Today is a standing on my soap box kind of day.
A few weeks ago at work I had a conversation with a colleague I’ve had more than once in my life. Someone with limited to no art education started a conversation with me about skill versus talent. It ultimately led to the same larger question many people ask me “my opinion on:” Is art a skill or a talent?
This is a question that I get really passionate and riled up about. In schools parents use the art as talent justification to argue their kids deserve higher grades if they “try” at the course, even if they have no skill. (I’d love to see someone posit that argument for a math class).
Adults I know use it to justify their lack of skill and their discomfort talking about and practicing art. The most recent argument I heard art was equated with sports and people’s performance in sports (people can practice but that doesn’t mean they will be an Olympic athlete). (Funny, still feel like I could argue that for math or any other subject).
When people ask me this question it is still framed as “my opinion.” I want to kick someone in the shins when they do this. Especially when I share my opinion, based in years of education and experience, and they push it aside and hold to their beliefs, as ignorant as they might be.
Art has elements of SKILL, just like learning to write an essay has techniques, or playing football has techniques. If you never learn those basic skills and steps, then of course you will have limited skill! But, if your education incorporates those techniques and skills, you will become more skillful. This isn’t rocket science people.
I see this especially from my experience with students from Korea who come to our school. Almost every student I’ve worked with from Korea here can draw nearly photo-realistically. This does not mean the stereotype people hold is true (People from Asia are better at art). Actually, their education incorporates drawing skills as part of their curriculum from a young age. And as we all know the sooner you put hours into something and if you are taught a skill and made to practice it, you will get more skillful.
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards also proves “art as talent” is fallacy. Look at some before and after drawings done by adults after one year of practice and techniques taught.
Now, I’m not saying there is no such thing as talent. Just like any subject (math, sport, English), some people are predisposed to specific skills. And that predisposition can lead people to their choices in school, and/or even a career. I just HATE IT when people use this “story” as an excuse.
It’s okay if you have no interest in learning how to draw or don’t have the time, but admit to it. “I just don’t have the talent” is an excuse. Own that it is. And its more infuriating to me that someone with no background in the arts feel they can make that justification with the same authority as an arts educated individual (which leads into a whole question of how the subjectivity of arts allow people to feel authority of statement and opinion without educated support or justification). Yet, is it their fault when our society and institutions do not support arts education?
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What’s your take on the art as skill or talent? How do you handle the question of art versus skill? What responsibility do we have to educate others about the arts?
I absolutely agree that artistic ability is a combination of both talent and practice. As you say, with practice just about anyone could become fairly proficient with one medium or another. But a truly great artist (think Bouguereau, Raphael, Velazquez) can never be the product of mediocre talent and intense practice. To be at that level takes something that some have more than others; to say otherwise is to say that the truly great were no different from anyone else…they simply practiced more.
thanks for the thought-provoking post!
Thanks Matthew. I wonder about the notion of “mediocre talent and intense practice.” I generally agree with the statement, but I then I think about someone like Ben Franklin who went through hundreds if not thousands of ideas that failed until he reached one like the lightbulb. Can’t intense practice bring us to another level? What about Malcolm Gladwell’s argument that reaching success is about 10,000 hours of practice? Do we elevate people to statuses we feel the “everyday” person can’t reach because we are intimidated by those that do or because we can’t truly match their success and talent? Thanks for your reflection and insight!
Hi, I am a very mature lady who having an mental illness discovered the joy of art. I try and find out about skill, but it is hard for me as young people now have art taught well in school. I enjoy producing pieces, but I think I have n’t a talent for drawing. Especially when looking at others brilliant work. I think yes it is important for skill, but when people mention skill and talent they forget about the therapy of art. I’ve seen wonderful pieces produced by special needs people who haven’t been taught skill but just through patience and thorough enjoyment produce good pieces. I feel that just the joy of doing art is often overlooked.
