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The Myth of Talent

Tue Jun 24, 2014, 6:00 AM

The Myth of Talent

If there's one comment that is made more often than any other on any decent piece of artwork it's "you're so talented."

It's also the one [positively intended] comment I've seen the most artists bristle at, sometimes even retort. For some of us, it's a pet hate. Why?

We know it's meant as a compliment, so we smile and say thank you and try to resist the urge to insist that 'talent' is the biggest myth there is. Not only is it a myth, at its worst the use of the word is potentially destructive to the artistic community. 


What's so wrong with the word 'talent'?

You might not realise it, but calling someone talented can often feel like a backhanded compliment. No skilled artist woke up one day just being able to do what they can do. We were all born completely unable to do just about anything useful. But through daily practise we learned how to use our limbs for motility, our voices for words, and our hands for creativity.

When you praise an artists talent, you are ignoring all of that. You make out like their work is some innate gift that got magicked out of thin air. You boil down all their artistic achievements into a matter of being a lucky recipient. The artists ceases to be the agent of their own creation. 

The artist knows how much hard work they have put into a piece, how many years of practise and experience got them to the point of where they are. All the mistakes and feeling like you weren't getting anywhere, the lessons learned and the eventual breakthrough. All if that is discounted the moment we pretend artistic ability is a gift.

What's destructive about calling someone talented?

We have a really terrible habit for praising people for 'natural' abilities. This is something that extends beyond just art and into everything thing there is. You're good at something? Wow! You're so gifted! You're so smart, so athletic, so talented

Study after study after study has shown that praising someone's apparent innate ability to achieve something can be destructive to their development. Kids in particular, but it is true of any person in any stage of learning. 

People praised for being innately talented come to depend on this ability being innate. When they hit a hurdle, they are more likely to give up. They take it personally, they see it as being a failure of self: "I'm not smart/talented/good enough for this." Let's face it, it's an easy way out. Once you decide you're just naturally not meant to do a thing it's easy to stop trying.

Conversely, people praised for being hard workers understand that hitting a hurdle means jumping higher next time. They know they have to work harder, work longer, and that their next attempt will end in a different result. And as a result, they are able to reach greater heights because they push themselves to them

Countless scientific and social studies have demonstrated this effect. There are even more countless anecdotes of these experiences. Perhaps you have one of your own? Talk to anyone who, as a child, was constantly told they were gifted at something, only to give up on that thing when they could no longer sustain being accidentally gifted in adolescence. It's an enormous problem in school classrooms and is one of the many failures of our reward-based learning methodology. But it's also just as important in any learning environment, personal artistic learning included.

Why are the words I use on deviantART important?

We are a community that prides itself on fostering artistic growth. The best thing about dA is how readily we can help and be helped, teach as we are being taught, inspire as we are being inspired. To grow together as a community, we ought to provide the best learning environment possible. The language we use is a powerful tool that shapes not only our psyche, but how we learn as well. 

The next time you promote an artist in a feature, try substituting the word 'talented' with 'skilled'. When you fall in love with an art piece, praise the artist's hard work. Talk about their eye for detail, their choice of colour, their neat stitches, the perfect choice of shutter speed, their wonderful concept or their incredible realism. Try talking about all the extrinsic things about the piece, all the things they did to make that piece happen.

Not only will you probably make the artist feel better, but when you realise that the level of artistic brilliance you dream to achieve happens through something we can all control, you'll feel better about your own artistic journey too. 


Still don't believe talent has nothing to do with it? Check out these improvement memes. Now, to my knowledge none of the following artists received a visit from a fairy godmother who bestowed upon them to gift to art. They worked hard and nurtured their skill. The results speak for themselves. 

Improvement Meme by Ry-thae Craft this Again: Pizza by Bon-AppetEats
Doll Meme - Bjd Photography by lajvio Draw this again 3 by E-tane
Plush this again Meme by Bubble-Rhapsody Sparrow old and new by popChar
Before-After meme by K-wuet  Aries baby by RogerStork
Draw this owl again by EvelineVdp BJD Photography Meme by Aoi-kajin
elephant2 by BBarends Draw It Again by Artgerm

Always remember; practise makes progress!

Add a Comment:
Retromissile Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think Talent is only the ability to LEARN a particular thing faster than usual. Brains are constructed differently. Like someone has a Talent for math and learns it faster than someone who has no talent for it.
This doesn't mean talented People don't have a whole lot work to do.
Also it doesn't mean non talented artists can never learn to be good.

Your points are totally right.
Sapphire-Stitch Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2014  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
I do think of talent when I see art that I admire. I then think to myself "They have worked with their talent to improve their art."

I have been told I'm talented in certain things on a number of occasions, and actually this has made me anxious -- anxious that I will do something that goes against this talent, for example, if I create a bad plush, which has happened in the last few days. I actually cried when my plush turned out poorly. I thought that I didn't have a talent and that I had nothing. But hell! I made another one and I love it. "Talent" does not mean you evade mistakes.

I think there has to be an element of talent in drawing and crafting -- but maybe I'm mistaking talent for deep interest. I mean, I am the only one in my family interested in writing and art, and thus the only one who produces work like that. My other family members are not able to produce plushies or anything much more than little simple sketches, but of course, I have had more practice because I am interested...

People have a natural interest, but natural talent -- I'm not sure.  I think people do need to have so e sort of innate ability in order to become good, but nobody (normal) starts off being "good".
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Hello! You don't know me, but I like to chit chat with people about stuff like this. Sorry in advance for verbose...ness.

