Log in

entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Talent vs. Skill - IBNeko's Journal-Nyo~!
Talent vs. Skill
By way of daemionfox:


I know other people must have to work at things, too... but they seem to have 'natural' abilities for certain things that I just don't. It just makes me feel like such a fraud when I'm praised as 'smart' or 'talented' at something. I'm not. Things never come naturally to me. I just work myself to death at them, practice until I drive myself crazy, and hope people mistake that for 'talent'.

Well, yes. If you are hoping people are mislead by the quality of your work into thinking you have a talent you don't have, then, yes, you are going to feel like a fraud, because you are perpetrating a fraud.

So don't do that. Trust me: You don't want to be talented. You want to be excellent.

There is a difference between "talented at" and "good at". Our society is really, really bad at grasping that. We have this incredible fetishization of talent. People -- pretty much everywhere, pretty much all the time -- try to explain all success in the arts as the product of "talent". And in doing so, they erase the reality of achievement in the arts, they erase the incredible drama of human will and spirit which is behind every artistic accomplishment.

Talent is pretty much crap, you know. Talent is potential. Talent is a leg up at the beginning; it's a shot in the arm. What happens next is the same for the person with as without: the grueling hard work of turning potential into actual. No art is easy. All art requires practice, discipline, technique, practice, perseverance, practice, motivation, practice, practice and practice. Oh-- and practice.

Behind every work of art, there is someone who was willing to work that hard. All art is bought from the Muse in sweat and elbow grease, tears and the occasional blood.

And that -- that's an accomplishment. That's the triumph of the human spirit. That's some artistic Hillary who strapped on his crampons and hefted his pick axe to dare his own Helicon; who acheived his Hippocrene, drank his fill and returned down again a Maker. That is ἀρετή.

When someone says something like, "You're so talented"... it blots all that out. It erases all that. It says: It's not that you did some brave and difficult thing, it's not that you threw yourself at a great challenge and bested it, it's that it must have been easy. It's like they're saying, if you managed to do that, it must not have been that much of a challenge after all. It can't be that you really climbed the mountain and came back to tell. You probably just had someone drop you off at the top with a helicopter.

(Could there be anything more insulting?!)

But in the end, it's not about how talented you are. It's about two things:
1) How good an artist you are. That's what sorts of climbs you can reliably manage.
2) How good your art is. This is what you brought down the mountain.
In both cases, it's about the results.

It is almost certainly the case, from a purely statistical basis, that you are a better artist than a goodly number of people who were favored by fortune with more talent than you had. Because most people with talent blow it. They don't do the work. They don't put in the hours. You do. You did. By simple virtue of the discipline of drawing a daily for so many years, you have exceeded the ability as an artist (and quality of output) of all those people who had the talent but never excercised it. You have made something of yourself -- you have made of yourself an artist -- and continue to do so. As you continue to apply yourself, you will continue to exceed the work of more and more others more talented than you, who didn't put in the hours. You will wind up the better artist than those people.

Our culture teaches us all to esteem one conception of "talent" -- native effortless artistic ability -- to the exclusion of all others. But you do have two incredibly puissant talents which you dismiss as red-headed stepchildren: discipline and application. It is a shame you don't appreciate them as they deserve, because they will take you far further up the mountain than the sort of talent you think you lack. And they are far more admirable. Effortless grace in execution is an animal virtue -- the flight of the sparrow, the leap of the gazelle. It is the meeting of challenges, in those crucibles of the will, that we find human virtues to esteem.

You have won your artistry the hard way: you earned it. It was not given to you. You bought and paid for it in hours of your life -- the one true ultimate currency -- and it is truly yours in a way few things ever will be. In that you have much to be proud of.

Again, credits go to: siderea


I don't know. I don't agree completely - I would take the words "You're so talented" as a complement, abet an ignorant one, because regardless of the actual meaning, it's still a form of recognition. Although, then again, I accept talent to be something that you can gain through skill, so my base definitions differs from the original poster's definitions.
4 happy kittens | Leave catnip
andr00 From: andr00 Date: September 20th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I understand where they're coming from. If someone puts tremendous value on hard work over outstanding results, they can take "you're so talented" as an insult, a trivialization of their struggle to achieve. Clearly, that kind of person is a little hung-up on being appreciated the right way.

