Often the skill we think we need for an art isn’t the one that’s really required. So you think the main skill for drawing is hand eye coordination? The same thing with music, all you need is fluid fingers to play an instrument, so you can hit the right key/valve/finger hole/fret at the right time? Perhaps all you need for writing is good spelling and grammar? Let’s take a look.
Drawing is all about seeing. The average person has the hand-eye coordination to draw like da Vinci – if you can write your name legibly you have the necessary fine motor skills. Really, that’s all it takes. So why can’t we all draw like Leonardo? Because we can’t see like Leonardo. Sure our hands can make the movements, but our brains have to tell our hands where to move. That is the art of seeing. Until I started seeing as an artist sees I didn’t realize how little I actually saw. Photography opened my eyes, drawing taught me to see.
You can play scales and Czerny with the best of them but if you haven’t learned the skill of listening you can’t really play music, it’s just notes. Listening is the most important skill in music. In fact, a good musician actually hears the notes before they are played and can then ensure the note that is actually played is the one that was supposed to be played. This is particularly import with voice and instruments that need to be tuned while being played. With a piano or fretted guitar the note you play is the one you hear (but you still have to listen) while with most winds and non-fretted string instruments you can easily play a note and be way out of tune.
It goes beyond that. Music isn’t just playing the right note at the right time. Most of it is expression. If you can’t hear it, you can’t express it. Beethoven heard it in his head as he slowly went deaf, but there came a time when he embarrassed himself whenever he took the stage because he couldn’t hear the instrument. The greatest virtuoso of his day could no longer play when he could no longer hear.
So, we have seeing as the most important skill for the visual arts and listening (much more than “hearing”) for music, what would the most import skill be for writing? Perhaps imagining? Organizing one’s thoughts? Extrapolating?
Many famous authors would say reading.
The bare mechanics of words and language isn’t enough, just as motor skills aren’t enough for visual or musical arts. A writer needs to learn to create with language. Just as with the other arts practice is needed, so is that other skill. And by reading I don’t mean just decoding the abstract symbols on the page. That would be the same relationship hearing has to music. A writer needs to understand how the magic is created. A writer needs to enter that other universe that’s unlocked with those abstract symbols.
When we teach an art we often find it easiest to teach the medium. We teach the pens and pencils, the musical instruments and the grammar and syntax. It’s those intangible skills, however, that make a past time into an art.