The False Concept of Talent
8 Minute Read
Like many artists, I hear comments about my 'talent'. I'm not sharing this with you to toot my own horn, but rather to explore what talent is, or perceived to be. If someone tells me 'I'm very talented' I actually feel rather uncomfortable and I'm trying to figure out why. I believe we all have talents and I try to remind the person I'm conversing with that they have talents I don't have, it's just that my perceived 'talent' is in your face and on display. It seems a little unfair on anyone whose talents are behind the scenes, and most peoples talents are behind the scenes and I don't think we're doing those people justice.
I wonder how many talented cleaners are out there? I can never get my house spotless or quite get all the grease off the baking sheet no matter how much soap I use and how hard I scrub. There are spaces you walk into and can instantly feel it's immaculate. The person that made that happen has talent in my opinion! I don't have that talent!
What about a talented secretary/administrator? Someone who can file, organize, sort, type, deal with multiple peoples personalities and needs and keep on top of everything like a champ. Someone who thinks outside the box and approaches their work in a way that is unique and revolutionary, appreciated by all who work with them?
How about a talented mechanic? Someone who can hear the slight rattle nobody else can hear, identify it then fix it?
Or would you say this is just people taking pride in their work? I think it's so much more than that.
So let's start with the definition of 'Talent". Dictionary.com defines it as follows:
1. a special natural ability or aptitude: a talent for drawing.
2. a capacity for achievement or success; ability: young men of talent.
3. a talented person: The cast includes many of the theater's major talents.
4. a group of persons with special ability: an exhibition of watercolors by the local talent.
On face value, that seems about right. But it isn't true for me, nor would I say it's true for many creatives. I would say I had a natural interest in art and a desire to create, but honestly, if left to my own devices it's very unlikely that my work would have progressed to where it is now in the same amount of time, if ever! I've had so much help, guidance and tuition from so many sources. And PRACTICE. Oh. My. God. The hours, days, weeks, months and years of PRACTICE, experimentation, reflection and critique are what has got my art to where it is today.
Kara Clarke, Jewellery Maker, Entrepreneur, Owner & Operator of Tumbled Earth, Kimberley, BC
Talent is: It's All About Attitude
To start off…I love the fact that you are diving into the topic of Talent. To be honest, I have not put much thought into it up until now so thank you for thinking and including me. When someone tells me “you are talented” it makes me feel great and I thank them with pride. But this said “talent” is not “a special natural ability” like the first definition but years of hard work, learning, trial and error and growing.
I like the second definition better “a capacity for achievement or success”. I believe attitude is EVERYTHING!!! I would not be where I am now if I thought that I could not do it, that I wasn’t worthy or capable. I choose my attitude, and yes it is a choice. I choose to be positive and happy. I choose my goals and dreams. Every day in my business, I put one foot in front of the other to achieve what I want. Everyone is capable of reaching their dreams. They just have to start and work damn hard to get it. That to me is talent.
Emma Stevens, Clothing Designer, Entrepreneur, Owner & Operator of Untamed Fernie
Talent is: Determination & Practice, Practice, Practice
I think anyone can be talented, but some have an easier path than others. Even though some people are naturally gifted, I think it truly comes down to a passion and a desire to get good at something. I am not the smartest person in the room, but I have always had a belief that I can do anything if I put my mind to it and practice, practice, practice.
When I went to fashion school, I couldn’t even sew in a straight line, but through sheer determination and drive, I have now five years later been called ‘a talented seamstress’ and created a successful clothing business. I don’t think I am anything special, but I believe that my drive to succeed and grow is the leading force behind my ‘Talent’. A talent that anyone can achieve, in my opinion, if they put in the time and effort. Also, everyone has different talent dreams and how far they want to take their talent.
Stephanie Kress, Performing Artist
Talent is: Passion, Drive & Soul Work
Of course people can have a natural talent and are drawn to it, but on top of it, they have to have a driving passion and put the work in. They have to have commitment and drive. They don't just put in the work, it's their soul work.
When I was 13 I discovered acting and the drive to explore that more. If I didn't explore it, or stay open minded about gathering tools to fill my tool box I wouldn't have been able to move forward and grow my skills. You have to put in the work and practice, practice, practice. You can't just learn from one person. In acting there are many ways to approach a style of acting. For example, Bob might be teaching the Meisner technique, and Carol might teach it as well, and they might teach it completely differently from each other. It takes talent to put it all together and find what works for you and build on those skills.
