We Miss You Mr. Jones

For weeks now I’ve been trying to think of a way to define things like artistry and talent. Many people have already done this and I’m not trying to be definitive by any means, but following are some observations on beauty, talent, and loss.

In his TED Talk, Denis Dutton lays out a presentation in which he states that our recognition of beauty, as a species, goes back to our earliest use of tools and that it is an “innate desire to see others do things well” (or to do them well ourselves). I don’t know whether this is considered an empirical fact by the rest of the scientific or artistic community, but it rings true to me.

However, for this blog entry, I was trying to work off of the phrase “there’s no such thing as talent” which I have heard from more than one source. And I get it, the idea is to work on whatever it is you want to create or achieve, all the while pretending you don’t have any talent for that calling. Then, in the end, you can compete or even beat all the hard-working, successful idiots who actually don’t have any talent but are producing the most odious popular trash. People like Britney Spears or Jeff Koons who make the kind of stuff you look at and say “I’ve seen a better day’s work come out of the back-end of a cow” yet good money is being delivered to their door.

To beat them at their game you must work as hard as they do, because talent does not always equal success. “Practice makes perfect” says my mom. There’s no such thing as talent. I understand the phrase, but I know talent exists, which is why I can’t seem to come up with a satisfactory essay about it, using that idea.

Then I hear of the passing of David Bowie…

Say what you want about David Robert Jones. Maybe he’s too “weird” for you, or his style is too hedonistic or shallow, or maybe you just plain don’t like his music. But he did all of it well – really well. He worked hard at his craft like few others, sure… harder than those around him and right up to the end. But he had a born-in ability to sing, perform, and present himself with a conviction and a belief in his own craft undefined by skill alone.

Okay, full disclosure: I’ve been a fan since I was 15, but I have remained one because I have seen few other performers deliver what he did with such ease, presence, and innate accuracy. David Bowie had talent.

His music spoke to generations of young people who were already “quite aware what they’re going through” by getting inside our “moon-age daydream(s)” and letting us know that we’re “not alone.” He surrounded himself with equally professional performers and artists, and brought it off with a style all his own. One simply cannot ignore the flawlessness of his craft. My mom doesn’t like his music, but she can’t deny his ability as a great performer.

It’s easy to get nostalgic about how we grew up with his music in our lives, and what a great personality he was, and that’s all very valid. But the vast majority of us never knew him personally (though I’m sure we’d have liked to). So, I can more easily subscribe to the idea that the reason we, as a modern culture, are so torn up about the death of David Bowie (and those like him, now including Alan Rickman) is because we now will have one less talent in the world that we can see and hear do things really, really well — way better than most of us.

And we will miss that.