…
Maaaybe we’ll talk about it soon! (we definitely will, tomorrow and the next day)…

Related term:
craft – skilled work applied for the sake of some pre-determined aim (see the previous entry on this term)

Not to be confused with:
1) Skil – that brand of saws and power tools and stuff
2) Life skills – that mind-numbingly inane class some of us had to take sometime during K-12 (I know you hated teaching it too Mrs. Ford! You and I both know that algebra was way better!)

(Please also go read the comments. They’re just too perfect.)

Author: Alex King

AFB Editor-in-Chief. Assistant Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo, working in ethics, metaethics, and aesthetics.

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