Hello A, I totally agree people forget about the joy of doing art. It depends on people’s goals for their art, buy my hope is everyone is creating from a place of joy. For those who wish to develop their skill there are strategies to do so. It takes committed practice to become increasingly skillful. Thank you for sharing! 🙂
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The work is impressive, thank you for sharing!
I actually believe that talent exists in my life. When I was six years old, I had started drawing and did a lot of things. After a while, I putbit down, and years later, I returned to where I left it. It was just waiting for me to come back, and I didn’t lose it. Today, I am always drawing.
Thanks for sharing John. Skills are something once we learn that don’t go away. Once we learn how to ride a bike, we never forget really.
Art is every in the world without art everything is useless
I wholeheartedly agree with this. I started drawing when I was a
8 years old, and before that, I had refused to draw or colour at all, mostly because I’ve always been a perfectionist. I would not do something unless I could do it well. However, as you grow up you tend to learn that you never get good at something if you don’t work on it. Getting good at anything takes work. I have often heard people refer to art skills as talent. I don’t like this term because I think this term creates misconceptions, making people think art skills are something that is only achievable for certain people. It also undermines the artist themselves because those all art pieces that you admire so much took a lot of work and time. They didn’t just happen. Skill and talent are developed by three key things, interest, mistakes and practice. And also a lot of patience. You can be taught by someone else, or you can be self-taught. I was self-taught but my skills didn’t and do not just happen to me. I wasn’t born with it. In the same way, I wasn’t born with the ability to be able to walk or talk. These skills had to be developed. I’ve never actually heard of anyone who was really ever born with artistic skills. No matter how young the artist is, there is no artist who has immediate skills the first time they try. What you are seeing is skills that have developed over time. The more intensity and focus they put into it, the sooner they develop these skills. The more you do something the more you build those neuro pathways. And it is certainly a lot easier for someone who enjoys the process and is intensely focused on it, than for someone who is not. You’ve got to be willing to make mistakes and then critique yourself frequently. I am a perfectionist so this comes easily for me. It also helps to observe and learn from other artists. You don’t need to be in a classroom to do that. You can watch what other artists do online. Another suggestion is to look at as many artworks as possible because they will have likely have developed a technique you hadn’t thought of, and it is amazing what you pick up by just looking at a piece of art. And then you need the patience to keep improving your technique. And it’s not just technique but also the way you observe. Rather than looking at the image as a whole, artists tend to break down the image to observe smaller details. These small details are extremely important.
Sam thank you for sharing your thoughts. My heart grieves for all the creatives who feel they will never be good enough and that they can’t do anything about it. I hope the conversations here give us all greater agency to show up for this thing we care about called art.
Sir I am a 18 years old student.. my drawing told me I have a drawing talent in landscape… but I don’t express my talent in gesture,figure drawing…??????
Shuvam, being naturally good at something doesn’t mean you are skillful at all aspects of the discipline. It means you find some parts of the discipline easier than others. This means it takes work, and dedicated effort, for you to develop other areas of skill, which for you includes gesture and figure drawing.
There are eight or nine basic genres in art: 1) Landscape, 2) Still Life; Biblical themes,
3) Mythology 4) Genre painting (everyday life) 5) History
6) Portraiture 7) Allegory 8) The Nude. I think I left one out but you cant excel in all these themes overnight. Artists specialize and it is your studies that will guide you in the direction you must go. Most beginners are humbled when confronted with the complexities of the human form. So, they resort to a doable style, called Anime.
I agree. There is something intangible about talent. I believe talent is the unique ingredient, maybe something that come from our sub-conscious that expresses itself when we are “in the zone” as they say. It is not teachable as a skill is. However practicing your artistic skills and knowing more about art and other artists is key I believe to providing us with inspiration and ideas that our talent can them turn into truly unique works of art.
