Weekly Question No. 10 - WHO'S GOT TALENT?

Mark Carder says talent is a myth. *  Do you agree?

Some say good artists are born with the gift of talent. Others say passion and hard work are all you need to achieve artistic excellence.  Is talent a myth or is it a real thing and an essential ingredient in producing really fine art?



  • Folks

    Determination, attitude, persistence and curiosity are the ingredients of talent.


    Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

    Calvin Coolidge

  • edited January 29
    I agree with that, @Dencal.

    Persistence and determination are necessary. But I think we must add passion to the list. There must be a passion for creating art. Without passion, enthusiasm and persistence wane. It's hard to see how one could put in the necessary work and persist at something one has no passion for, especially when there is no certain monetary reward or even recognition. It's like concert pianists - the hours, weeks, months, years of grueling practice that are necessary to reach that level would be impossible without passion for the music and for producing a moving rendition of it. Even if talent were a real thing, it seems to me that it would be useless without passion, persistence and the determination to do something with it.
  • CBGCBG -
    edited January 29
    I agree with Mark that the notion of being born with talent is a myth.

    There are, however, factors which help determine who will become talented.

    Among those I count capacity for high level functioning, just in general physical, mental, and introspective prowess, as well as “inclination of the passions” or intense lifelong interest in the visual world and representing the world visually.

    What we label as a prodigy is simply a person who is high functioning with the sufficient interest and motivation to observe and understand as well as to work hard enough to achieve skills.

    Talent is not innate at birth although some qualities latent at birth can contribute to a persons becoming talented.


  • edited January 29
    Thanks, @CBG

     I agree that the physical and mental abilities one is born with can have an influence. For example, good eye-hand coordination can make drawing easier. But even physical limitations can be overcome - like my Jane in Weekly Question No 6. She has a passion for painting and has found technological work arounds for her clunky fine motor skills. So, yes, I think if one has a passion for art then, with hard work and persistence, one can become "talented". 

    Also, the innate  psychological resources one is born with can be strengthened through nurture. Greats like Mozart and Picasso had music and art in their families (in their genes maybe) and were taught and encouraged from a very young age to pursue their art and so very early in their lives they developed an understanding of what they would need to do to become very good at it and were encouraged to do so. We can be born with good hand eye coordination or perfect pitch but, unless we do something with them, they remain merely latent, unrealized abilities.

    So, I think it's partly nature, partly nurture and partly passion all combined with dogged determination to do what is necessary to become talented.
  • I agree with the points made that passion, persistence and discipline are essential. But talent does exist, and it counts for a lot. You can see it in young and old people, some pick up a certain skill with a lot of facility, whereas others might not reach a good level in years. You can see it in science classes, universities and music schools.

    It feels good and is somehow consoling to think that just by dedication and persistence one can achieve excellence in whatever pursuit one chooses, but I don't see this matching with reality. 

    I think this idea might come from those studies that showed that people who excel at their craft have put in minimum 10,000 hours. But saying that an excellent singer has put in 10,000 hours, is not the same as to say that if I put in 10,000 hours, then I can also reach their level, or even a fraction of it. There are loads of people who invest years and thousands of hours in some skill or another, and remain mediocre.

    In this respect, in my view in addition to persistence one thing that can make a difference is if, when someone (preferably from a young age) is trying things out, they have a senior individual (parent, mentor, teacher) who can recognise their aptitude and talent, and direct the person to good mentors and good schools. 
  • edited January 29
    Thanks, @frva.

     I agree that parents/teachers/caregivers/mentors are very important in recognizing and encouraging natural ability. The environment a child grows up in can have a great influence on whether whatever natural abilities a child may have are eventually realized and become full blown talent or whether they remain just latent and unrealized. It's like finding a gemstone in the rough. They look unremarkable until cut and polished.
  • I think you can become talented in something if you truly want to achieve that. But you must, as mentioned above have the determination, dedication the drive to improve etc.

    I dont think someone is born with that but some have more of an aptitude in those qualities than others which I believe gives some the impression that they are born with that talent.
  • Thanks, @MichaelD.