I'm an illustrator for a living and went to art school for it. Like you, I'm the only one in my immediate family who does what I do at the skill level with which I do it. Other family members have an interest/appreciation or it, but they can barely draw a stick person (or "can't draw a straight line with a ruler" as my mom says!). Likewise, my niece is a really talented writer and photographer who is currently majoring in photography and minoring in photo journalism. I can write academically until the cows come home, but I cannot for the life of me write fiction. I love plotting fiction, but writing it down? Nope.

I think there's a common thread to "talent" and "deep interest," but they aren't one in the same. Some things CAN be learned to the point of mastery (like being a doctor, lawyer, accountant, scientist, etc.), but I whole heartedly believe that some things simply cannot be learned in the same way, like creative fields (drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, design, photography, sewing, singing, acting, playing/composing music, etc.).

Yes, you can learn the technical aspects of creative fields like plushie making (or drawing in my case), but learning the technical stuff will only take you so far. If you want to go beyond a certain level, I firmly believe you need an innate natural talent in that area. My mom often says she could take drawing lessons until the end of time but she'd never be able to draw like I do because she simply doesn't have the talent for it. Similarly, I could take lessons in plushie making to my heart's content, but I don't think I'd ever be able to produce plushies on the same level as someone who is talented in plushie making.

In the same way, my mother could take drawing lessons and I could take plushie making lessons out of deep interest in the subject, but we would never surpass a certain level of skill because we don't have a talent for those things. I can draw anything under the sun given the proper reference, but I can't sculpt to save my life and it drives me insane. I'm deeply interested in making things out of sculpy (and wish I could even more deeply!), and I even had to take 3D classes in art school to get my illustration degree, but I just. Can't. Sculpt. I stink at it. No amount of training (or practice born of "interest") will fix that, and that's because I just don't have talent in that area.

My talent is in 2D drawing, particularly human anatomy and facial/bodily expression of emotion. My friends in art school were also talented in 2D drawing, but their talent was more in drawing animals. I CAN draw animals, but they never look as good as animals drawn by my friends. Again, talent.

To me, "natural talent" and "innate ability" is the same thing, so you basically DO agree that "natural talent" exists. I believe the existence of "talent" is one of the things that makes humans unique in comparison to other animals, and I think it's a sign of our advanced intelligence and capabilities of our brain. I also agree with you that while people can start out with an innate ability/talent/natural inclination toward some things, indeed noboy starts off being "good". That takes time, practice, and work (and frankly there are a lot of kids out there who don't want to devote the time and effort it takes to be "good" at some things, but that's a whole other subject!).

Ringling (the art school I attended) put it nicely, IMO: "All of you have a natural talent for art. What we are going to do is help you hone that talent into a skill."
Sapphire-Stitch Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Hey, thanks for that~

I agree that people have a natural talent for something -- as you say, it's what makes us human. Of course, talent does not instantly mean "good". I guess this seems weird, but talent, to me, is more about potential to be good. Talent is something to be honed, I guess. 

With that in mind, sometimes I worry that plush making is an interest, rather than a talent of mine. I do, of course, see improvement in my more recent work, but sometimes I feel frustrated because I can't get something to work no matter what I do. But then I tell myself that everyone has times like this -- even professionals.

Yes, I believe talent is the foundation of skill. 
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Edited Sep 25, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
"...talent, to me, is more about potential to be good. Talent is something to be honed, I guess."

It doesn't seem weird to me at all, of course, since I said that myself!

Talent is absolutely the potential to be really good at something the way a duck takes to water: it's their natural environment that they're born being adaptable to. I already said I'm an illustrator, yes, but more specifically I'm a digital illustrator, and that's because my talent media-wise is for digital.

I had the same professor for the required traditional illustration media and digital illstration media classes at Ringing, and halfway through the digital class (which came the year after traditional) he told me, "You know, when I had you for traditional media you were... ehh... middle of the road. Not terrible, not the best. But now that I have you in THIS class, I see why: you're supposed to be a DIGITAL artist! You've taken to all of this like a duck to water."

Digital media does come to me much easier than traditional media or as that prof said, "like a duck to water." It doesn't mean I haven't had to bust my ass and keep my nose to the grindstone to develop my skills, it just means that it came a little more naturally to me than some of my classmates who were more talented in traditional media. As I said, the administration at Ringling told us that they were there to help us hone our natural talents into a skill, and that's absolutely what talent is a foundation for: skill. It isn' a golden ticket to skill, but it's a good "point A" to start at.

As a professional I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt: that DOES happen. I still have to abandon illustrations in rough sketch phase because I just CANNOT get it to work right no matter how hard I try or how many times I re-draw it. Usually it's because I'm just not ready for it yet. Sometimes I can be going through my sketch pile (even though I'm a digital artist I still do my ideation, thumbnailing, and rough sketching with pencil and paper) a year later, come across a concept I had to abandon, try it again, and BOOM -- it works. It goes down smooth as glass with absolutely no problems to the point that I think "Why in the hell did this not work before?!" Only God knows why it happens that way!

In the same vein, there are still certain areas that I know are problem areas for me that need improvement. When I was in high school and just starting out in college, I had to drill on hands and feet because they were really weak in my work. It took two years for me to get them down. Right now I'm just now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for female anatomy, particularly pelvic, which I have been working on for almost three years. I've also been working on weird facial angles for just as long, but I haven't progressed quite as far there as have on females.

So yeah, if something just isn't working for some reason, just set it aside. Shelve it for a few months. If it still interests you by then, pick it up and try it again. Maybe it will work! If not, oh well. It happens. Just beacuse you struggle with some ideas/concepts or can't get something to work, it doesn't mean you don't have talent for it.

Thomas Edison failed over 5,000 times before getting the electric light bulb to work, but nobody thinks he wasn't talented as all hell. He knew he was talented (or gifted, whatever you want to call it), too, because he didn't count those failures as failures. He simply said he found five thousand ways NOT to make an electric light bulb before he found the way to make it work. I'm sure Einstein didn't nail the Theory of Relativity the first try, either. :shrug:
Harrisons-Forge Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2014  Professional General Artist
I think the basic problem with any language is the fact that it needs to be used with absolute clarity and precision so as not to be misunderstood.......unfortunately this makes it very formal and stuffy and makes you sound like you digested a couple of lawyers for breakfast :D Language is also evolving constantly, words meanings change in subtle increments over time until they bear little resemblance to the original meaning.

Talent has always been seen as an innate ability, but as my Grandfather often stressed when I was growing up, 'If you don't use it, you lose it.' Raw talent often starts us off on our journey in life but cannot carry us all the way. Being told you are talented is a double edged sword and very much depends on your character as to whether you sit on your laurels or work that bit harder, so I don't think that either side of this argument is intrinsically is just that neither is 100% right ;)

Nurturing someones skills and talents is never an easy task...I have five children, all of whom need a different approach....and choice of language is very important. I know my children well and can vary my approach, but I don't always get it how can we expect to be understood with accuracy over the internet, where we know very little about the person at the other end, viewing our work and commenting on it. Common courtesy tends to pare things down to acceptable and non-acceptable phraseology and it often ends up sounding blase and insincere.....which is hardly ever the intention....normal rules of engagement are skewed by the internet and we often forget this.

Good draughtsmanship can be learned by almost anyone if they apply themselves thoroughly...but this is not necessarily good art. There is a beauty to an architectural blueprint which can be appreciated... but it wouldn't fetch millions at Sotheby's  in an art sale (unless it was really special).... I can paint a door perfectly in gloss paint...that doesn't make me Da Vinci....

The difference that talent makes is the ability to see and express things in a way which resonates which the people viewing the work...the ability to connect emotionally with another human being through the medium of your choice...and the ability to see things from a different perspective. As every human is unique and slightly different, so there is room for artists to be unique and different and for their talents, abilities, mental focus and opportunities to shape their work :)

I think it also very much depends on how well we take a complement....if you have had nasty life experiences, or lack confidence, your first thought may be, "OK. what are you trying to get out of me?", whereas a well balanced person who has had good fortune may think, "Wow. That was really nice of them to comment" Our reactions mirror our nature in many ways....

A thought provoking article. Thank you :)
Wishsayer Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you person for pointing this out! I need to show this to one of my friends in the non internet world, she's always bugging me about how I have so much talent and she has none.
thebluekraken Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2014  Professional Artisan Crafter
i had a very skilled artist critique my work once when i was still doing doodles. he told me i clearly had a technical skill that was well honed but over all no real artistic talent.  that might seem like something harsh and mean but it made me rethink a lot of the things i had been doing and probably the only helpful compliment i ever got insted of being pat on the head the usual way. I stopped a lot of the things i had been doing and picked up some things i clearly didnt have 'talent' for. What's the harm in trying something new then? Maybe I will be better at that?

my next pet peve when people compliment me is along the same line as this whole post. "oh look at that i could never do that!" when they see my metal work. the hell you can't lady. That just an excuse and you putting yourself down. I say thanks anyways and smile even when i get self depriciating compliments or destructive ones cause its polite. i started out doing crappy brick stich bracelets and scanning images of my work on a flat bed scanner. awful. i did not take classes ive had no help. i dont have a big studio. only a 4 by 6 space and a ton of on line turotials.ive taught myself how to do everything from my own mistakes. i still dont have a magical talent. I am not imbued with anything special. What i did was learn and i still am every day and its not pulled from thin air.... I dont tell myself i cant do something these days. The only thing that holds me back these days is tools, space, and infinate resources. Not tallent 
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
"...he told me i clearly had a technical skill that was well honed but over all no real artistic talent. "

I'm all for honest critique instead of sugar-coating things, but it sounds like that guy was just being a self-important douchebag. I've critiqued kids here on deviantART before who I thought had some wonderfully promising natural talent for art and I told them so along with pointers for improvement, but I've also critiqued some I thought didn't have any natural talent for art, but there's no need to tell a kid that if they're doing art for fun. In that case you just give them pointers of how to improve their trouble areas! That guy did absolutely no good in telling you that. If you enjoy it, that's all that matters. Period. :unimpressed:

"..."oh look at that i could never do that!" when they see my metal work. the hell you can't lady. That just an excuse and you putting yourself down."

Some people say those things in order to put themselves down, yes, but not always. I would probably look at your metal work and say that same thing, but not as a means of putting myself down. In that case, I would just be stating a simple fact because my talent lies in 2D drawing/illustration, particularly human anatomy and the facial/bodily portrayal of emotion. NOT metal work.

Although I think metal work, sculpy, and other types of 3D art are beautiful, I know that I myself cannot do it really well even though I've tried multiple times, even by taking a required 3D class when I was in college for my illustration degree. I WISH I was good at 3D, specifically sculpy, but I'm just... not. Now, I'm not saying I can't do it AT ALL, because I CAN. I can do 3D art better than "non-artistic" people can. I'm just not GREAT at it, and no amount of work, lessons, tutorials, or practice will make me "GREAT". That's not what my talent is in, and I really see nothing wrong in saying that. I simply know my limitations.

I whole heartedly believe talent exists. It's a natural inclination to something, and that natural inclination makes one more readily able to do that certain thing VERY well given the time, practice, work, and devotion. Talent doesn't automatically make them GOOD, but it gives them the ability to BE good with practice. I CAN do metal work, but it's nothing to write home about because it's not where my talent is. My talent is in illustrating human emotion, I'm damn good at it (but not beyond improvement of course!), and that's because I've devoted nearly 20 years to honing that talent into a skill through hard work, practice, and study.

I'm not trying to argue or anything, mind you. I just really enjoy talking to people here on dA about stuff like this, especially when the person has different viewpoints/opinions than I do. It makes for interesting conversation, IMO. :)
blueartis Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Professional Photographer
This is awesome. It's right on point and just opened my eyes to why I've struggled so much and gotten so frustrated with myself. Given up on things I loved and even miscomunicated my frustrations with others or even reciprocated the same destructive praise! 
 I read a lot of articles and tutorials, but I rarely have moments of deep self awareness, opening me up and leaving me standing on the edge of knowledge I know will change not only the way I treat, encourage and appreciate myself in my own endeavours but also those who inspire me as well as those I might inspire.

 Thank you. From the bottom of my heart thank you. <3
MikoHon3y3a3y Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Here's my entry  :>    Neko Emoji-27 (Being kawaii) [V2] 
Ink-and-think Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2014  Professional General Artist
Great post. I find the "you are very talented" thing just I dunno takes away from the effort I put unto things. The word talent makes things sound like some magical superhero power where as a successfully completed project is less about magic and much more about a great deal of practice, time, dedication, effort, stubbornness and often sacrifice. Its seems cheap to write that off as magic. 
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
It drives me nuts when I say something — no matter WHAT the subject — that has a very straight forward meaning/interpretation but the person I said it to reads all kinds of garbage into it that wasn't there. Crazy. Ca-ray-zee. The word "talent" only translates to "writing off effort as magic" because you are MAKING it translate as such. :\

All of you are reading SO MUCH into a simple compliment while giving the person behind it SO LITTLE credit for common sense and basic intelligence. The vast majority of laymen who say "You're very talented!" mean "You're very talented!". They KNOW it takes effort and practice to be good at something or produce something worthy of compliment. It's a basic law of the universe.

Yes, there may be one oddball here or there who says "You're very talented!" but actually means "You shat this out of thin air with no effort at all!", but there's always one dentist out of five that doesn't recommend Trident gum, too.

And in both cases, everyone else wonders "Who the hell was that idiot?" :B
thebluekraken Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2014  Professional Artisan Crafter
Ive never really read into the compliments i get but the ones that always bother me are the ones with an attached self depriciation. I hate it. "You are so tallented! I could neever do anything like this. i just have none" i hate hearing people put themselves down while complimenting me. its almost painful because some people feel that they have no worth when they dont have a 'talent'.. They think at an early age that some people are imbued with some special 'talent' thats much like a magical gift. They perceive they dont have one so they are not good enough to try to even learn and thats a sad place to be mentally.
laniessa Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2014  Student Digital Artist
But on the other hand, that phrase is usually followed with an, "I wish I could draw like you." or an "I'll never be able to draw like you." Which suggests that they think the artist who draws well had that 'drawing attribute' from birth.

I understand that the other party usually has the best of intentions! So I just tell them that I'm flattered, but it could be a bit offensive to other artists, and then I'm on my way.
Ink-and-think Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Professional General Artist
Well that's the point of the discussion isn't it. If the " when I say something — no matter WHAT the subject — that has a very straight forward meaning/interpretation but the person I said it to reads all kinds of garbage into it that wasn't there. Crazy. Ca-ray-zee." happens a lot, then do you not doubt that, perhaps you are being misunderstood because of the way you expressed yourself? I am not saying you are wrong or that your sentiments are wrong, you are quite possibly correct that people read more into things than are meant but then does't that suggest that maybe its not as straight forward as you see it? 

The problem with understanding is that everybody has a different perspective. That would seem to be the challenge of communication in all media. It's frustrating that words are translations of thoughts but not actual thoughts. You have not shared your actual thoughts with someone exactly as you experienced them, you have just selected words, images or gestures to portray/translate them so I guess there is quite a lot of room for misunderstanding in all interactions. Just a theory though. I mean if I could understand exactly what people meant all the time I absolutely would. But I seldom do so maybe I am reading from the wrong dictionary. 
CraftyTibbles Featured By Owner Edited Jun 29, 2014  Professional General Artist
Nailed it Llama Emoji-14 (Say Cheese) [V1] 
GalaxyGoddess Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

I wanted to argue with you, I really did.

I would give anything to hear that I’m talented at something. I would work so much harder and feel so much better if someone told me I was talented at a thing. In fact, when someone tells me I’m talented, it makes me want to do more with it.

I would even trot out my favorite example of raw talent, my brother.

You see, my brother is ridiculously talented in music.  You hand him an instrument, and he can fiddle with it for a few minutes, and then play ANYTHING on it.  If he hears a commercial jingle or a theme song to a tv show, he can turn around and play it. Without ever practicing. When he was younger, he had a piano teacher absolutely BEG to teach him, but my brother refused, saying that it was “sissy”.

He also has this absolutely amazing voice and can hit any pitch or note.


But then, I think about how my brother went through that teenage boy faze of wanting to start a band. He got an electric guitar and amp and everything. For a little while it looked as if he was going to follow his talent. Instead he got irritated and annoyed and he quit. He said he didn’t want to deal with it because it was too hard. He quit, won’t even pick up an instrument, and is now a truck driver.

It. Drove. ME. CRAZY!  For the longest time I was so mad at him and so irritated that he has this raw amazing talent and he doesn’t want to do a damned thing with it! Give me the talent and I would do something with it!

It took me many years, and occasionally it still comes up, but I have finally accepted that he is happier doing what he does.  My brother has never been a happy person, but for once he actually enjoys and can stick to a thing.


It also occurs to me that when I was little, (before a bunch of bullshit I won’t go into here) I was told that I was brilliant. I was the smartest kid and I always had the best grades and science was the best thing. I wanted to work with animals, I wanted to be a zookeeper. All I EVER heard was how stupid my dream was. I was SOOOO smart, I could have ANYTHING, why EVER would I go with ANIMALS.  UGH!

So when I got to college, I looked at the biology courses I had wanted as a child, and decided they were just too difficult for me. I made my PARENTS happy by going into the law field and the business field. I got a degree as a Legal Secretary.  Guess what? I HATE IT SO F(*#^$( MUCH. It bored me to tears. I hated the clients I had to deal with. Hated, hated, hated.


So much for being smart. Now, it’s very easy for me to feel stupid and confused, and when I can’t get it the first time, I get really upset. I married a man who does his best to make me feel better, and he even helped me get an internship at a nearby zoo, which I LOVED. But at the moment, it’s not possible for me to return to that, and so I sit and get frustrated.

When I write, I feel like I’m placing my heart on the table, ready to be smashed, but I can’t help but put it there. I’ve let other people read my work, and have been told I’m talented, and yet I don’t feel like it. At first, my heart soars and I feel appreciated, and happy and this whole mix of emotions, but then I start to worry.


I say no, I brush it off as false platitudes. When I return to my work, I freeze up, because what if it’s not good enough? What if that one good piece I wrote, is the best thing I’ll ever write? It's sometimes hard to shove that back off.


So, maybe you’re right. Maybe talent IS a dangerous and hard word.

Flowerbush Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
To be honest, I think talent is actually the ability to pick up a certain skill at a faster rate. But this is an interesting take on it, and how it can poorly affect your artistic skill. Well done.
RogerStork Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2014   General Artist
still, talent helps a lot I think. You atleast need some to start out with art. I think all professional illustrators already drew nicely as a kid. Luckily not all that is beautifull is because of years of practice.
BananaSnail Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014
Regardless of talent, skill, work, ect.
I think in the end, the point of this was:
praise without constructive criticism (which can be positive as well) is just holding people back. 
instead of looking to improve themselves, the praise can create a desire to immediately excel at a skill 
because of "talent" or "no talent"
and the positive feedback given, "oh you so talented" leaves no room for growth.

Now that I've reread the article, I realized it wasn't meant to argue whether talent exists or not,
but mostly on the way we use words and the sometimes negative effects of seemingly positive ones.
cakecrumbs Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2014
You are completely correct. This piece was intended to be predominantly about language, the way it is used and the effect the use of it has. I've spent much time studying the detrimental effect praising intrinsic ability has on people, their brain development and learning ability. It concerns me predominantly in the classroom, but I see the same thing through the artistic community and wanted to shed some light on it. I guess I hit a nerve by pairing 'talent' with the word 'myth' though! :giggle:
BananaSnail Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2014
Yes, I must admit, I also got the wrong idea at first because of "myth of talent".
It's a good thing to bring this topic for conversation, 
by classroom do you mean you teach art? or another subject? 
I would assume it would be more important on younger kids since their brains are still developing
but regardless everyone are affected by words no matter their age. 
OldHank Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
It's not a 'myth' in its entierity. Like mozart said, it's 10% talent and 90% of hard worK; If you don't work and practice on it, you won't get anywhere. That's my bottom line.
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Okay. I'm going to reduce the font size on this comment because it's quite long.

"...calling someone talented can often feel like a backhanded compliment. No skilled artist woke up one day just being able to do what they can do. We were all born completely unable to do just about anything useful. But through daily practise we learned how to use our limbs for motility, our voices for words, and our hands for creativity. When you praise an artists talent, you are ignoring all of that."

Personally I think anybody who would take such deep offense at a simple, sincere compliment from a layman is far too touchy for their own good. I have never had anyone tell me "You're a very talented artist!" but actually mean they think my skill just crapped itself out of thin air. People just need to take it for what it is: they're simply saying they think you're good at it!

I HAVE had people here on dA say things to me that absolutely DID mean they thought I was born with this skill level and didn't have to work to get this far, and I know it's what they meant because that's basically what they said. "You're so lucky to be able to draw like that; I'll never be able to!", "You don't know what it's like to work so hard but still be told your art sucks.", etc., implying that I've never had doubt in my abilities or fallen flat on my face along the way.

THAT, of course, IS irritating because I've spent the last ~18 years (since I was 12) working to improve my art, four of which were in the voluntary hell that is art school to get a bachelor's degree in illustration, and from a really hard school to boot! I went to Ringling and the dropout rate from freshman to senior at the time was 50%, literally. We were told at orientation to "Look to your left and to your right. One of you won't be here in four years." My roommate bit the dust halfway through our junior year. But I digress... easy my ASS!

That being said, I think it is absolutely ABSURD to not only claim that talent is a myth, but that seemingly most artists believe that! I mean... really? How on earth do you even come to that conclusion? When a child shows an above-average ability for something, art or otherwise, what is it, then, if not a talent? Saying there's no such thing may be a kind of mental security blanket for some artists, but that doesn't make it true.

For some skills you just need to have an inclination toward that skill to begin with if you're going to progress beyond a certain point, plain and simple. Call me cynical (since it is my name, after all), but if you don't have a natural talent toward art, you're eventually going to hit a developmental ceiling no matter how hard you practice or how much you study. Sorry.

I am the only person in my family who can draw worth a damn, to the point that they really wonder where the hell I got my artistic talent from. Since early elementary school, I had a "gift" for drawing. I was the artsy kid and was always a little ahead of my classmates when it came to drawing, and as we got older that gap only widened as I started to seriously practice/study to improve. My mother openly says that she can't even draw stick people and that she'd never be able to draw the way I do no matter how many classes she took or how much practicing she did. Likewise, I will never be able to write the way my niece does, and that's because she has a natural talent for it. She's worked to make her writing better and better the older she's gotten (she's starting college in the fall with a photography major and photo journalism minor) just as I did with my art.

In certain areas, again, not only does talent exist, it's needed. Just as I'll never write like my niece, I'll never be a professional athlete, either. I don't have a talent for athletics the way some of my classmates in high school did. By the time we graduated, some of them were good enough at their chosen sport that they got full ride scholarships for college. I'd never have been able to do that, and likewise they never would have been able to get accepted into Ringling. Certain people have natural talent for different things. It doesn't mean that they don't work to hone that talent into a skill.

Things like creative fields (whether it be art, writing, photography, cooking, pastery arts, etc... even dance!) and athletics aren't something you can really MASTER if you just study hard enough. It's not like being a lawyer or a doctor. That's not to say that people don't have a talent for those things, either (memory for doctors, debate/argumentative skills for lawyers, etc.)... it's just those are things you CAN master if you work hard enough. In those other areas, though, work will only take you so far. You need talent in order to really be "great", have that extra "oomph", etc. Sorry.

Talent exists whether you (or anyone else for that matter) like it or not. I don't see why you seem to think the concept of talent is a BAD or insulting thing, either.

"Study after study after study has shown... People praised for being innately talented come to depend on this ability being innate. When they hit a hurdle, they are more likely to give up. They take it personally, they see it as being a failure of self: "I'm not smart/talented/good enough for this."... Countless scientific and social studies have demonstrated this effect."

What "study after study after study?" Which "countless scientific and social studies?" To me that sounds like a variation of the "every kid gets a trophy" mentality where excellence isn't pointed out or rewarded for fear of making the average feel bad. I have personally never seen encouragement of talent be a detriment. My experiences have been the complete opposite.

Being told I was talented or gifted in art while I was growing up didn't make me complacent, it made me WANT to get better because I knew I could if I worked hard enough, and I knew that because I was told I was talented in it! I'm an illustrator and colorist now as a career because of the people who told me I was gifted in drawing, from my parents to just about every teacher I ever had in grade school up through high school. It encouraged me, and it was a good thing.

When I felt like I didn't deserve to be at Ringling my junior year due to TERRIBLE critique after TERRIBLE critique, that encouragement of having a talent/gift for it and being told that art was what I was MEANT to do with my life made me NOT give up. It told me that I DID have it in me somewhere to get past those hurdles, and after spending the entire summer with my face shoved into the grindstone, I did. I got better. I fixed my problems, and I got better. And I felt worthy of my position once my senior year started.

My niece developed her writing because of the encouragement she got from all of us — myself in particular since she hero-worshipped me while growing up for some odd reason — telling her she SHOULD pursue it because she had a talent for it. She got through high school despite horribly difficult hurdles from her verbally abusive father walking out, the following divorce, and all sorts of similar shit because we encouraged her talents, her inner strength, and her intellectual capabilities.

I know this was long and rambling, but that "myth" notion — and the number of people who agree that talent is a myth — is just absolutely ludicrous to me! :stare:
Noxe-ApplePi Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2014  Student General Artist
I completely agree! The title really irritated me, but the author does have a good point about choosing your words when giving feedback so that it's more constructive.
I actually wrote a journal debating this journal (…) but I didn't use personal examples like you did, haha
kahisma Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
You put my own sentiments into words. Being told that I am talented has never bothered me in the slightest. The claim that telling an artist that he/she is talented is, by consequence, telling them that they did not work hard is overstated and a bit misplaced.
bluedanceartist Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I totally agree!! Nuu 
KeziR Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for writing this Happy cry (Tears of joy)

Another point you could of added is this: "If talent did not exist we would not have the word for it the first place I am a dummy!" - simple yet effective Meow :3.
meiyue Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2014  Student General Artist
Err... Unicorns?
KeziR Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
touché :dummy:
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
We wouldn't have shows and competitions centered around it in school, either. lol

Talent is such a basic and core concept in art that it just flabbergasts me that anyone thinks it's a myth OR insulting! People are better at some stuff than other stuff, and that's okay. :roll:
KeziR Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Hear hear Clap
Senecal Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
OMG you have such a talent for writing!

Ha, really though, this is a good article that highlights some important points and also works to dispell the idea that you have to be born with an innate ability.

There really isn't a substitution for hard work and putting in the hours. Add to that the humility to accept failure and imperfection along the way (knowing that they are the best teachers) and progress will follow.

Thanks for a good article.
doomslace Featured By Owner Edited Jun 26, 2014
(Edit: saw someone stating similar sentiments. You have no need to read the comment further, I just took awhile writing this out so I'm leaving it as is. I'm aware of my redundancy, now then, keeping that in mind, read on if you so wish.)