Thank you Debra! So well said 🙂
Look into been doodling my whole life. No electronicshe just imagination. As a kid when I said I was bored my parents said I had cars legos or piece of paper. Sitting in doctors offices, waiting for extended periods of time needed to do something. No Gameboy cell phones so I sat there and drew what ever was in front of me. Doodles until I got older.. now I can use all of that to start drawing very detailed pictures. Trial and error. But you have to have patience..but I started very early. Now it’s a game. Can I top the last drawing with this one. Like they say when you hear an artist say, “I am my own worst critic “that’s something out learn with time is to know when to walk away.
Also the ability to break objects or anything is with numbers portions fractions. The ability to see things through all the details and focus on proportions. It’s hard to explain.. giving lines a number objects numbers and being able to decider all those things just to make that one square the size you need it.. without using numbers or giving something a value it’s very hard to put that on paper.
Thank you for sharing your story Ed!
How do you explain how at the age of two i could draw my favourite cartoon characters from memory on my bedroom wall and new what colour I would get if a mixed than together before I actually mixed them ??
I would argue you were exposed to information and tools, maybe related but without you knowing that helped train your vision and understanding of color. I suggest you read the book Peak by Anders Ericsson. He’s done 30 years of research on this and has been able to explain the reasoning behind even the perceived “innate” talents of idiot savants. The only thing God may have given us is the interest and predisposition to certain skills: it’s up to us an individuals to make use of them and bring beauty/value to the world, or not. I find that very empowering. We can all grow and learn, no matter where we are in life. Thanks for reading!
I agree Valerie. I was also able to draw from an early age without instruction. How can that be explained?
Just as in dance and theatre, “presence” cannot be taught, it just is there within someone.
I do believe my talent can be mastered using instruction and proper techniques. And many hours of studio time.
As children we have teachers and parents encourage certain behaviors in us. Having people encourage hand-eye coordination and observational skills will immediately predispose someone to drawing and help them be stronger the first time they try. Foundational skills that are encouraged in us (and that we have interest in pursuing) help create that “predisposition” for a subject. IF you are enjoying this conversation I highly recommend reading the book Peak by Anders Ericsson. His research pretty much has a counter-argument for every argument I’ve heard about placing a lot of weight on talent.
Oh Carrie, thank you for standing on your soapbox, and for your perspective on a topic of great interest to me. I’m in line with your thinking, as someone who appreciates art as a craft. I wrote about this a few months ago — http://artistsroad.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/are-creatives-born-or-made/ — and you made a great contribution to the conversation with your insights based on the class you taught on the Theory of Knowledge. Thank you again for that.
One thing I’ll share: I go out of my way never to refer to an artist I admire as “talented,” and I take offense (quietly) when I am called talented. It seems dismissive to me, tossing aside the hard work the person has done to produce whatever it is that is triggering the compliment. I use the word “skilled.”
Patrick, Thanks for your support as always. We work so hard towards something I do worry this labeling of talent takes away from that. I’m going to remember that distinction myself and keep to the word skilled as well because that does better encompass my feelings on the matter. Some people may feel I’m parsing words, but I feel the words we do use reflect our education and understanding of the arts as a discipline and reflects our cultural values.
While I didn’t take formal art education in high school, my mother had always encouraged any type of creativity even when I was a very young child, and I think that encouragement and constant exposure to different types of creativity, developed my ‘eye’ so that I could draw and paint far beyond anything my peers could do in the early school years.
I believe that having an ‘eye’ is the result of observation and taking a keen interest so that patterns, methods and how they work together becomes part of how you look at life so that it becomes habit, although it’s so much a part of you that it can feel innate.
In my life, while I haven’t been an artist per se, everything I’ve done has been informed by my interest and observation of the world around me. My involvement and enjoyment of music, singing, and design of all descriptions have been endeavours that have built upon each other. The work I’ve done in each area has required continual practise in order to increase my skills.
Harriet I think you’ve nailed it. There are ways to encourage a child to be observant and essentially train them to notice details that would then support them as an artist, for example. (And I’d argue if you’ve made art, you’ve always been an artist). 🙂
I so agree with you. I heard many times people tell me you’re so talented, your lucky. Totally dismissed the idea of hard work that put into it to be skillful. Last time, a guy asked me what do I do to produced my work, said, “do you take classes? Draw everyday? Or naturally talented? I responded by saying I draw and practice everyday.
