Weekly Question #20: Does belief in a thing called 'talent' stop us from achieving our best?

edited April 18 in General Discussion
Came across this brilliant reflection from César Córdova.
He reflects that his teacher commended his classmate and told César to learn from this other guy.
"But I could never match him. He was born with talent."
"He doesn't have any talent. He just has had more time painting than you." The teacher called the classmate. "How long have you been painting?" He replied it was since he was 8 years old. "You have only been painting for a few months. It's evident your work isn't up to his standard, but you're only seeing the results - you are not seeing all the work he put behind it."
Now over the years I see my work has improved and my classmate has long since stopped painting, and his paintings have ceased to impress me as they once did. And I wonder what would have happened if I had believed in my lack of talent. The idea that one is or is not born with talent can harm anyone who aspires to be an artist.
He questions the concept of talent, but also continues on to reflect on the type of practice that you do, that helps you to keep learning. "Practice is not the answer. You have to study..."  (I won't share more, it's in the video.)


  • Interesting video @Abstraction, and a topic that does get raise on here now and again.

    At first I thought this was @tassieguy `s weekly question  :)

    I am reminded of a quote, I think it was Groucho Marx when he was asked if he could play the trombone he replied

    ”I dont know I have never tried”

  • Great topic, @AbstractionI've been remiss with the last couple of Weekly Questions but this is as good as any I could come up with. Why not rename the thread Weekly Question No. 20?

    I absolutely agree with  César Córdova.  It's not where you start but where you finish. Talent doesn't guarantee success, and lack of it doesn't mean failure, and that's because talent is largely a myth.   If we do the hard yards we'll get there.  :)
  • edited April 17
     I have thought about this a lot lately.

    I have conflicting ideas.  6 months ago I would have said that it starts when we are young and people around us praise something we draw or paint.    They may not think the work is good, but they tell us it is.    We like the praise and try to live up to it to get more with future endeavours.   The more we practice, the more we are able to control the pen, brush, chalk, mold the clay or whatever we are working on.  We play around, experiment, we learn to criticize our own work in striving to get better.     We begin to analyse what we see in terms of how it can be drawn, painted, molded etc...

    But then, I know I cannot sing for the life of me.   I can hear how bad I am when I sing.    My sibling has a wonderful voice, solo and in choirs.     My sibling cannot paint, draw (but did do a nice clay sculpture of a grotesque head once at school).  My sibling is born with a voice box suited to singing.  I was not. A pure physical quirk.   Why should my ability to hold a pencil, brush or other implement and translate what I see around me into a work that interests other people, be any less a product of my unique physical make up?  Is that not what we call talent??

    I know a painter.    Not what I would call an artist.    Who am I to judge, you may ask?   Perhaps you are right, perhaps not.    In this woke, pc world we find ourselves in it seems anyone can be anything they like as long as they say they want it.    I dread the day I am presented with a medical surgeon who got where they did because no one wanted to fail them in an exam in case it deflated their ego!!  
    Anyway, this painter churns out really amateur local landscapes with pretty deformed animals, all very seriously in a realistic style.     He began painting as an adult and had lessons from every professional artist within a 6 or 8 hours drive from his hometown.     He has persevered for years, day in, day out.    As far as I can tell, his work has never improved, and yet, he proudly displays it whenever and wherever he can.  Some of it even sells.    Blessed if I know.   Not an ounce of talent, has worked bloody hard at it, but no improvement in over 30 years. 

    My take on it is that he lacks the innate ability to "see", and therefore is unable to critique his own work.
    I feel, the ability to "observe" is the single most important thing if you want to succeed in anything, not just Art.    Good stockmen observe, good vets observe, good doctors observe, good teachers observe, good scientists observe, etc...

    I think I remain an undecided fence sitter, but I am more likely to jump to the side I am facing, which is that we are born with a talent.  The more we develop the skills required to showcase that talent, the better we get, but the talent does need to be present for great work.

  • @toujours In the video he goes on to say it isn't just about practice - it's about study. It's a process of constant improvement and solving problems, not simply practising the same actions.
    I began as a primary teacher. Some kids absorbed reading like drinking water. Others stared at the page as if there were ants crawling all over it. There is definitely aptitude, motor skills and so on.
    I train adults now as part of my work, and a lot of it is about creating experiences and reflection that help them to see - the meaning behind why they are doing something or a completely different paradigm. Not so much 'how to do' - that's the small part. But... why. Because once they see it, they will always see it.
    If your painter friend was dissatisfied, it's possible to help someone see their blind spots. Probably not everyone, but you get the point. I think this site helps us to see through others eyes.
  • @Abstraction, I grew up with a mother who was really big on having the "why" explained and not the "how".  This was how she in turn had been raised and her mother before that.   It is not a new concept, but perhaps sadly not used enough by parents and teachers in many aspects of life.
    I remember a primary school headmaster/teacher back in the 1970's describing 2 children as being like buckets without holes in them.    He could fill them to overflowing and they retained what they learned, whereas most of the children he had encountered, he likened to buckets with holes and the information he put in just flowed straight back out.

    Self critique is one of the most important things I can see in art, after observation.   To me the 2 go hand in hand.    The man I mentioned perhaps feels differently....?
  • edited April 18
    Here are my extra two cents worth:

    Some say you’re either born with talent or you’re not. But what is talent?

