Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 8 January 2013


I was bibbling down my Twitter feed this morning, in my usual haphazard fashion, half-wondering what on Earth I was going to blog about today when I came across someone talking about learning a new skill.

I was impressed. I’m always impressed by that sort of thing. I’m lazy by nature, and I prefer to do the things that I’m good at, so it’s a while since I learned to do something new, and that’s not a state of affairs that I’m at all proud of. 

I was left wondering, though. I was left wondering when I realised that the tweeter planned to teach herself this new skill. I see this from time to time; I see ‘teach yourself...’ adverts, and I hear about people being self-taught artists or musicians or whatever, and I am mystified.

How does one teach oneself to do something one doesn’t know how to do?

Obviously, I realise that it is possible to learn to do something purely mechanical by following instructions. I am, I suppose, a self-taught touch-typist, having learned from a manual using my mother’s old typewriter with the keys covered in sticky labels, when I had the chicken pox as a kid. I doubt that I am the kind of expert touch-typist that came out of the best secretarial colleges in the fifties and sixties, but that doesn’t matter much for my purposes, and ninety words a minute isn’t bad.

Most things, in my experience, aren’t purely mechanical, though; I’m not utterly convinced that touch-typing is, if I’m honest.

Some people have a natural capacity for something, a talent, a flair, I suppose, and that must help, but where do skill and talent and mindset meet and overlap to make someone an artist or a musician, and is it really possible to be self-taught and be really, properly proficient, or even good at something?

I suppose that’s where I expose myself, because, as I said somewhere up there, I prefer to do the things that I’m good at. I guess I’m competitive. I guess, for me, there wouldn’t be much point playing the piano if all I could ever do was pick out a tune and plonk away at it like an amateur. I just don’t do that stuff for fun. Of course, lots of people do, and they should, and I wish them all the fun in the World, and I wish them joy of their hobbies.

Me? I’d have to get a teacher, and I’d have to practise for hours on end, and I’d become obsessive, and it wouldn’t be any fun, and, sadly, that’s just the way it is.

Of course, there is an exception, because art is fun for me, or, at least, it sucks me in and chews up hours of my time without me noticing, and I never seem to get any better at it, and I never seem to produce anything that’s worth very much to anyone but me. I do love the process, though. I do love being in my head. I do love testing my skills... The skills that my teacher has taught me, because I really couldn’t have learnt the few meagre skills that I have managed to acquire from a book or a dvd, and I do love immersing myself in the act of drawing and painting, and looking at the subject.

When they are wonderful, and many of them truly are, teachers are the most wonderful people in the World, and it seems such a pity to miss out on what they have to offer. So, if you do want to learn something new, and your resources are limited, there’s nothing wrong with trying to teach yourself from books or dvds, or whatever resources you can get your hands on, but why not try to get a recommendation and treat yourself to an hour with a real   
teacher, because, in my experience, they’re worth their weight in gold.

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