Exactly! Thank you for sharing Eledel.
dedication and practice is key thing in my own creative expressions…
i remember looking at a beautiful painting one day and heard a voice inside saying; ‘you know, you can do that’. my first and immediate thought at the time was you’ve got to be kidding….but something kept urging me in that and i’ve finally embraced the idea and with hard work and practice and some classes that help in the process i am finding myself enjoying painting more and more while my skills become more fine tuned with each practice session….i think there are super remarkable individuals in every field that stand out as geniuses of sorts… borne with a special star shining brightly …perhaps reincarnation wise they are reaping the fruit of culmination of many many hours already spent and the fruit just fell so easily in its ripeness…perhaps that is another subject…perhaps not…but dedication and work it is for me…think its true for all learning and art is no exception.
Hi Bonnie! It’s so wonderful to hear that you are ignoring that inner critic and honoring that first voice you heard that expresses your interests and passion for the arts. You are right, practice really helps us to refine, improve and grow. And yet, there will always be people better than us, and there will always be people who do seem to have that special something. I’m quite confident, however, that almost all of those with that special something had to work their butts off to get there. I know many people more talented than me who haven’t put their work out there so I’m the one with a list of gallery exhibitions tied to my name… Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughts!
Skill is half of it at best, you an be skilled and everything but it wont make your work a masterpiece, look at Basquiat, his stuff was chicken scratch but also a masterpiece since it was a raw look into people, place, time, and the artists mind. That is what adds up to a masterpiece… no skill is more important than one that you are either born with or not, creativity!
We are ALL inherently creative. Thanks for sharing and reading Chris! 🙂
I completely agree with ArtistThink!
As some one who is visually and verbally talented (innate and worked on), I envy those who have innate musical talents. I fall into the hypocritical trap of claiming I can’t be taught to play or sing even as others tell me about stick figures being their limit. Truly, most all skills can be taught (for some more easily learned than others) even if you are not born with an aptitude for it. Though I believe the skill Chris mentions, creativity, can’t be taught it is a skill EVERYONE is born with. There is not one subject in which creativity is not required. Math, history and science for example actually can be as creatively worked with, learned and developed as art.
If something needs solving one of the best ways to come to a finished product (whether it be a drug via chemical equations or a history book with famous quotes as chapter openings) is creative thinking! Leonardo da Vinci one of the greatest Renaissance men of all time was not only a brilliant artist but a scientist and inventor to boot! Newton and Curie are just two examples of great scientists who utilized creativity and applied it to solving problems.
Scientists, can also be artists to. They may think outside the box and with microscopes come up with beautiful photos of the organisms they study. Or use their skills to design anatomical and geographical maps of deep complexity and breathtaking handwork.
Teaching art to young children has shown me that from the least to most artistically skilled, every student displayed creative skills! As adults that creativity is still there. Now what form it ultimately takes for whatever purpose is a different matter all together. While creating, studying and looking at art is my true passion, having studied and worked in the medical field has shown me better than anyone could, that the potential and necessity for creativity is EVERYWHERE.
So well said to say all subjects areas demand creativity. Creative thinking is an important skill for most walks of life. So glad to have you on board. Welcome to Artist Think Aaron!
Talent is a predisposition toward a certain medium of self-expression–painting, writing, photography, etc. Art is a powerful emotion with which you use your talent to express universal truths that resonate with audiences in a unique fashion. Skill is something you acquire through repetitive practice and learning from mistakes, to best fashion your art into the clearest and simplest expression possible.
I’ve never thought about art = emotion. I’ve considered the emotive nature of some art, but never considered art emotion. Thank you for sharing! Great perspective.
I saw this post on Pinterest and feel I need to reply. Skill vs Talent…such a charged topic!