    Mary has a sister who Mary believes was born with more agile fingers that enable her to play piano extremely well, whilst Mary, born with (she believes) clunkier fingers, is unable to play at all. Mary believes her sister has talent whereas she doesn’t. And yet their hands are virtually identical. The fact is that all functioning fingers can be trained. The difference between Mary and the piano playing sister is that the playing sister loves piano, was passionate about it, and devoted herself to studying it and training her fingers to the point where she was able to make a successful performing and recording career of it. Mary’s hands are little different to her sisters. But her sister believed she could play piano if she learned how, and she loved piano so much, and wanted so much to play well, that she was prepared to do whatever was required to do so. Mary was not so passionate about piano.  And she never believed that she had the talent to play well and so didn’t see the point in doing the necessary work on her fingers to enable her to play well, and so she’s absolutely right, she can’t play.

     If you believe you can’t do something, then you’re absolutely right, you can’t do it. But if you believe you could do something, and if you really want to do something badly enough, you will find out how to do it and you will do what is required to enable you to do it well.

    In art, anyone with functional vision and hands can make marks on canvas. Some even do it without hands. It starts with a passion for creating images. And then there is the willingness to do the hard yards to acquire the necessary skills. Eyes, hands (maybe), and passion. That’s all you need. Talent has nothing to do with it. Sure, some people may find drawing easier than others but that doesn’t mean the others will never be able to draw. And it doesn’t mean that the person who finds drawing easier will do the hard yards needed to become excellent at it or that they’ll even be interested in it. You have to be passionate about what you want to do, and you have to want to do it so much that you are willing to put in as much study, time and effort as needed to enable you to excel at it.  It starts with passion. Then there’s commitment. Talent has very little to do with it. A belief that it’s all down to talent is a false belief that leads to not even trying and so to certain failure.

    Sure, thinking that talent is some mysterious, ineffable quality you are either born with or not is easier. But that’s just lazy, mystical thinking that has nothing to do with truth, passion, effort or eventual excellence and success. We can blame all of our failings in life on a lack of talent, But often, that's just a cop out. What was lacking was not talent but passion. And effort commensurate with our abilities.

  • Agree @toujours and @tassieguy . Passion finds a way.
  • I fully appreciate what you are saying @tassieguy.  However, I do think our basic brain functions have a lot to do with what we call "talent".      Are we born with those brains that then lead us to the path we take or does the path we take trigger the neural pathways we end up with?   Suffice to say it is less likely (but not impossible nor improbable) that a person with a mathematic, science bent is somewhat less likely to be drawn to the arts.     
    So are the people who see the lion hiding in the trees more likely to have an artistic bent; yes.   Are they born with the ability to see the lion in the trees because all their ancestors did and lived to breed; or because they were taught how to actually look for the lion in the trees from a young age?  Whichever way, I agree, honing the skill will improve the ability to see the lion.  It also means you will see lions in the clouds, bits of burnt toast etc....!!
  • @Toujours, we are all born with slight differences and I agree that these slight differences can effect our propensity to pursue one path or another.
  • Is talent limited to the ability to manipulate paint?  I was listening to an artist who said that he had reached a level of skill that he was satisfied with and his teacher said, “I know you can paint, now what are you going to say with it?”.
    I listened to some students at the water street atelier talk about their works and what they might do.  There was no question about their skills.  Some were intent on building a clientele for portrait work.  Others weren’t sure what they were going to do.  
    I think talent goes beyond technical skills.  I think telling a good story, creating a sense of presence, expressing emotions or insight into our human condition is as much if not more of a talent.
  • Interesting and intriguing conversation that can really send you down the proverbial rabbit hole. The question of (what is talent) creates a sincere opportunity for so many more questions, as we can see coming through in this thread. I sometimes have what may seem like (at the time) to be a great idea, but they change too often to qualify as answers, if there even is one instead of many. And that scenario seems to intensify the older I become! Or, are answers to questions such as these different for each of us? The Heredity vs. Environment theories in psychology come to mind. And so does Dylan's lyric's from Tangled up in Blue, 'We all have ways to feel the same, we just started from a different point of view'
    What causes the need for some to want or need to express themselves through any form of art? There may be many different reasons for sure. 
    Inspiration aside, outside of the very few cases of prodigy, the only way to get really, really good at something, as seen through the eyes of your peers, not your own, is to do it allot while learning as you go. 
    Where the discipline and focus comes from, I'm sure there are many, many different and interesting stories. I agree with most of everything said above, so much insight, and experience shared.
  • An aptitude for any endeavor is what sends us down our road to painting, music, writing or any other desire to create.  If you don't have the impetus, you'll never accomplish anything.  My mother had no musical talent or sense of rhythm whatsoever.  She couldn't tell the national anthem from Amazing Grace.  For her to try to be a musician would have only render failure. Yes, there is talent in people or aptitude for certain things, but diligence is probably the most important aspect of success.  There is a bible verse that says something to the effect that, the hand of the diligent maketh rich. I would ask my children when they were young what they wanted to be rich in. To decide and then be consistent in pursuing it. They are both highly successful because they applied that principle.  Hard work, practice, and consistency will almost always overcome short comings. However, it wouldn't have helped my mother in the field of music because she had a severe handicap where that was concerned.  Following your individual desires in the face of obstacles will create strength of character and the outcome you desire.
Sign In or Register to comment.