Like so much else, the question of skill seems like a relatively simple one at first glance. Either you suck at something or you don't, right? HA. A veritable maelstrom of theories and attitudes on skill surround the issue. Is skill technique, aptitude, transcendent magic, a matter of workmanship, control, and/or transferrable? Since I've gotten to hear so many opinions on the subject, let me put in my two cents.
1. Skill is a vector for meaning, much like material. Sometimes you make do with what you have access to, but when you have choices (either in material or in levels of craftsmanship) your decisions generate meaning. I’ll note that not having a choice generates meaning as well, but perhaps anthropologically rather than authorially. There is likely no intended meaning in not doing something because you can’t, but if you make the choice not to perform specific actions (like cleaning up solder), you are investing content in your work. The selective application of skill within a piece naturally asks questions of the relative importance of the parts to the whole.
2. Skill is more than technique but less (more?) than simple aptitude. Technique is more or less equivalent to process but does not address how well it is applied. Skill implies the ability to apply technique precisely, and greater degrees of skill produce more fluid/less self-conscious application. (I’ll note here that it is that lack of self-consciousness which renders skill invisible/unremarkable to the skilled person.) Josef Albers, student of the Bauhaus and influential educator at Black Mountain College and Yale, puts potential as the defining element of skill, but to my mind potential/aptitude/talent are more a matter of how readily skill is acquired. There are plenty of people (we’ve all worked with one) who can do their job well enough but never become skilled at it, apparently lacking the inborn ability to do the task fluidly.
3. On that note, there is something about skill that is at least partly transferable (in the skilled person) from one task to the next. This is part of the differentiation from technique, I think. It suggests being able to move to the next thing and build on the knowledge. Someone skilled in raising can probably transfer some of that to chasing, even if they have never tried the technique before. The existing knowledge base of hammering and moving metal can be broadened by a skilled person to include the use of chasing tools. However, someone who has simply learned the technique of raising without becoming skilled in it may be no better off trying to chase than someone who has done neither.
4. Skill is also the ability to navigate risk. I’m going to have to read further on David Pye’s theory regarding "the workmanship of risk," because this was a fresh insight to me. In more common terms, we might call it “good judgment.” (One of my favorite sayings: Good judgment comes from experience, which comes from bad judgment.) From what I understand of the workmanships of risk and certainty through Glenn Adamson’s Thinking Through Craft,, Pye tosses skill in as an element of the former, but doesn’t really see it in the latter. Again, I haven’t read the source material so I can’t be sure I’m getting it properly, but I’d say that the creation of the tools of certainty, and even their selection, are a matter of skill. The punch press operator might just be pulling a lever, but the design of the press and the choice of material require skill. Choice is key here; the navigation of risk is about making the correct choices.
5. The personal acquisition of skill (versus the choice to outsource) is a choice fraught with baggage about the valor of labor, but we need to think carefully about making it a moral stance. I don’t feel it is reasonable to expect mastery (or even proficiency) in all of the possible sub-sets of any specific field. After all, the division of labor and skills into specialization is a great deal of what has allowed modern life to exist. So a “post-disciplinary” approach in which people selectively acquire skills and sometimes opt to outsource is just putting making into the same framework as many other aspects of technology in modern life. That being said, it is not the only way to be, and I don’t particularly feel you can build a hierarchy to determine who come out on top, the specialist or generalists. In facing the finite nature of a life span, I've decided to prioritize the development of certain skill sets, namely enameling. I want to learn to engrave and knit and brew my own beer, but without considerable medical advancements I'm not going to have the chance to do everything I'd like to before the clock runs out.
6. It does lead to a question, though: do deep skills lead to innovation/creativity, or do they restrict? I’d say it depends entirely on the person. Some folks need to chase an idea across mediums, and others will use virtuosity to pursue something down a rabbit hole. Some folks will become inflexible if they rely on one format/technique, and others will be paralyzed by choice. Some lucky people even get to be inflexibly paralyzed! It really depends on the person, I think, and I’m still wrestling with the issue in my own practice.