I am an artist and an art teacher. I listen to my students lament about how they can’t draw. My reply…” of course not I haven’t taught you yet!” I hear from them (and others) you are so “talented” BUT I have a secret…
I hated to draw and was not very good at it…terrible really. I loved all other aspects of art though…just don’t ask me to draw.
I decided to go to art school but how to get around drawing? PHOTOGRAPHY! Yup you don’t have to draw with that…I had my solution.
Alas…it wasn’t so. I still had to take drawing classes. In that time I had professors who took the time to TEACH me. Showed me how to look at an object or scene…even a human body, and translate that onto paper. I developed a SKILL in being able to draw (and do it well).
So when people tell me I am so “talented” I ask…
is it TALENT or is it SKILL?
Candace, AMEN fellow art teacher 🙂 If you enjoy this topic I highly encourage you to read the book Peak by Anders Ericsson. He has pretty solid evidence that shows this is no longer a debate, but an area of ignorance in which we all need more education!
Thank you for the book recommendation, I will find it and use the information as “education”. ☺
Need a help. I have pencil drawings that I would like to get prints and sell.. where do I go I’m stuck. Any help would be great.. thanks
Hi Edmund. It’s not as simple as finding a place to sell your art: it’s about finding and serving the people who want to buy your art. What kind of art do you make? Who would enjoy your work? Where do they spend time? You need to build visibility and trust with your potential collectors to do this and it takes consistent time and effort.
In terms of making prints, I recommend Redbubble.com, especially if you aren’t concerned about limited edition prints and don’t want to outlay costs yourself.
Good luck to you.
hello,this is a nice post and i really enjoyed reading it . my english might not be that great but i am really curious about how you would respond to my argument.if by drawing ,you mean drawing from reference then please ingnore my comment.well if it isn’t ,then here you go.The difference between drawing and swimming is that you can express all your feelings towards swimming through drawing but you cannot express your feelings towards drawing through swimming.your love towards any genre can be expressed through drawing which makes drawing unique .you need to know a lot about swimming inorder to draw a swimmer swimming from your head but you dont have to know anything about drawing inorder to be a good swimmer .Coming to drawing being a talent or not,i find anechdotes of artists or people very unrelaible even tho they are masters at drawing or teachers. The reason why is that i believe they are no more resposible for the natural raw talent or wiring in their head than they are responsible for their height.talent being 1% or 99% , that’s a claim on biology that only neuroscientists have the right to make.I personally believe it can be anywhere on the spectrum.my opinion on drawing is that what you draw or want to draw is more important, than drawing itself.Most people dont like rape and might have moral issues seeing it as dynamic , same with war. no matter how much they practice drawing ,they might not be good at drawing these topics from their head.evolution might also have a huge impact on this,most girls arent into weapons or war stuff ,it is highly unlikly that they will ever be or will be able to draw them from imagaintion . My point is that the genre you want to draw or the thing is also of greater importance.But avoiding all these and simple saying drawing is 5% or whatever percent is talent and the rest is hardwork seems absurd to me .let me know what you think 🙂
Hi Sharan, thank you for your thoughts. I suggest you look for the book Peak by Anders Ericsson. It quite clearly outlines academic research that shows drawing ability (whether drawing from photo reference, or a desire to draw from the imagination) comes from deliberate practice. ANYONE can learn this, should they want to commit time and practice the right way. The problem is: most people don’t know how to practice to achieve the growth in skill they wish to achieve.
This isn’t a question anymore – this is fact. And he has over 30 years of research that proves this for any discipline. He looked at experts in many different disciplines.
I highly encourage you to seek out the book if you have interest in the topic. Thank you again for reading and sharing your thoughts.
All I can say is at the age of 2 my mother used to draw picture of babies for me a because I constantly asked her too! I was hooked and every time I got the chance of getting hold of watever medium I could I would draw paint or sketch on whatever space I could find walls paper anything I could I could draw complex pictures before school age and I was left handed but didn’t hold a pen or pencil back hand like left handed people normally do! I made my mums life very trying because I was a perfectionist with everything and it really made me feel that nobody understood me and it made me unapproachable until I may my art teacher in high school and at a parents meeting told my mum that she after at least two years as her pupil she didn’t know me any better from the first day entering her class than when I left with my art higher and art prize from the school I attended but she told my mum that I was externally tallented and that I taught her a thing or two!!
