Talent, Not Tools.
Oct 18, 2010

See title. I’m not sure I need to expound on this idea since the title of this post perfectly sums up my thoughts. But since you likely arrived here via a link, I feel I should give you a little more substance to positively reinforce your click-thru behavior.

Let’s talk gear – cameras, lenses, lighting, software – we’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty (and whozits and whatzits galore). I love gear. I really do. And it sure is fun to talk about. In fact, it’s easy to talk about because, for the most part, it’s objective. It’s easy to compare megapixels and millimeters because their values never change.

And talk we do! There are countless blogs and websites that review all the latest in filmmaking techowizardy and photographic doo-dadery. My Twitter stream is full of links to gear reviews, camera tests, and tech shoot-outs.

With all the talk about gear it’s easy to fall into the gear trap. It’s easy to believe that you’re being held back by not having the right piece of technology to tell your story or create your art. “If only.” If only I had an Epic. If only I had a 5DMkII. If only I had a new Mac, or a Steadicam Flyer, or that new plugin, or a tilt/shift lens… it’s a never ending, inexhaustible list of excuses for NOT making art.

But it’s not about the gear. I know that you know this. This is really just a reminder to myself. If you have a vision, if you have art inside you, it can (and will) find its way to the surface through whatever tool is available. Van Gough was not a painter, he was an artist. If he were alive today he might be a filmmaker. If Spike Lee was born hundreds of years ago, maybe he’d be a poet or novelist (idea credit: Godin). These guys used whatever tools they had available to create their vision. Today, we’re lucky that you don’t have to cut off your own ear to get access to inexpensive and powerful storytelling tools.

The truth is making art is scary, messy, and full of failure. It’s straight up hard work. It’s much easier to sit on the sidelines and say we can’t do it because we don’t have the right gear. But don’t fall into that trap. You don’t really need better gear, you just need better ideas.

Here’s what I’m talking about. Below is a video of New York band Atomic Tom performing a catchy tune live on the subway. They’re not using their traditional tools (guitars, drums, piano), just iPhones. The band is talented and clearly has a vision for the song. Take away their instruments and they’ll find a way to make art. And if you take away their phones, I bet they’d still find a way to play the hell out of that song. Talent, not tools, my friends.

14 responses to “Talent, Not Tools.”

  1. Gianpaolo says:

    Thanks a lot for your post, was really important for me read it!
    Gianpaolo.

  2. Rafael says:

    Nice, Jesse – thanks!

    I think we all need to hear (or as in your case this time, say) this sometimes.

    Reminds me of the old adage: Where there’s a whip – er – a will, there’s a way. 😉

    Find out what motivates you, and feed it!

  3. thanks for the reminder! 😉

  4. Matt Briner says:

    This is a great post. Thanks buddy. So important to remember as an artist. I posted this on MY iPad I won hahah

  5. Angela says:

    I am home sick, feeling sorry for myself and saw this link and it cheered me up no end.

  6. Holly says:

    I Absolutely LOVE this…couldn’t take my eyes away… : )

  7. Lindsay says:

    I just stumbled upon your website today. I love it! I think I’ve spent like 2 hours on it.

  8. Candace says:

    I cannot thank you enough for penning (typing?) this. I am someone with passion for art and limited funds to get to where others think I should be. But, this entry is quite encouraging – and serves as a stellar reminder for me. I have always felt that it’s not about the camera, but what the operator does with that piece of machinery – be it film, digital, or some mix in between. Again, thank you for reminding me that the idea and vision is what counts, not how many straps are dangling from your shoulders.

  9. Zharmane says:

    Your one of my Heros

  10. Dan P says:

    I really strongly agree.

  11. Matt Clark says:

    Thx for kickin my butt… NO more excuses! 🙂

  12. Dave says:

    I don’t have heaps of gear, but I do have a lot of wants. This is a good article to remind me they are just wants.
    But I do have one question, after watching the video, is an iPhone all anyone needs? haha.

  13. Dave M says:

    Great post. I needed the reminder to get out there and do something every day instead of pining for a shiny new object.

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