The Debate Over Skill In Visual Art And Conceptual Art

An interesting article on the role of skill in contemporary art by artist, critic, and teacher, Eric Wayne.

"Skill is generally a good word for visual art, and a bad word for conceptual art. For the conceptual artist, skill is largely irrelevant, or “busy work”, and would be dismissed as “unskilled labor” if that didn’t have the word “skill” tucked into it. Skill is seen as mere “craft”, and thus what an artist does with oil paint is really no different than what a cobbler does with shoes. For these reasons, conceptual artists are happy to hire highly skilled artisans to create their physical work for them, and don’t feel the need to give them credit.

The far conservative end of visual artists and their adherents, on the other hand, see skill as identical to art, and often determine skill based on the technical ability to draw hands, paint a horse, or otherwise replicate the physical appearance of things. They are the ones who accuse, “My 6 year old could have done that”, when they see a piece that doesn’t show those easily recognizable draughtsman’s skills. The famous painting of Ophelia, below, by John Everett Millais would probably satisfy all of them. This is the kind of art that art students tend to love in their art history classes, and the teachers tend to try and steer us away from.

Both the positions of the conceptualists and their opposites miss the point. The more conservative artists mistake facility at strict representation for the only or most relevant skill, and the conceptualists conveniently forget that visual art requires an underlying ability with visual language that must be cultivated." -Eric Wayne.