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« diptych # 17 (ku # 1226-27) ~ show me | Main | ku # 1225 ~ pond scum »

civilized ku # 2410-13 ~ the myth about talent

Logo ~ Tahawus/Adirondac, NY - in the Adirondack Park • click to embiggenHugo and Brooklyn ~ Tahawus/Adirondac, NY - in the Adirondack Park • click to embiggenA subject which has been on my mind for quite some time - it would not be stretching the truth to write, on my mind for decades - is the notion of talent. What follows are some of my thoughts and conclusions on the subject.

I have no doubt having talent is a very viable notion. I also have no doubt some have it, others don't and, going a bit farther down that road, more don't have than do have it. And, as long as I have already gone out on a limb, I will even opine those who have it, have always had it and those don't have it, never will.

(I'll pause here for a moment or two, while those who have been driven into a fit of self-righteous indignation can, hopefully, calm down. During this brief interlude, you might try to imagine the sound of me whistling a happy tune) ....


(more whistling)

(end of whistling)

(take a deep breath.....)

None other than the occasional commenter, Craig Tanner, has chimed in on the subject in his essay, The Myth of Talent. In his essay, Craig writes

.... the truth about talent is this – talent is a set of skills you develop over time through desire.

Craig has taken issue with the textbook / dictionary definition of the word "talent" - a special natural ability or aptitude of superior quality - a concept which he labels as the "Myth of Talent ... a cultural flaw in our self-awareness."

Like many others who have written somewhat dismissively about talent*, Craig writes:

... the gift of natural ability, without the awareness of it, or without passion attached to it, is either an unknown or unfulfilled potential. Even when natural ability is discovered and nurtured, it is only good for one thing – altering the trajectory of your learning curve.

... or, in others words, talent without hard work goes for naught.

That notion, in and of itself, is an absolute Homer Simpson-like no-duh. But, the fly in that ointment is simple - it implies, if you work your ass off at something that lights your fire, you'll end up with talent (or something like it). It is at this point where I need to get off that train (of thought).

First and foremost, working hard at something guarantees nothing other than hard work. No matter how hard someone might work at something, we all know - or should know if we're dealing with reality - there will always be those who can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Of course, that is not to deny some will be rewarded for that hard work with a new set of skills, not talent, but skills. To wit, skill is not talent and talent is not just a set of skills.

IMO, those who are dismissive of the idea of talent as a special natural ability / god-given gift / preternatural ability (pick one descriptor or feel free to make up your own), or who, at the very least, approach the notion in a diminishing manner, are basing their belief on their confusion with the idea of acquiring a skill with that of having a talent.

To be certain, there are many in the picture making world who are very skilled at the craft of making pictures. They regularly make pictures which are widely admired and often imitated. Many enjoy great success in both the serious amateur and the professional picture making worlds. And, there is no denying most have worked hard and long to get there.

However, what they and their pictures lack is that special je ne sais quoi / "genius" which separates their work from that of picture makers with talent. In many cases, the separation between the work of the skilled and that of the talented is more like a crack in the pavement rather than the distance between opposing walls of the Grand Canyon. Nevertheless, there is a difference and it is a meaningful one.

Now, you might be wondering after the last couple entries (re: short supply of words), what brings about this lengthy entry? It's simple really ...

As I was processing the picture at the top of this entry, a picture made by Hugo, it struck me that Hugo is evidencing indications of talent. The indications are evident in Hugo's wide ranging artistic endeavors and sensibilities and they all revolve around the notion of seeing and, in particular, a very acute sense of design and form.

That sense is why, of all of the things Hugo and Brooklyn saw and did at the ghost town and furnace ruins in Tahawus / Adirondac, the only thing he wanted to make a picture of was the logo on a bit of metal railing - FYI, over past several months, as he works on his drawing skills, he has been somewhat obsessed (drawing after drawing) with the idea of having a personal logo for himself. Quite a bit of his work is visually interesting and far more sophisticated than his years on the planet might suggest or explain.

Hugo is displaying a visual / artistic bent at an early age, much like his father - my son, the Cinemascapist. I pulled him (my son) out of school after his sophomore year in high school in order to home school him by means of an graphic art apprenticeship (he had absolutely no interest in picture making at the time) with me. An apprenticeship during which I fostered his natural ability, aka - talent, for design, teaching him only the mechanics, aka - skills, of getting it done.

Long story short, Aaron is now a highly respected graphic designer / art director, hired, with only a high school GED and a portfolio, for a professional college-degree-required position - hired over many college degree applicants. He is also (years later) a picture maker of international reputation and respect.

He accomplished all of this without the hard work required to obtain a formal education or years of OJT. In fact, I would suggest much of his success came to him in a rather easy fashion, which is not to suggest he did not work at it, but I don't believe even he would call it "hard" work ... it all just came "naturally".

All of that written, IMO, if there is a myth about talent, it's that desire and hard work in obtaining skills is the same thing as having talent. It is not. No matter the desire and hard work involved, there is a difference between a person possessing skills and one having talent.

*To be perfectly clear, Craig does not deny that "natural ability" / "gifts" exist.

Reader Comments (2)

To be truly successful at something, you need talent + skills + persistence.

Sure, there is precocious talent (think Mozart at age four) but most talented people have to chip away for years to reach their full potential.

And then they often forget to give some credit to their natural ability and just think of the years (and skills) that were required.

The other point is how early did you have a [talented] mentor? Mozart's father was a notable composer and recognised early his son's talent and actively encouraged it.

If you have talent but don't realise it until you are an adult, it might take more effort to get the ball rolling, so to speak.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSven W

I can certainly talk from the perspective of sport. I've some talent and I've trained and competed with others who have far more talent than me (past national champions and professional athletes), so much so that it's made me very frustrated. But eventually I realised that I was quite capable of being better than they were, despite my parents not having dealt me all the right genetic attributes. I just needed to train harder, practice my skill sets more, think smarter, use all the marginal advantages that I could, take emotional control of me and be totally dedicated. There wasn't anyone in my age group who I didn't beat, despite their obvious and enviable superior talent and pedigree. That's good news for folks that don't have so much talent; it's also been a huge life lesson for me. I agree completely with your last paragraph but I would add that all the talent in the world is of no use unless you develop the ability to utilise it.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterColin Griffiths

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