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Scott Kelby, Andrew Kramer, and the Decline of True Art

TipSquirrel welcomes back Chad Perkins


Before digging into this blog, I must clarify its scandalous title. This blog is most certainly not to deride the artistic talents of Scott Kelby or Andrew Kramer. On the contrary, I am a big fan of both of these guys, particularly Andrew Kramer. As a matter of fact, it is because of Andrew Kramer that tutorials look better and are more artistic (generally speaking) than they were several years ago. So, just to reiterate – I’m a huge fan of both Scott Kelby and Andrew Kramer, and I’m well aware that they are better artists than I am, and better teachers as well.

So, this blog is not about problems with Scott Kelby or Andrew Kramer, it’s instead about the problems that arise in the art of those (myself included) that follow them. They do a great job teaching us; they do so great at teaching us in fact, that their “cookbook” tutorials often give those that follow them a false sense of artistic accomplishment.

Trust me, we’ve all been there. You decide that you would like to increase your skills, so you set out to learn a new software application. But often times, these software packages are fairly intimidating. We might feel overwhelmed by all there is to know. And after spending hours in the manual and figuring out what the buttons do, we are often dejected with the crap that we make and our lack of understanding of how the good guys do it so well. So that’s one of the many reasons that creative communities NEED guys like Scott Kelby and Andrew Kramer. They come up with these recipes that give us hope – “click this, click that, drag this here, and you’ve made a masterpiece!” It just feels fantastic, and we are empowered with a new sense of resolve to progress and go farther on our own.

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Or at least, that’s what is supposed to happen. Instead, what I’m noticing is that people are letting that power get to their heads a little bit. Remember that there really isn’t any skill in following a tutorial. That’s the deception. When really, really good trainers create a really, really good tutorial, they make it easy to create something masterful. The deception is that you might feel like you are now good enough to create something that masterful on your own. It’s like painting in a watercolor coloring book. In these books (in case you’ve never had the pleasure of playing with one), you just basically dump water on it, and the watercolor paint is already dried on the surface. Thus, instantly you have created a watercolor masterpiece, with perfect colors and all of the color within the lines. The coloring book gave you the sensation of being a great painter, but really all you did was dump a bunch of water all over the place. The magic was in the book, not in the painter. Likewise, when a copy machine makes a copy of a beautiful poem, we praise the poet, not the Xerox machine. So too, in the case of creative tutorials, the magic is often in the tutorial creator, not in the tutorial follower.

This concerns me a little. If the creative communities of the world just become regurgitators of recipes and not artists, where will that leave the future of art? If you express yourself artistically only with tricks you’ve learned from Andrew Kramer, are you really an artist? Should a company hire you to do their Photoshop work just because you know Scott Kelby’s recipe for creating glassy reflections? Again, knowing this stuff is great, but what are you bringing to the table that couldn’t be found in a step-by-step tutorial?

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There are several reasons why you should go beyond simple recipes and become an artist. First of all, the purpose of art is to express what’s really going on in that head/heart of yours. Art is a tool that man has always used to process life experiences. And no one else can share your experiences like you can. If you just put out copies of other people’s work, the world will never get to see the magic that only you can offer. Also, the study of art does something to you. It will make you a more interesting, intelligent, creative, and tolerant person. But you’ll never get those attributes just by taking tutorials. Just looking around at the state of the world, I think it’s pretty clear that we could use more artists.

In summary, I have to give massive props and thanks to Scott Kelby and Andrew Kramer. They are amazing. Honestly, I’m not sure one can really appreciate just how amazing they are unless you try to create tutorials on your own. They are the best of the best at making people feel successful after taking their tutorials. I should know. I’ve created almost as many video tutorials as anyone on the planet, and it’s a big challenge. With all of my experience, I can’t create tutorials as good as Andrew Kramer. I just can’t. And even my best attempts to make art aren’t as beautiful or as cutting edge as his art is. And I don’t have the eye for detail and Photoshop settings that Scott Kelby has.

