Artistic Ability vs. Creativity

Artists are celebrated more for their creativity rather than their ability

I have been painting for the a few years now as somewhat of a hobby. I first started to paint after reading about the positive impacts on cognitive function and I wanted to do something more than just coming home only to continue working or worse, watch TV. I never learned how to draw and I didn’t think I was any good at it. I certainly didn’t think I had a artistic ability, but I did feel that I was creative. I would often joke “I have the creative drive, but without the creative talent.”

I started by buying a couple of canvases and some acrylic paints. I learned from the lady at the store that since I lived in a small space that acrylic was the way to go to avoid any fumes. I laid out the canvases on the dining table and I started smudging paint on it. I had no idea what I was doing and I hated everything I did. Thankfully an additional benefit to acrylic was that it dried quickly so I could paint over what I didn’t like. After a few nights of trying I decided I needed to figure out how I create the effects I was after so I bought a couple of books. Think Painting for Dummies. I took the lessons I learned and I experimented. And I experimented more. I found more books. I experimented more. I found documentaries. I started to take classes. Sculpture, drawing, painting. I was falling in love with making art. One of the driving forces behind making art was to benefit my work. This worked tremendously although I consider it a serendipitous tertiary side effect now.

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” — Picasso

One book and one documentary were catalysts to me falling in love with creating art. The book Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. This small book I keep around me all the time. In it, Kleon takes the above popular adage from Picasso and encourages aspiring artists to find their voice through recreating the art we love and aspire to, to do good work and share it with the world. It’s very encouraging and empowering.

The first art documentary I saw which gave me confidence was Gerard Richter Painting. Richter is one of the most, if not the most, commercially successful living artist today. Some of his paintings (left) have sold for $33 million USD!

In the documentary you can see how he paints and his technique is incredibly easy to mimic. This became one of the first techniques I used and liked the results. In Austin Kleon fashion I had stolen from an artist I admired and added some of my own twists to it making it my own.

This is was my first Gerard-esque pieces.

This is was my first Gerard-esque pieces.

Many more books, videos, documentaries and art classes soon followed. I still felt I did not have artistic ability in the sense that I could not recreate a landscape or portrait that would resemble the original scene or person. I did take drawing lessons and experimented with figures, faces and eyes, but I felt that it was more of a job to do rather than something creative.

In working towards finishing my first portrait (left) I felt myself studying the original photo in order to recreate the shadows, contours, lines and colours. This is a difficult task for someone with little artistic ability and limited instruction. It felt like work and that I wasn’t creating anything. I do feel it was a valuable exercise in that I learned a great deal, but I don’t feel that it is my art as I define it. I guess this where many of us part ways. We define our art our own way. I want my art to invoke an emotional response be it joy, sadness, delight or provocative. I want the imagery to come from my imagination and emotion rather than a photo or model.

We love Andy Warhol because he was the Steve Jobs of the modern art world. Warhol was the great innovator. Innovators are generally not the creators or discoverers, but rather the ones who change the way we use creations and discoveries. Jobs took things he had seen in various places such as the mouse, the operating system, software, hardware and he brought to our homes. Warhol took the imagery we saw in everyday life and called it art forcing us to see it from a different perspective. That is creativity! Many still argue this.

Many are also still critical of Banksy’s artistic ability including his fellow street artists since his technique is to paste stencils onto walls with a message that provokes thought. This doesn’t require artistic ability, but it does require creativity.

Portrait art seems more of a novelty today unless it’s abstracted, but again this is only my own humble view on it. When I Google “modern portrait artists” it returns a list of artists born in the 1800’s and early 190o’s. Most of them are dead now.

To be clear I am defining artistic ability as the talent of being able to recreate an image, landscape or figure by drawing, painting or by any other means. As for defining creativity, I’ll stick to the wiki definition which is the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

It’s also important to make the following distinctions. Artists with artistic ability are not all creative. And creative individuals do not all have artistic ability. The greats have both, but from my perspective are celebrated more for their creativity rather than their ability. Picasso, Pollock, Rothko, Warhol, Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Popova and countless others are all artists that stand out because of their creativity.


To shamelessly plug myself, I post all my art here in Instagram.