Mad Skills - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Mad Skills

Mad Skills

Published May 27, 2010

Recently I read on the news that a man, one Kenny Strasser, had successively duped the producers of numerous TV-programmes into putting him on the air on the premise that he was a master in the art of the yo-yo. When put on the air, however, Kenny got found out: He had no yo-yo skills. And while madly swinging his yo-yos, beating himself over the head, bruising his genitalia and trying to “fake it”, Kenny claimed he had no muscle memory, and therefore perhaps the yo-yo was not anything he’d ever master. Sorry.

Now, lying to people is easy. Claiming talent is something (almost) everyone is capable of. But things tend to get a bit more complicated when we’re pressed to prove our talents—when we’re made to bring forth our yo-yos and perform a perfect “Buddha’s Revenge”, a “Reverse Double-or-Nothing” or—my God!—an “Elephant’s Trunk”. Then we either put our money where our mouths are or we fold. Which is why most people don’t go around faking mad skills they don’t possess. They don’t want to get called on.

When it comes to the arts, proving talent or skill isn’t so straightforward though. Sure, you don’t really fake the cello anymore than the yo-yo (although there’s more tolerance for avant-garde weirdo shit in the cello-world than the yo-yo world—and yes, breaking a cello while masturbating and drinking your own urine can be faked)—but the same does not go for the creative compositional arts. These days you can fake a painting. You can fake a song. You can fake a movie or a play. And you can fake a poem.

This is because creative art isn’t necessarily based on skill per se—or even talent. Creative art is mostly performed on instinct, it’s created in a hinter-dimension, a subconscious and brought forth into the conscious world where the artist either uses his or her cognitive skills to “finish” the piece or throws it away before diving back into the hinter-dimension for new more interesting stuff. And there’s no perfect, or even imperfect, way of judging it objectively. There’s no Turing-test for creative arts. 

Yet most creative art forms require other kinds of ambition—other ways of “proving” one’s dedication to (and love for) the art form, which are also hard to fake. If you want to write a novel you need boatloads of patience. Just writing a hundred pages that seem semi-coherent is an arduous task for a lazy person. If you want respect in the visual arts you go to school—often you have to stay there for years! A modern composer doesn’t get the time of day until he’s finished a doctorate. Even a lowly singer/songwriter has to invest in a guitar—or worse, a piano.

Nothing of the sort applies to poetry. A poet needs no qualification. There are no schools and the only required investment is paper and pen. And if you can’t afford paper and pen you can always borrow your mother’s laptop. There’s nothing obviously discernible about a poem that says it’s “good” or “bad”—not since we dropped metre and rhyme, in any case. It’s now all a matter of taste and taste is a superbly dubious and fleeting concept.

This results in two things.

On the one hand poetry attracts everyone who wants to be an artist without having to strain themselves too much. Every lazybone, wannabe, poseur and charlatan who wants part of the (perceived) “glamour” of being an artist, becomes a poet. Simply because it’s the easiest art to get away with faking.

On the other hand, for those willing to embrace it, it may provide greater possibilities for creation—casual or stringent, oblivious, spontaneous, uneducated, stupid, banal, kitschy, experimental, nutty—without any outer guidelines or official framework to tell us what constitutes a “true” poem and what doesn’t.   

And still telling which is which will be well nigh impossible.

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