September 20th, 2007

Neko (lofulah)

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.