Is there an idiom that describes the failure of high-quality/expensive tools or materials to make up for a lack of ability in creating something?

For example: using a really expensive video camera to shoot a poorly scripted and acted film, or using high-quality paints and brushes to create a bad painting.

I considered "lipstick on a pig", but I don't think that quite captures it.

  • Can't think of a single idiom that completely answers this. Phrases that suggest that no amount of input/effort/expense will improve something include: "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear", and, "you can't polish a turd", though. Sep 7, 2017 at 16:00
  • You could reverse the above idiom to “they made a sows ear out of a silk purse”. Most native English speakers should be aware of the original idiom, so the reverse would convey the idea that any effort that was put in was of a negative value. Similar to the way the idiom "snatch victory from the jaws” of defeat can be reversed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” to convey the opposite meaning.
    – user252684
    Sep 7, 2017 at 21:01

1 Answer 1


"All the gear, no idea" conveys someone who has spent lots on equipment but doesn't have the knowledge/ability to actually get the best out of it (or even necessarily get anything out of it).

For your film example it might work as:

That wannabe film director has all the gear but no idea! I can't believe he spent £20k on that movie camera when the plot and actors are so bad that he's have to pay any cinema to screen it!

As an aside, there is also a related idiom "A bad workman blames his tools" which comes at this situation from the other direction: the result is poor and it's because the person didn't have the ability, but rather than admit that he claims that his tools weren't good enough.

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