I've sat with many directors in many theaters to watch auditions and within a few seconds you can tell the difference between someone mediocre and someone talented. The difference is passion. The mediocre actor is just going through the motions, you wonder if they've been pushed into it by an outside force and aren't sure if they're really into it. The actors with talent have put the work in, they will be bursting with desire to show off their talent.
Talented people can't escape their souls need to fight for their dreams.
Laurie Crawford, Artist and Environment Coordinator for the Alaska Highway Program
Talent Is: Years of Hard Work & An Overused Word
It's my belief we all overuse the word talent because it has a lovely umbrella effect and can be used to describe so many creative endeavors such as art, music, and dance. I once used the word talent when speaking to a ballerina, she looked at me with scorn and said "Talent? It took years of hard work and dedication to get to this point, not talent! You should see my feet". She showed me her feet.......they were definitely not a thing of beauty! Since then I've tried to avoid using the word talent.....but it still slips out and I'm not sure there is another word that quite captures such a wide creative interpretation. It is also a very old term that has been used for centuries.......maybe it's time for someone to invent a new synonym for talent. A new buzzword!
Jasen Robillard, Puzzle Designer, Entreprenuer, Owner & Operator of StumpCraft Puzzles
Talent is: True Humility, False Humility & A Healthy Dose of Imposter Syndrome
When I think about talent, and perhaps more specifically about MY talent, I find it tough to pinpoint. The complex thoughts and feelings I personally have regarding talent are no doubt the aggregation of true humility, false humility and a healthy dose of imposter's syndrome. I look at the talent on display with the artists I collaborate with, and I feel my own talents fall short. There are days when I wish I'd spent more time developing my skills as an artist. I generally consider myself as a hack, working in weird ways with the tools I've collected over the years, working my way towards an as yet unrealized artistic ideal. Perhaps that is the better way of viewing talent... A willingness to engage a subject, a humble process of practicing techniques, and an eagerness to explore a medium with the tools one has at hand. Talent in that sense isn't a thing someone has or doesn't. It is more so an attitude in the individual, and an attribute or quality that is discernible in the work one does.
Bruce Ahn, Wix Account Manager
Talent is: Nature & Nurture
As far as my thoughts on talent go, I believe talent is a gift that is influenced by your surroundings & genetics (nature vs. nurture). On one hand, I believe great genetics are passed down and give a person a leg up - i.e. descendants of Neandrathals will likely be better at basketball than other homo sapien descendents). On the other hand, I believe that repeated practice (i.e. the 10,000 hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell) over a subject & entering a defined stream of consciousness while practicing allows a person to gain a new subconscious understanding and expertise of a skill. For example, if you played soccer for 4 hours a day for an entire year, you'd learn the nuances of how to dribble past certain positions, the best way to kick a ball given wind conditions, and how to control your temper when getting slide tackled. Therefore, I believe talent is a product of both nature and nurture - and talent can be developed regardless of genetic pass-downs. Look at Lionel Messi. He's 5'6" and one of the best soccer players in the world. Conventionally, he wouldn't be the top pick for main goalscorer, however, he was able to use his small size to maintain a great center of gravity, allowing him to nimbly weave through defenders. Of course, he defied his genetic "disability" by a lot of practicing. Talent has many definitions, as you alluded to, a secretary can be very talented. If Lebron James were to be a secretary, I doubt we would be "talented". It depends on what context you're looking at!
Chris Pullen, Commercial Photographer
Talent is: As Rare As Rocking Horse Sh*t
My photographer husband, Chris, believes "Talent is in the eye of the beholder. It usually involves someone who sees another doing something they can't and therefore sees them as talented, even if that person is not exceptional in their field. But then you get artists, like Tracey Emmins, who has many critics classing her as talented for displaying a messy bedroom, and I could do that. She's a talented essay writer in my opinion. True talent can sometimes be helped by education but very often can also be destroyed by it. For example, Stevie Ray Vaughan refused to have music lessons because he was in fear of it destroying his playing from the heart.
People think photographers are talented because they have seen one good shot by that person, but a truly talented photographer can reproduce that shot no matter the conditions or the equipment over and over again. There's a big difference between being good at your job, knowing your job and having pure nature talent. Real talent is a rare as rocking-horse sh*t". Summarized in a way that only my husband can summarize!
We Need An Updated Definition
So, after reviewing all this fantastic feedback, and having a good chuckle along the way, I think we can all agree that we need to update the definition of 'talent'. I think it should go something like this:
Talent - a person who has found an area of interest, followed it with passion and worked hard to develop their skills to a level that is recognized a outstanding.
What do you think about 'talent'? Please feel free to jump in on the discussion and share your views in the comments below!