If I Don’t Know How to Do It, How Hard Can It Be?

The title is from an old boss I had, who would pull that phrase out as a half-joke whenever someone would balk at a task. It is, however, a kind of continuation on some of the things I was nattering about yesterday. In this case, I’m not so concerned with time / pay math breakdowns, however, but with the idea that talented persons (people for whom something is easy-as-measured-by-not-them) shouldn’t attach substantial value to their art.

This position stacks a couple of different, problematic assumptions that I don’t think necessarily follow. The first I’ve partially already covered, in that the apparent ease with which an artist … er, arts, is many times due to a lot of energy and effort which was not, at the time, easy. We call that training.

I don’t imagine anyone thinks even the most gifted of surgeons woke up one day and just knew how to work her particular miracles. Just because it isn’t literally brain surgery doesn’t mean that artists didn’t put in the work to get themselves there. At the same job I was talking about before, one of the typesetters had her own response to accusations that software made the work easy: “You aren’t paying me what I make to push a few buttons. You’re paying me because I learned which buttons to push.”

The above doesn’t acknowledge that, yes, people are born with certain innate proclivities. They have natural talents, the honing of which require innately less measurable effort than the sweating and toiling of those not naturally inclined to a given art.

If the narrative you’re pushing indicates that money is the result of effort and labor, then those for whom a task naturally takes less effort are less valuable by the sum of whatever ease “talent” provides. So, hey, if you were born with perfect pitch or able to draw in perspective from the age of 5, it was all easy for you, and why should you get rewarded just for being born?

Except we reward people for applying their natural talents all the time. But no one sits around saying “Yeah, but Einstein was born a big brain. Why should he have gotten a Nobel Prize?” Do I think every piece of art is as immense as the theory of relativity? No. But neither do I think it’s fair to dismiss the value of art because “it’s easy.” The judicious application of talent is, often, anything but. Especially when it comes with an instant de-valuation based on the perception that talent and work are opposite concepts.


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