What a wonderful story and experience Val! What a difference it makes when you have family that does all they can to encourage the things we are drawn to explore. It sounds like your parents and teachers have offered you some wonderful support. <3 Thank you for sharing your experience.
Thank you for this! I have had many parents feel compelled to prepare me for their child’s artistic inabilities because of their own insecurities and I get so infuriated! If you can write your name, I can teach you to draw. Your “c” in high school doesn’t quantify your ability to create art if you willing and interested. Yes,I’m grading a skill, but there are many ways to create art and maybe someone who is “no good at art” will introduce the rest of us to a new way a making art because they were able to let go of the inhibitions of making art. It’s so true, I could be much better at many other disciplines like math, writing, economics, etc…if I practiced and studied them but if I am not interested, motivated or inspired, I will probably not be very successful.
YES!!! YES! and more YES! Thanks for sharing your own experience. And feel free to send those parents my way 😉
What if you were drawing good from the start?
I mean,that,if you didn’t need to learn HOW to draw.You were already good.Is that considered talent?
Hi Rafiya, I’d say something in our lives prepared us to draw then: a job that required a lot of detailed observation, for example. As a child, it could have been parents pointing out all kinds of observational details that get us seeing the world around us with artist eyes.
Great question! Thanks for asking, and reading.
Carrie,there is such a thing as talent!Just because you dont have it, doesn’t mean you should considering art as a skill and not a talent, try to learn how to sing like Whitney Houston and see what you got! I’ve practiced singing and never will be as good as a great singer. Now when it comes to art painting and drawing my dear, I dont remember seeing another HR Giger, Michelangelo, Raphael and many more again . Sure lot of unknown art painter didn’t get to fame path and sure lot of people are learning, practicing and get good at it, but iam sorry, you are absolutely wrong, they are talented artists they just maybe dont like the word talent or something, talented people are born with a gift, often basic, and a great imagination, imagination is the key and those ones dear, are becoming very great at art. In my days back when I was a teen, I knew how to draw while my best friend and many more students in my class were desperately trying to draw and couldn’t do it. I stopped drawing for years and made my very first painting last week without practicing and I did a fantastic job. You can learn but often its in you. If art was just a skill,everyone would be an artist today. I dont mean to brag about myself, I was born with a talent which I need skill for it get it? ambition, time, inspiration, compassion skills? yes but talent first. talent is something you possessed, skills is something you learn……
I know this is a paradigm that is hard to shift our understanding about and I totally recognize what you are saying: I once thought this way. I highly encourage you to read Peak by Anders Ericsson or The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. The idea of talent is seriously overrated and because of that, many people stop trying because they assume they don’t have the talent if they don’t get it straight away. At minimum, listen to this podcast episode where they share the story of someone who couldn’t sing who now can and has an award winning record http://freakonomics.com/podcast/peak/
A lot of people are threatened because the notion of talent makes us feel special, and it also gives us permission to stop trying at things because well, if we don’t have the talent then why try? A more concerning thought to me: how many people have potential to share with the world but haven’t and gave up trying because someone told them they didn’t have the talent?
Thank you for sharing your perspective with me and I hope you will consider reviewing some of the resources I shared.
Both views are correct! There are geniuses & great people who are just born that way, and they are either going to be waisted or used. Upbringing, experiences, emotional stability, life choices, etc…determine those individuals level of achievements.
There are people with little or no talent, and/skill, but develope them through hard work and persiverence. Again, upbring, life choices, so on and so forth, will determine those individuals outcomes.
Talent without hard work is not enough to make someone great, but if an individual works at something hard enough, they will be great it. The genious is sometimes in ones ability to never give up. If you have a passion for something do it, and it will lead to joy.