    I agree that it is about really wanting to be good at something; about being passionate abut it and willing to do what is necessary to develop whatever natural aptitudes we may have. 
  • Another good question.
    A. Anyone can learn: I'm going to get stuck into one of 20th century's great educationalists: Dewey. He was a brilliant man, made some good changes to education - but seriously knew nothing about art. He decided that the best way to teach art was to give the children the art materials and let them 'discover' art. (I was taught this at teacher's college. No, really. I did elective art. He gave me conte crayons and said come up with something.) Sure, John Dewey, give them a pile of numbers and let them invent mathematics while they are at it. So multiple generations were not given the basic skills they needed to learn to draw, paint, sculpt... Ask so many people and they'll tell you they're hopeless, they can't draw - just as people who weren't taught can't read.
    The history of art is artists learning from artists - including years of apprenticeship roles from a young age.
    Almost anyone can draw or paint if you give them the skills.
    B. But there is an aptitude: On the other hand, I think there is an aptitude that comes with the genetic package. People with the aptitude will often learn more quickly, have a more instinctive sense of design, and have a desire to create. I think most of the same people if they didn't pick up the brush would pick up the camera or needle and thread or maybe music. I know I have to create or I get restless - but painting is one of many things I've been caught up in. But if you don't develop your aptitude with work and learning you won't achieve your potential.
  • I agree very much for the aptitude angle by all above, some have for maths, some for dealing with people, and for art some have their good hand eye co-ordination and the powers of mental deconstruction of their subject and manual reconstruction to create their work, like any math problem. But that's just the initial single step the person may be ahead, the success depends on numerous other factors passion, circumstance, means and luck. But i think its for art, music and hand-made craft that I hear the word "talent" most often used and the reason why many who could have been quite good at it don't give it a chance because they think they don't have the "talent" for it, even for hobby's sake.
  • edited January 31
    Thanks for your responses to the question @Abstraction and @anwesha:)

    Good points well made by both of you.

    There seems to be a consensus emerging that there may be innate ability but that it needs to be worked on to become full blown talent. 
  • To view someone's realistic painting, and compliment the talent or only the talent, is an insult to every drop of sweat, every inner determination, every elongated passion, and every second of discipline involved in that painting.  

    God gives people various gifts, but every able-minded person can achieve ANYTHING with the @dencal (and @tassieguy edited) list of virtues.  I might add to that list humility and dependence on God's strength.  When I have pride about my abilities, I inevitably fail.
  • edited February 1
    Thanks for your response to the question, @allforChrist.

    I agree that it's 99% sweat, determination, discipline and passion. The other one percent comes from some inner reserve we are only dimly aware of.

    And, yes, it's funny you should mention pride because every time I start to get a bit cocky about things I'll get a rude awakening with a failed painting. Hubris ends with nemesis.  :)
  • (sorry about that) but glad you can relate!  wasn't sure if it was just me. :)  In fact I did a whole painting on that thought process of pride/humility, the room with the vase of flowers.  Remember that one?  I had just failed something major, and a rocky month later, with a humble heart, was brought through the same thing successfully that I had previously failed.  God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform!
  • frvafrva -
    edited February 1
    So with determination, passion and discipline you can be a Rembrandt? And to qualify this, I mean 2 possible interpretations:

    1. Make realistic paintings that are as virtuosistic in technique, composition, concept and execution as Rembrandt did

    2. Be an innovator as he was

    (replace Rembrandt with Van Gogh, Picasso, Bacon, Fechin, Goya and so on)

    Point 1 might be possible for some, with years and years and years of coaching (plus years), unless you have a lot of talent, then it's still years of guided deliberate work.

    With regards to 2 well, this has to do with creativity and it's arguable whether sweat alone, with no substantial talent, can do it at all. We probably can all think of artists or musicians who toiled for years to become technically good. Better in terms of virtuosity than, say, Lennon/McCartney. But they ain't penning down Strawberry Fields or Eleanor Rigby any time soon, nor anything close to those pieces.

    In practical terms I think for most people, even with the virtues listed above, thinking that one can achieve either point 1 or 2 might feel good, perhaps even empowering, but (with respect) it's delusional and will inevitably lead to a reality check down the line. 

    And I am not sure it is the healthiest proposition either. Personally I feel it's healthier to work with what I have, to the best of my abilities, accepting that my limitations exist and are substantial, without having to think that I can be the next Salvador Dali just if I want it bad enough. 

    And I think this is fine. Incidentally, the people I love and admire the most are rather fallible and unexceptional on many things. 

  • What I am struggling with at this time is why am I painting at all?   I struggle with this when I try to come up with a new subject.  It has gotten more so with each new painting I do.
    When the excitement of acquiring technical skill at any creative endeavor wears off that’s when things get real interesting.

    The lyrics from John Prince’s song He Was In Heaven Before He Died comes to mind.

    ” Now the harbor's on fire
    With the dreams and desires
    Of a thousand young poets
    Who failed 'cause they tried
    For a rhyme without reason
    Floats down to the bottom
    Where the scavengers eat 'em
    And wash in with the tide”

  • Thanks for your response to this week's question, @frva.

    If talent is a real thing, then I'm yet to hear an explanation of exactly what it is. What I usually hear is that it's an indefinable, mysterious something, a gift that some are born with and others are not,  and which can't be learned or acquired or explained, as if to attempt to do so would break the spell.  For some reason I find tis sort of thing unconvincing. 

