11/19/2013 05:31 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Ask the Art Professor: Is Drawing an Innate Talent or a Craft?

"Is drawing considered an innate talent or a craft, which can be learned by anyone?"

Personally, I believe that natural talent exists. I've met too many artists who have exhibited truly remarkable drawing abilities to believe otherwise. Many of them can run circles around me in terms of their drawing skills, and they appear to possess an effortless command of drawing that seems to transcend age and experience.

At the same time though, all of the talent in the world won't get you anywhere if you aren't willing to work hard, push your boundaries, and try new approaches. I've encountered people who were amazingly talented, but lazy. One of my peers in art school was incredibly talented, but was such a scatter brain that he was never able to make a professional career as an artist. I've had students who had dazzling drawing skills, but who were so enamored with their style of drawing that they never wanted to try anything different.

In the beginning of my career when I was teaching at the high school level, I once had a 15-year-old student who demonstrated some of the most extraordinary drawing skills I have ever seen. Everything he drew was visually breathtaking, and he was worshipped by the other students for his amazing drawing skills. However, all of his drawings looked the same, all the time. The drawings he did at the beginning of the semester looked exactly the same as the drawings he did at the end of the semester. Even though all of his drawings were aesthetically beautiful, his progress was nonexistent and his work never evolved. There was nothing artistic about the way he applied his drawing skills.

I do believe that if you are passionate enough, and willing to invest in hard labor and intense dedication, you can absolutely acquire the drawing skills you seek. I've had a number of students over the years in my drawing classes at the Rhode Island School of Design who came in with almost no drawing experience at all. One would think that their lack of experience would set them back, and that having previous drawing experience would be an automatic asset. Actually, many of the students with no experience frequently end up being some of the top students in the class because of their fierce commitment to learning and their willingness to experiment and take risks. Many students have remarked to me that their previous drawing experience was actually a hindrance, and that they wished they could have started from scratch. A good portion of the semester for many of these students is often spent getting rid of bad habits, which in many ways is much tougher than starting with nothing.

Remember though, that even the greatest talent and drawing skills will only take you so far. In the end, it's the creativity, innovation, and ideas that matter. Artists need to think, make choices, and express opinions in their work. This critical thinking process is what distinguishes an artist from someone who is simply technically adept in drawing.

Ask the Art Professor is a weekly advice column for visual artists. Submit your questions to clara(at)