(Incidentally, I think there's an alternative to talent being a leg-up at the BEGINNING. I think talent (aptitude) can be extra room at the top end. Your dial can go to 11 where other people's only goes to 10. Still a lot of work getting it there. I guess that's the idea behind testing people BEFORE they get into colleges.)
fbartho From: fbartho Date: September 21st, 2007 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I've felt the negative side of being called talented at times. I definitely feel where this article's coming from. Another good one is "you just get math" that one really hits a sore spot in me each time I've heard it, because math is one of the subjects I had much trouble with, it was only because of my parents pushing me relentlessly, and my spending hours and hours of practicing that I ever got anywhere in math. I really hated math when I didn't get it, and I never got it right away (other than some trivial side cases). It took hours of grinding at examples, and I've never been satisfied with how my math turned out. I've been acutely conscious of those who actually get math. Those are the people who love to solve math problems. I don't want to minimize their successes in any way, they simply love to be posed a new problem in the mathematical realm, they love to add a new tool to their math arsenal, and they really enjoy tieing all their tools and approaches to finding the definite, unique, Correct (with a capital C) solution. I can appreciate how they like that. And without minimizing their effort, when you like something, you're much more willing to expend energy to solve it. Math was something that I enjoyed a very limited set of sidecases, and the rest frustrated me until I had internalized the solutions (if that ever happened), at which point I simply had no real interest in it. I only drew pleasure from seeing beautiful solutions, and when the math was a means to some end elsewhere. So at times I've had people tell me the "just get" math, as if it came easily, and that was really insulting or just hurtful, because for Me, Mathematics was often my most cursed subject. Many of my bad memories through all my schooling come from math classes. Being pushed by my dad to practice my times tables, to having to retake my differential equations class, because my major inexplicably required a C or higher and I'd gotten a C- (which the rest of engineering was fine with -- not to mention the rest of the school).

More recently, I got similar comments about programming. It was then that I realized that many people don't understand it at all. I love programming. Back in 8th grade I had a Computer Skills class, and during the second half of the class, we got to play with LOGO a programming language (and environment) where with very simple commands, you tell a cursor (shaped like a turtle) to move around a screen and draw things. I learned about functions and parameters in that class. Our final project was to draw our dream house. I made functions that would draw flags, towers, turrets, windows of different shapes. I learned how to change colors, making circular windows was the hardest. But in the end I made this most amazing castle, and I was bitten by the programming bug. The next year I had a couple weeks of QuickBASIC where myself and a couple friends devoured everything we could find on the matter. I made a Slot Machine as my final project. The next year I was in AP Comp Sci, learning C++ and from then on I would stay up late often working on random programs or websites, that might never see the light of day, reading thousands of websites, guides, howto's and descriptions. On till today. I love programming, but I know how much energy I've poured into it. People who are willing can learn many things really fast, but with the solar car team this past year, I was faced with a bunch of people who were unwilling to learn on their own time. (They weren't interested which is fine in the general case, but in this case they were sucking up my time, and weren't producing). I was asked to get some kids up to speed on what essentially amounted to everything I knew, and people didn't understand why that was an unreasonable request. Knowing as they did that I'm a highly motivated guy with things that interest me, and knowing as they did my tendency to be online reading stuff and trying new programming stuff out till late every night for the past 7 years, I would have thought they'd be able to draw the conclusion that because of that and given that schools have 4+year degrees in my major, that there was alot of knowledge that couldn't just be taught to people in a couple weeks time.
fbartho From: fbartho Date: September 21st, 2007 12:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I think some of the issue was that in the majors of several of the people involved in this discussion, people can be task trained for specific tasks while working on the car or designs of specific parts without being able to work on the entire car. Because of the highly mental and nearly aphysical product of programming, being productive on large projects often means having more years of experience under your belt than with mechanical engineering. For the solar car, there were many grunt-work tasks that needed bodies, but not necessarily a thorough understanding of the mechanics of the entire car.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 21st, 2007 01:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

baby carrots

Keeping in line with that person's definition, working hard is a talent in itself, no? Other people, like me, are incredibly lazy and can't actually sit down to take the time to work something all the way through. Being passionate about something is also a gift. To have enough interest in something (or someone) to strive for perfection, is admirable.

Interesting post. Worthy of ninja-ing. Makes me realize I'm lazy though. Hah.
4 happy kittens | Leave catnip