    But I agree with you that we must work with what we have. It's just that I think doing so hard enough will eventually look something like like talent.  :)
  • edited February 1
    Great comment, @GTO. How to maintain the enthusiasm, the passion. It's a question all artists are bound to confront. I guess we just have to keep at it. And doing so doesn't necessarily mean we'll succeed. To those who ask What's the point if I'm not born with talent and not guaranteed success?, I say there is no point. There doesn't need to be a point. Like in your song, we all eventually sink to the bottom where scavengers eat us. That's life. And that's fine. It can't be otherwise. We just try to enjoy the ride.  No one else will care if we don't make art. But I would care if I didn't.  So, one just carries on. The passion ebbs and flows. Not having talent is a choice, IMHO. It makes it easier to give up and avoid doing the work to become excellent at something.

    Apologies to those talented folk who were born with the ability to paint. We ordinary folk must work at it.  :)
  • I have had to work at every painting that I have created.  I have never considered myself as extremely talented.  Others will tell me that I am, but I know better. My paintings are a product of what I have learned over the years, diligence, and desire to accomplish a good painting. I do have a friend that is over the top talented.  She can draw and paint without any instruction at all and it comes unbelievably good.  So, yes, I do believe that there are some people that have that elusive component within themselves that we call talent.
  • Thanks for responding to this week's question, @oilpainter1950.

     I've been told I'm talented, too. But, like you, I know better. I've had to lean, and really apply myself to improving to achieve anything half decent. I think what we lack in natural ability can be made up for with hard work and persistence. It's like the tortoise and the lazy hare. The tortoise can win.

    I agree that some people are born with higher levels of natural ability than others. But unless they are willing and able to do something with the abilities they have it won't go anywhere. For example if they have a natural ability for drawing but are not interested in it then it's not much use.
  • tassieguy said:
    If talent is a real thing, then I'm yet to hear an explanation of exactly what it is.
    I'll give it a shot. Something close to: Talent is an aptitude which is partly influenced by genetics and partly through environmental and other epigenetic influences. There is no gene for piano, but there are genetic factors that can pull you towards music or aesthetics, or give quicker reflexes or snap in your muscles for sporting ability. You still might achieve less than someone with less genetic advantage who was a hard worker, but you'd probably find it easier if you did work at it.
    "Some people are born with greater potential, but without hard work and practising their talent will come to nothing. Music is a good example, with some evidence of genetic differences. For example, a study of 500 twins found that 80 per cent of tone deafness is inherited. Another found genes associated with serotonin release, which were related to musical creativity.

    Chess is another good example: an analysis of 14 studies of top chess players and musicians concluded that only about 30 per cent of the variation between performers could be accounted for by their hours of practice. In contrast, a study of British musicians found that top performers had practised a lot more, but learned no faster than less skilled players."


    Building on studies like these: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2688647/ This one looked at nine different abilities: Music, Arts, Writing, Language, Chess, Mathematics, Sports, Memory, and Knowledge.

    I'd be interested to know who has other artists in their ancestry or family?

    My grandmother painted and studied at the national gallery. My sister could paint but didn't go on with it. Two sisters of a great grandfather from Tasmania who had exhibitions of their work in 1800s - not related to my grandmother.

  • Thanks, @Abstraction. Those are interesting, if somewhat contradictory, studies.  I think it would be hard to argue that genetics don't play a part - that is, people are born with more or les ability for certain activities like music, art, etc.  But the consensus seems to be that that's not enough. People still have to do the hard yards to bring natural abilities to fruition. But maybe a few less yards are needed for the naturals than for the rest of us.  :)
  • edited February 3
    Strictly speaking I should have put this posting of a quote in question Number 3 when science and art were discussed, but I have only just stumbled upon it.

    I think its a great quote and has some relevance here too.

    Faber Birren (11 September 1900 – 30 December 1988) was an American author and consultant on color and color theory.
  • edited February 3
    Cheers. @Michaeld.  There's something in that.  We need to balance the emotional and intellectual. Without intellect, our art would be a mess. Without emotion, our science would have no direction. Emotions are the source of our desires and inform our art. The intellect and science tell us how to achieve our desires and make our art.  :)
  • That’s an interesting quote @MichaelD.  Though I tend to think of discipline of temperament in relation to the type of temperament; intellectual, emotional, physical. Like @tassieguy says a balance is needed. I think some art appeals to our emotions, some our mind and others have even a physical impact.  I would say it is best to be a disciple that studies all three and avoid being too lopsided. 
  • I agree @GTO

    Nothing is fixed or set but fluid.
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