Gift from god? I don't think so.

(This originally appeared at my blog, The Flying Trilobite on Sat. 23 May 2009. You may comment there as well.)

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It happens to artists. Surgeons. When someone marvels at the eye, or bacterial flagellum.

“Your art ability is amazing. A gift from God, no doubt.”


Just because something is hard to understand, just because complicated processes occurred that you did not witness, does not mean it was caused by a benevolent mythical being who hands out aptitudes like Santa with presents.

It has been a source of fascination to me, and not a little frustration that the ability to create art and the complexity of biological features each sit in the blind spots of members of the devout populace.

Like a gift from god. It’s throwing your hands up in the air and casually (lazily) admitting ignorance.

I get it: it’s supposed to be a compliment. But it actually insults me, though I usually reserve my cringing to myself. I have worked really hard to get where I am in my artistic ability, and I still reach and try to learn. There was no magic “poof” granted to me as a child that allowed me to render a decent life drawing or balance colours in a composition.

That was studying. That was attempts at keen observation. That was making countless mistakes I attempted to learn from. Feedback. Crits and criticisms. Learning from indifference. Trying new materials. Replicating happy accidents. Sharing techniques.

If this happens to you, encourage a bit of reasoning. I don’t like being a jerk. Somehow, any response I can think of seems like a rebuke.

“Those years of school I paid for were earned. Not a gift. " (Those heart-wrenching hours when you push a painting too far and ruin a perfectly good life drawing don’t feel like gifts either.)

How does one say it? How do you lead a person to reason? How do you encourage them to pull the holy book out of their mouth before they speak?

-Glendon Mellow
The Flying Trilobite
Art in Awe of Science


  • Robert C Richmond
    Robert C Richmondover 5 years ago

    Glendon, I appreciate your thoughts. Although I know not yet you nor your art, your expressions above are certainly worthy of consideration. I am only uncertain whether your main objection is to the aspect of “gift” or “God.” I am a little fearful of offering certain feedback to your position as you have already warned that any response you can think of seems like a “rebuke.” I can assure, if I am so inclined to comment, it is not intended to be a rebuke. One of your interesting statements is that you “get it” that the observer of your art “intends” some sort of “compliment” but you receive it as some sort of “insult.” In my life, I find less aggravation and more satisfaction by giving people much credit for their “intent.” And in the same posture I am able to try to understand your intent both of your words and your art. Thanks for stimulated my thoughts and I look forward to enjoying your art as well.

  • Hi LumenLux!

    Perhaps I was unclear about the rebuke statement. I meant any response I give someone who makes the gift-from-god comment feels like it comes off as a rebuke from me to them, despite my intent.

    I do give people credit for their intent, I think. However a lot of people do not think things through and make comments by reflex – the intent can be careless.

    The time and effort was invisible, and so they wrongly attribute it to the supernatural in an off-the-cuff compliment.

    So I am satisfied they are trying to compliment. Aggravated they assume I didn’t work for it.

    – Glendon Mellow

  • Robert C Richmond
    Robert C Richmondover 5 years ago

    Thank you for the clarification. I did mis-understand the rebuke aspect. Now, not as challenge, but inquiry -
    If I really appreciate your art, and want to offer a sincere compliment, how might that compliment be best expressed? Assuming I don’t have the knowledge or experience to make it a critique, but simply an acknowledgment of your accomplishment? Should I say I like it? Should I say good work? Should I say I admire your talent? Or skill? Or ability? Should I just say it is beautiful with no attribution?

  • Dave Pearson
    Dave Pearsonover 5 years ago

    In response to LumenLux: I don’t think Glendon’s point is that there’s a right or required way of offering a sincere compliment, I think the point is that one common method used by people is to essentially say “that thing you’ve done, you had no say in it, you didn’t develop it, it’s not really your thing — I like what you’ve done but you’re just the tool of an invisible being”.

    Now, sure, the person saying it might not think that’s what they mean, but that’s what it comes down to. Simple put “a gift from God”, if not intended as a put-down, is simply thoughtlessness on the part of the person saying it. It is, essentially, a thought-terminating cliché.

  • Thanks Dave. It’s not a comment I receive often, mind you. It has happened a couple of times recently which prompted this blog post.

    I absolutely agree with Dave here, LumenLux. A sincere compliment could be any one of your examples. I’m not upset over receiving a myriad of compliments that do not suit me, I’m annoyed over receiving a thoughtless attribution to a deity.

    – Glendon Mellow

  • Dan Elbourne
    Dan Elbourneover 5 years ago

    i hope that my first response to such a compliment would be to say “thankyou”. then, i might add, “but i don’t believe in God” or “God had nothing to do with it”.

    i hear what you’re saying about your art being the result of hard work and sacrifice, but arguably, you had to have an underlying artistic aptitude in the first place firstly to motivate your work, and secondly for it to have resulted in anything good. so arguably, this WAS a gift, though neither of us believes that it came from God.

    it might also be argued that your work is a gift to all of the other people who view it, from you (the creator), whatever forces led you to create and whatever forces led the people to discover your work.

    dan :)

  • Danica Radman
    Danica Radmanover 3 years ago


    i was in thick fog – and i was doing my best to find articles to learn from..

    amazing!!!!!! thanks! (i’llbe back – have to read it all!)