"On some web sites and in some photo magazines what you read in photographers' biographies is a list of their academic achievements and credentials. Aperture has become the prime offender in this respect. But you can take a lifetime of photography "courses," have advanced art degrees, and not learn what you've learned, as far as I know on your own. Regarding credentials, Elliott Erwitt said it best when he was asked to teach a course in photography: "What is there to teach?" As HCB also said, you can learn all the mechanics of photography from the manual that comes along with your camera and its nice leather case. (You don't get the case nowadays.) What you emphatically can't learn from other people is how to see. I think the ability to see photographically is, like musical ability, something you're born with. Rob seems to agree. You, obviously were born with it."
Russ, I agree 100%. Further, I'd add a curious point, an observation I made over the years, particularly during my early ones in the business.
When you think you are pretty damn hot (modesty note: one thought at the time) and can spot the work of different current photographers that you admire, principally because of their style, there is the belief that you can ape that work at the drop of a hat. But, many times I've dropped hats and come up with something mine, rather than the 'something other than' which was intended. It just doesn't work: you always come through as yourself, regardless of the mannerism or technique or whatever you employed to be that other person at some given moment. So, it is more, even, than the ability to see; it's the ability to just do what you do as yourself. Even if it means splitting infinitives.
Yes, I do believe you are born with an ability, just as you are born without. I love music but can neither sing nor whistle a tune. But, I don't feel offended when somebody tells me my humming sucks, I already know it does, which is unlike the reactions of many photographers to criticism. Why the difference?