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But I can say that my art is my art, and no one in the history of ever could bring to the table what I do, because no one has experienced what I’ve experienced and reacted the way I’ve reacted. The same goes for you, which is why the world needs your art, not your version of a tutorial that you followed. I leave you with some wise words I once read on a sign in front of a lumber company outside of Disneyland that have stayed with me for years –

You were born an original.

Don’t die a copy.

10 Comments on Scott Kelby, Andrew Kramer, and the Decline of True Art

  1. Excellent, EXCELLENT article, Chad! I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Amen! Processes and guides are just that – guidelines. Whether it be critical or creative thinking – it’s knowing how to apply that process or guideline in your own thoughts that matters, not just applying it.

  3. This is why I never buy tutorial videos or books like that. I learn first by doing whatever tutorial is in the software manual, then I dive into a project. When I can’t figure out how to accomplish something, I visit the manual, then search online for some help. I might find tips from these guys that help me with my problem, but I don’t want to use them as instruction manuals. I just want this stuff as reference material. Learn by doing.

  4. Chad,
    A very thought-provoking post. Thanks for sharing that. When I posted some thoughts on keeping your photography fresh my suggestion was called “idiotic.”

    Photoshop as used by photographers versus graphic artists is very different. I can accept that. I see Kelby more of a graphic artist because of his background. His books are wonderful for learning.

    Graphic artists can spend all day in front of the computer. I happen to prefer shooting more. A matter of preference. If I botch a shoot, I would rather re-shoot if it’s possible than try to fix in post.

  5. Chad Perkins // November 26, 2009 at 9:22 pm //

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m really glad that everyone seems to be getting what I was really trying to say. I didn’t want this to come across as negative or critical in any way. I just wanted to inspire people to share more of themselves with the world. Thanks for reading, having an open mind/heart, and commenting.

  6. Great post indeed and I must really say that I agree as well at pretty much everything of it! 🙂

  7. Great post. If you ever see Bert Monroy’s show over on Pixel Perfect you’d see that he agrees with you 100%. At the end of each episode he makes a point of telling his audience not to be concerned about what he did, just the techniques he used to get to is end result. Watching a tutorial is fine and potentially a learning experience. Copying a tutorial really doesn’t give you much of anything.

  8. Chris Tarroza // December 3, 2009 at 7:18 am //

    I can’t tell you how much this article really hit home for me. I’m as beginner as they come and I do get that ‘high’ after re-creating an effect from a tutorial that I’ve seen. However, I am at the point where I KNOW that when I do recreate, it’s far from art, or rather original art and I’m looking into getting that down. As dumb as it may sound, trying to be original gets me stuck half of the time…

  9. WOW, Chad….
    You really bought me back to reality…. Every word here will stay with me… Your tutorials are rocking, however I don’t copy them… just apply them to my daily work… TO make them better.

    However, I agree with you 100% and this is great.. real great awaking words for me.

    Thank you very much!

  10. Just to add to this .. as a freelance After Effects artist .. Kramer’s tutorials have diluted the talent pool by offering up so many gimmicks to hacks who haven’t paid their dues … in the last 3 years it’s become 10 X harder to find work b/c there are hundreds of thousands more “AE artists” out there claiming that they’re qualified with reels filled with jacked tricks to get the work…. sure enough their work is SHIT, and consists of co-pilot tricks and stock footage.

    Employers/professionals can spot the frauds, unfortunately clients aren’t as discerning …. after all they’re not the ones on watching the tuts.

    I’ll be the first to admit I’ve learned some things I didn’t know from Kramer, but overall I think it’s a HUGE disservice to the community by offering up these paint-by-number gimmicks.

    I spent YEARS and years figuring out my own methods of achieving results that are now just being handed out to anyone. I’m all for NOT hoarding knowledge, but giving these really slick looking tricks to amateurs is dangerous.

    Thanks Kramer, but seriously I wish you’d stop.

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