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You Know We'll Have a Good Time Then

There is this discussion on craft and talent in my f-list going on here and here and from somewhere else... oh, yes: here.

They seem like word-problems, which is not to dismiss them at all: writers work with words; words are the base elements from which an author alloys medium to meaning to communicate.

But when you create dichotomies from arbitrary words such as "talent" vs. "craft", I believe you are drifting from writing and entering into metaphysics. Metphysics is a creative activity which is related to story distantly, sort of a kissing-cousin to story, but more distant than poetry or drama. It hails from the philosophical branch of the family of creativity, somewhere among the ancestors of story, and it also delves progeny-roots into music, visual art, and oratory.

One of the "ten or twelve or fourteen" things jaylake mentions a writer must master to tell a compelling story, in my opinion, is an appreciation of the whole of words, their origins, their history, their use in context; their whole life-cycle, in fact. This is a knowledge gained by observation, much in the way a biologist observes the life-cycle of an animal to be able to predict its behavior, its impact, its energy-print against the matrix of competing biological processes. You can't learn it from a dictionary in the same way that reading a book on wolves is not the same as pissing on their territory-markers.

Metaphysics is a curious platypus of a word, a chimera of context. Its application runs the gamut from alchemy to religion to quantum physics. But in its simplest form, it is "that which is beyond the physical", which safely stuffs it into the invisible half of the Cartesian duality of body and mind for most people, which is false, since it's actually that which is arbitrarily creating the divide between mind and body.

Which we know in our current context is rubbish. Metaphysics is always context-driven and limited.

This bears out since metaphysics, which has no physical component, can only be expressed through the physical, through the mind-tricks that allow an order to be ascertained concerning something of which there is no direct experience.

Like fiction.

So, this is what I mean by kissing cousins**: Story conveys experience and insight through narrative of things that do not physically exist at the time of their being (i.e. the now of the reading of them). In the same way, Metaphysics conveys some degree of order to the universe in order to be able to say something meaningful about it.

But this order can be completely banal: "Hot" and "Cold" are a similar arbitrary metaphysical duality, since the idea of "hot" is relative to the observer. Lava-men and Ice-giants have been known to differ on that subject. Yet it is very important to know the difference between the hot and cold taps before you get into the shower.

Which leads me, finally, to my point, which is: Metaphysics has real consequences. People make decisions on metaphysical grounds, and the question between talent and craft is one of them. If I call a talent agency, the preponderance of the kind of person I hope to locate is heavily skewed towards the craft side of the talent-craft spectrum. If I am picking through a kindegarten music class, looking for the next wunderkind pianist, I am heavily leaning towards the talent side.

Faulty metaphysics can lead to poor understanding of the subject, and consequently to unrealistic and unbelievable teaching methods and processes of training, all of which lead to bad art. In the case of "talent" versus "craft", burger_eater seems to be leaning towards the definition I just nudged toward in the paragraph above, that talent is an early form of craft, and all of it has to be learned*.

So my point-behind-my-point is: I think the real issue is that all metaphysics is faulty. As soon as metaphysical discussions begin on a subject, the subject itself is harmed (through imperfect limits, cognitive dissonance, bias, and overworking of the subject-matter) by the incompleteness of the tools being used to discuss it. By differing talent from craft, we already, perhaps subconsciously, begin to take sides, to say one is more important/good/useful/liable-to-result-in-big-fat-publication-contracts than another.

This arbitrary arranging, this squaring off of ephemeral fact and its persistent re-application, is a mug's game. This is why the Kama Sutra makes sex boring, nobody can tell where violet ends and indigo begins, and why talking about what genre a book is before a publisher has placed it on the shelves is a waste of time. The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.

Or at least, that's the way I see it.

*Presumably this includes the grey area of early life where there are few memories, and what talent emerges from that one can choose to consider craft or not, but this informs the use of the word "craft" not the nature of "talent".

**And a good thing they are allowed to procreate on occasion, otherwise there would be no magic systems for fantasy books and the really cool jewelry wouldn't be available on the art floor.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
I'd say talent is not an early form of craft (those things we learn easily and at a young age); that's what the people using talent as a way to describe aptitude are doing.

To me, talent is getting it right. There are many ways of getting to that place and once you're there, it's hard for an outsider to tell how you got there.
Jul. 19th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
Interesting, your choices of words. Aptitude, I think, is a more accurate rendering of the concept formerly known as "talent" in my spiel above.

How do you feel about the use of "talent" as a plural noun, like sheep (sing.)/sheep (plural)? I have no problem with this, myself, such as "let the talent know we're shooting in ten." or "the talent at Quidsprom Magazine tends towards the lackadaisical."

So I also feel that "talent" is best used to describe a state of established, reliable skill, like "he has a talent for fly-fishery."
Jul. 20th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
"Talent" *is* best used to address actors during the shooting of an indie film when you're paying them in egg salad sandwiches. "Can the talent step out onto the set, please?"

It makes a nice break from calling them "artists" all the time.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )