This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for
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Lately, I've been coming across online videos and blogs that deal with the question, What is talent? Does it exist, and if it does, what exactly is it?
Are some people blessed with a huge dose of it, and therefore destined to become a prodigy? Mozart usually comes to mind.
Last week I watched an online video where Malcolm Gladwell (author of "Blink") was being interviewed before an audience. A large part of the discussion surrounded the topic of talent. While Malcolm concedes that raw talent does exist in some individuals, it certainly brings no guarantee of greatness. He comes to the conclusion that in order to get masterful at anything, one must spend 10,000 hours doing that thing. He says the talent factor is really just a dose of love -- the passion that makes someone put in the hours to get there.
As many of you know, I paint with Richard Schmid on a regular basis. Richard is annoyed by the idea that some people are born with that something extra.
He acknowledges that a solid art education in the fundamentals and years of hard work have made him appear to be talented.
Richard advises in his book, Alla Prima, to just assume that you've got talent and move on to learning and doing.
I disagree with Richard on one point. Yes, I'm not afraid to take a small stand with the Maestro.
In conversation, Richard has expressed that doesn't believe there is a genetic component to becoming a great artist. I do believe that there is often a natural spark of interest in visual things. My visual memories go all the way back to the crib. I can remember being fascinated by dust particles floating in the sunlight, the way window blinds cast diagonal patterns of light and shadow on the wall... maybe all children wonder about these things; I can't say for sure.
My father, his father and their brothers were all commercial artists.You're probably thinking that I was surrounded by art growing up and that influenced me. But here's the catch: I never knew my father, his father or their brothers. My mother had no interest in art at all - and yet, I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon in my hand. By the way, I never liked to stay in the lines on coloring book pages...
My mother had only two original oil paintings in her possession. They were square, 4"x4" landscapes - little Hudson River Style oil landscapes. Now here's where I think nurture comes into play - because even today, I'm attracted to that style of landscape painting, but let me get back to my story... at the age of, oh about 3, I thought I could greatly enhance those little paintings by adding my own artistic statement to them with crayon. I could never understand why kids got in trouble for coloring on the wall. That never appealed to me - I went right for the canvas!
Well, seriously, I do think that talent exists in the form of being genetically inclined to see objects and the world in a certain way. How many artist biographies have you seen that begin with the line, I started drawing at a young age?
But! In case you imagine that I think artists are more important than other human beings, let me state that it is my belief that all people have at least one natural ability to do something that can contribute to others - whether it be math ability, musical inclination or ability to wait tables with a smile. Artistic ability has never made me feel more important than those who have other abilities.
I'll finish with one final thought: Talent seems worthless without passion and persistence.
While I don't think it takes 10,000 hours to get to the professional level as an artist, I do think it takes several years of hard and smart work. Getting the best education seems to expedite the process - whether through classes or workshops, videos, or books. I believe that a strong base of knowledge in the fundamentals of value, color, and composition will shine a light on the path to excellence.
So what do you think Talent is? How essential is it to success? What if someone doesn't have a great deal of talent - is that person doomed to mediocrity? How many artists do you know that didn't start out with any apparent ability but went on to achieve greatness?