With all that said, no matter how much most people try they will never be great. To be intelectually dishonest with them is wrong. No one is born a Master at anything, and most people don’t have what it takes to learn the amount of knowledge, skill, creativity, emotion, originality, and intelligence.
Lately I’ve been binge reading art blogs, trying to work through an existential “why bother” kind of artist crisis of my own, and I have to say your outlook is intriguing to me. Mostly because my best friend constantly tells me I’m wasting my “talent” (I work a 9-5, instead of, I don’t know, trying to hock paintings of Flour De Lis to tourists in the French Quarter?) – and there is something that has always irked me about that word in reference to myself. You know, beyond just the normal bouts of self doubt and criticisms.
I realize this was posted a number of years ago, but I see you’re still replying to comments through pretty recent, and so I thought I’d throw some thoughts out there, and pose a couple questions.
I apologize for the novel.
I think that talent is not so much a natural “god given” ability to magically create perfect expressions of emotion or inspiration, but a predisposition to passion, or a desire to create, coupled with an affinity for perhaps recognizing a process without formal instruction. Like, I think a passion or drive in a person is manifested at a young age, and the obsession to improve is what begins in childhood. Skill is everything that comes of nurturing that passion?
As a child, it started simply with loving characters in a cartoon, and wanting to put that character on paper for myself, and tell a story that wasn’t the one on TV. But I knew what was on the paper was not exactly what I saw in my head. But I wanted it to be, and so I never stopped drawing. I would study, very closely, what I thought made a cartoon look like a cartoon, and I would try to imitate that. When kids accused me of tracing, I guessed that I was getting better (even though I was offended, because tracing was cheating, and how boring was just copying what someone else drew exactly?).
As a teenager, I was obsessed with finding and expanding my own style of story telling through picture. And so I borrowed and mixed elements of various periods, classical and modern, East and West. When I developed a style I considered unique, I decided I didn’t want to have only one way I could draw, and so I researched and experimented to be as malleable as possible, and change my entire process depending on what exactly I would like to convey… The point of all this is, my flexibility is skill developed over years and years, not talent that sprouted from nowhere.
The only thing I feel came naturally, was the never-ending want to be better, to be more skilled than I was, or am. What is responsible for drive, and if everyone has the ability to create, and it’s not just natural wiring of the brain, then does every being on earth have that *drive* to create deep inside of them? Using my aforementioned friend as an example… she constantly says “Oh, I wish I could draw” or “If I could draw like you”. I think, yes if you learned how to draw, then you *could* draw. But, I doubt she has the discipline. Wishing isn’t enough – and I can’t say that most people I know could take that wishing to “be as good” as someone else or to draw a picture in their head, then turn that into a dedication to devote a lifetime to learning how to do it; living in and breathing for years the brand of misery that is perfecting a craft. Would my friend draw until she forgot to eat, through the night until the sun was coming up for the next morning, until her eyes were bleeding from staring at the same piece for days just trying to get it *right*? And without this sickness of soul, this obsession, isn’t there a limit to potential skill level?
Also, do you consider an artist’s ability to self-teach (or rather, I should say independently study and learn lessons on their own, as opposed being told what lessons to learn by an “authority”) a skill in of itself? I ask, because you put a lot of emphasis on “art education”, and seem to see it as a prerequisite for posing any valid discussion about the topic of Skill vs Talent. I apologize if I misread your outlook here, but that is the tone I got from the article. Because I have a very dour opinion of institutionalized learning. Art schools, in particular. So I suppose my question is, what to you consider an art education, really? Is it merely the accumulation of knowledge gained over a lifetime of a person’s creative development, and the experience therein… or do you mean education in a more socially normalized sense?
What is the defining line between a student of passion and life experience, and a student-student? I don’t actually think much of my work when pitted against some of the local, poor street artists I’ve encountered just *this year*… and yet, shake a stick at any random recent AI graduate and I’m arguably “better”.