I understand the need for an article such as this... Though I do think this could have been executed better.
It's true, telling someone at a young age that they're talented at something may turn them off to it, I've experienced this first hand. But the fact that you speak of all these studies, yet cite none make me question what credibility there is to what you're saying. 

Another thing I'd like to bring to light is a synonym of "talented" which would be "Expertise" I think in certain situations saying someone is talented is perfectly apt.
Not everyone has a talent for singing or the up bringing to be as good as someone that has studied their whole life and has been exposed to it in their surroundings.
My point here is, you say it as if anyone can do anything, which is another good way to let a kids hopes get dashed; in a situation where he might have some knowledge or talent in some area while chasing the wind for something else.

Not to say someone couldn't do that, but that would take an aptitude in that area.

Overall I like the post I just have my pet peeves and this struck a cord for some reason.
Forgive my presumptuous statements if I got the wrong vibe.
cakecrumbs Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2014
Hey, there's like 500 comments so I don't expect anyone to read them all before commenting xD And of all the repetitive comments, yours is one of the least so. I did reply to one early comment clarifying some points from a personal perspective but for the most part have opted to bow out of the comments section as I wanted to leave it a place for people to air and discuss their own views without me jumping in and rebutting.

But on your point about citations, that was something I deliberated about. I'm a post-grad science student. Not adding in real citations is like the biggest of big no-nos. But I was like hey, this is just an article on dA so I shouldn't go over the top about it. I kind of expected it to get about 100 views tops.

I had a bit in there about providing sources if someone wanted, but then I edited that out because a lot of what I have on the topic of language and learning are physical copies of studies that are essentially pay-per-view. There's no easy way for members of the public to access these journals unless they pay for a subscription (which is a pet peeve of mine and I would love to see the science community move towards open access but that's a rant for another day) so I wasn't sure if putting that option there was a bad move or not.

I did say to one other person who requested for some that I'd dig out my notes at some point and type out some of the references, and see if I could find any of them available for free online. I haven't gotten around to that yet as it's in some giant pile of uni notes in my cupboards, but when I do if you are interested in reading them I can pass them along to you too.
Ink-and-think Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Professional General Artist
Just out of interest did you reach any kind of conclusion about this? I'd be interested to know. I had my own opinion on the word o course but its been interesting to read other peoples and has made me re-evaluate mine. Also its a interesting topic I can't imagine why anyone would have a problem with you raising it whatever the format.

I always associated the word talent as like a magic trait or gene that some people have and some people don't, as in people saying "don't bother to learn this instrument you will never be any good at it no matter how hard you try because you have no talent." or "Why is so and so much better at 'whatever' than me..."because they have talent". Both of which I never believed because it sounded improbable. Apart from a few excepts I do believe that most people are capable of learning most things. But now I suspect I possibly have definition distorted. 
Ink-and-think Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Professional General Artist
or possibly am deliberately misinterpreting it. 
doomslace Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2014
Thank you for that reassurance, it's good to know my comment is something besides mediocre! But I do see what you mean by leaving it more open, it's quite an interesting topic I must say.

Ahhh, thank you for clearing that up some, but I can see your reasons for not... It is DA after all, but it seems they were happy to give you an influx of new viewers, so a bit of a curse within a blessing.

The fact that pay per view exists on publications like this is bewildering to me, I must agree.
But there is no need to go to great lengths to find something, be it at your leisure I'd be interested in reading a bit more about it.
laniessa Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Pet hate for me? Absolutely. I tell people politely that no, it was not talent, and I have a bad tendency to go off really badly at anyone who insists. I was not inclined to drawing from the start. I enjoyed writing, doing math, playing games. I only picked up a pencil to draw in 7th grade.

I worked really hard to get to where I am. (Even more infuriating when people suggest that it's because I draw digitally, manga art, as if I haven't spent hours practicing my figure drawings, as if I haven't spent years with pencils, colour pencils, acrylics.)

Thank you for writing this!
baroness-naughty Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Hmmm. You look like a fun person to rant with.
For me "Talent" includes skills that have been acquired through much practice and effort. But there is something in art that can't wholly be taught.  I've known a few people who went to school and learned all kinds of techniques.... They make horrible art!
laniessa Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2014  Student Digital Artist
lol - I've never actually found a successful rant partner, so let's try this! I like your art and you don't seem like a rude person, so no hard feelings after disagreeing?

If you say that, you're changing the very definition of 'talent' - talent literally means natural, innate ability to do something. The practice-effort part shouldn't factor in when measuring talent. It's like a set value with stats in a game - your base stat. Anything more than that is stuff you gained on the way.

I think what people call talent is more like interest. If you like art, want to learn about it, practice it, then you improve faster because of this interest, the experimentation and the focus on art. And that is the part that can't be taught - even if someone goes to art school and learns everything, if they don't push themselves to go further, draw in their free time, don't try and leave their comfort-zone, they'll be missing something essential to art: individuality.
lurkingkitteh Featured By Owner Edited Aug 12, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
For me talent does NOT includes skills, skills can be learned while talent can't. Talent is like the heart and soul of an ability, it's so small but plays a huge part, it's hard to describe.
Talent is like your 'core multiplier' instead of base stats, some people have some have 1 core, some have 5, 12 or any other amount.
If all of those put the same amount of effort, let's say 10 effort, their work will turn out different.
1 core, usually most people with have around 10 level-up improvement, while people with core 12, who have big talent already leveled up very easily to 120 improvement level.

I can automatically draw everything I see in front of me, like with a model to draw something accurately, drawing without reference took me few more tries (I have a pretty bad memory).
I've never been taught how to draw, I just can do it naturally since I was very little.
Sure I have a starting point where my drawings looks like a crappy 4 years old when I was 4, but after a few tries I advance so much more than other kids around me although some of them put so much MORE effort compared to me. (It's impossible to say that without looking like an arrogant boasting person and I am sorry for that) This also applies to kids who can naturally sings like an angel (google Amira Willighagen) without much practice compared to other singers at a very young age, also geniuses who can get straight As with very minimal effort (people with high IQs) while other kids are dying to get the same grades.
Also the ability to come up with such great artwork or musical composition, basically an imagination, or idea, is also talent.
Not everyone can come up with something like Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night painting, or Leonardo da Vinci's new ideas and innovations. Also Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla is one hell of a very precious but extremely underappreciated mind.

Talent is not the skills learned as talent is something that presents naturally in someone and cannot be thought, and talent is not interest as interest is something they gained later in life and not what they are born with. Talent is talent, something that exists within you since the day you were born, and surely something REALLY dang hard to describe. (and I'm bad with writing, not my speciality lol)

I have interest in singing and playing electric guitar other than drawing, but I lack talent in those two.
My voice sounds like a retarded frog and it took me lot of effort to catch up on guitar while other kids can do it just after a few tries.
But the lack of talent doesn't stop me from improving (except singing, I think I might have 0 core multiplier for singing. Nothing could come out multiplied by zero :rofl: )
I love what I do, although I might be slower than other people. :D
baroness-naughty Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
^_^ Indeed no hard feelings on disagreeing. I like the game reference. Beautifully illustrates your point. Hehee Maybe the reason some artists get touchy about the word talented is because they want credit for the hours they spent leveling up.

I like what your saying about interest. A persons passion is probably the single most important trait. It's what keeps them going. Keeps their art from becoming stagnant or worse give up altogether.

And somewhere at the core of it all is is the bit of themselves they put into their work. The part that goes "hay that could make a great shot" or "what if?". Sometimes it's like a demon gnawing away on your brain till you can get it out. 
laniessa Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Yeees! But that core, that demon is something to be trained! You look at a lot of things and you get inspired, you see lots of ways to do something and it's all different, so the 'what-ifs' the brain suggests for you is actually from this base, I think? Maybe I saw a low angle shot. I think it's cool and I move on. Two years later, I suddenly want to do a low angle shot after seeing a picture of a character, maybe.
baroness-naughty Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I think I agree.
It's as if  all the things we see get filled  in our brain as possibilities. Then we start putting these possibilities together as what ifs. Then it gets filtered through our ability to actually create it. (I know I've had plenty of times when my skill has failed my artistic vision. LOL)
We all have our own bank of possibilities with things we like influencing us more... but there is also kind of a cultural bank of shared influences.Often this leads to trends. Like the popularity of Anime.
But it also affects how our art is perceived.For instance nearly every one knows the peace symbol. Our shared knowledge allows us to associate it with peace when an artist uses it. If you had tried to use the same symbol in the 1500's during the Inquisition they probably would have thought it was some kind of demonic inverted cross.
Which kind of leads into the question of how much should artists be concerned on how their art is perceived?
CelesOran Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
While I am naturally gifted when it comes to art, I am not with music. It took me day after day of hours of practicing and privet lessons to become as good as I am on my flute... so I get it,  I TO hated it when people said how talented I was at playing the flute when all I did was practice for hours on end.

But my mother told me that I was TO talented, talented because I have a passion and a drive and the ability improve and grow and become even better at it.. and she is right, because when you REALLY think about it, it does take a talent (just a different kind)
forgottenfob Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014
I have never heard of a baby walking out of a mother's womb. The ability to learn quicker is a little white lie, it only means this person repeated a process more than you or most people, was introduced to advance knowledge (secrets) that was not available to most people, or simply because he or she never gave up. Everyone is born a blank canvas, each and every person is the greatest master piece and in rare ocassions the worst disaster.  So talent comes from practice (lots of it), inspiration, tenacity and ofcourse if you have a great mentor it is a Big plus.
Most educators want you to believe talent is something you are born with. These instructors look for students who already have good ability, what does this imply? it means that they are incapable of breaking down information and deliver it in the most understandable method. They are mediocre teachers, who's sole method of survival is to ride on the reputation of an already able student.

If you really want to learn to do something well! do not listen to those who tell you that you don't have talent. Look for a real master, who can turn a blank canvas into a master piece.
Nichrysalis Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I think the argument against this is just as strong: talent is the ability to learn quicker, not having the ability to be good at something in the first place. However I strongly agree that we shouldn't praise the talent of an artist, but the skill or creativity. I personally hate being called 'talented'. I worked damn hard to improve my writing and still am. I feel talent would imply my writing level won't adjust with me as I progress or as the community around me calls for different literature to be written.
NoxPapillo Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
That's being lazy to say that talent does not exist. It's either those without talents who say that, or those who have no confidence in themselves to begin with (even though they have talents) and don't want to realize that they are better than a vast majority of the population. How can it be insulting to be praised for one's talents? I actually quite enjoy the compliments when I get them. I tend to say that I practiced a lot in my art (which is partly true) but it is also true that being able to draw a masterpiece does not come to every body, no matter the amount of time one had been practicing. I've seen a few people who have never once draw in their life, or simply rarely did, but they are quite talented and can do what most people cannot in just a few years of practice. 
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