Perhaps it’s just envy convincing me in self preservation, but I don’t think I’d be a more proficient, rounded artist if I’d gone the way of school to mold my growth. In fact, I know I wouldn’t, allowing other powers to dictate my focus and put a grade value on my evolution. Having no formal education makes me feel less employable, but not less skilled. I don’t see “marketable art” as being synonymous with “good art”. It CAN be, but it can also be flaccid, unimaginative and regurgitated.
As strongly as I agree that talent is not the word to use, I also think the notion that “practice, practice, practice” being all it takes to get to “good” is understating what it really takes by an almost offensive degree, because there’s no real quantifiable formula that makes a good artist. A lot is the interpretive, suggestive and ill-defined nature of creativity. You can scrutinize and build technique, but how do you teach vision or original thought? Can you practice, practice, practice never running out of ideas?
Your thoughtful comments and reflection tell me YOU should be teaching others too! 🙂
I love this: “I think that talent is not so much a natural “god given” ability to magically create perfect expressions of emotion or inspiration, but a predisposition to passion, or a desire to create, coupled with an affinity for perhaps recognizing a process without formal instruction.” YES YES YES. We have to have passion in order to improve our skill. I have a problem when people suggest talent is innate because it takes all onus away from us as individuals to DO something about it.
School is irrelevant to the word artist for me. It is absolutely a skill to develop our own ability and make conscious choices to do so. Art education is everything we do as individuals, with or without institutions, to consciously develop as artists. I will always consider myself a student, but that doesn’t mean I’m not also a professional artist. And in today’s day and age, artists have more ability to decide what their future should look like than artists have had in the past. You don’t have to be employable unless you want to be. So many artists are finding multiple sources of income to create the life THEY want. And that’s my hope and aim: to serve artists so that we each individually reflect on what we want and how to get there.
It’s not just practice, either. We can practice the wrong way and see little to no strides in our work. I talk about this in another post here: https://wp.me/p6Xq2T-2nS. I have done A LOT of research on this and the research shows “deliberate practice” is the formula we can use to build our skill. To become expert and to be better at something are also two different things.
I also recommend the book GRIT by Angela Duckworth who also researches these topics. She’d tell you can develop vision and original thought. And if we can develop it as individuals, we can find ways to teach it.
Thank you for the great conversation!
Having read all these amazing opinions the word that keeps coming to mind is ‘desire’. If you have the desire and then gradually passion arises, then I think any skill can be mastered or honed.
Thank you so much for sending me this article. It gives me much hope, and will serve as a deterrent to the discouragement that often comes. I’m so passionate about art and it gives me great joy. I’m not afraid of hard work and it is refreshing to know that I CAN get better!
YES you can. It’s not easy, but the process is simple. And the more we show up and use deliberate practice as a tool to help our skill, the more we can spread this knowledge to be more widely known! Imagine a world where everyone feels empowered to improve their skill in their discipline of choice? 🙂
I reached this article from a google search. It’s really nice and logical and I agree.
I’ve spent my life (I’m still 26) thinking I don’t have the artistic talent! My brother had it since a young age! He could simply draw beautifully! I couldn’t!
I still remember the frustration in our art class at primary school, when we had a class and it began with the teacher saying: “get your colored pencils out and a white paper, and start drawing a beautiful scene” I was always puzzled about drawing the big sky! it took a long time to fill it all with blue! and the class was only 45 minutes! so I used to fill it in a careless way!
My only wish if they had took more care about it, and just followed more closely, maybe if they allowed us to finish the drawing in 4 to 5 classes or gave us instructions and feedback!
I focused on science and I’m now a CS graduate and my “hobby” is physics!
During my study in CS I was always afraid of making any UI I always thought it was “Art” and I could never understand art! So I stuck to the command line programming, and never tried to draw any UI.
Now came the time at my career when I’m asked to implement UIs as a web developer, and I started learning that they are all UX principles, best practices, and research! No magical talent only continues learning and hard work!
So now I proudly say it: I’d love to learn art, and I think I simply can it’s only a matter of time and priority!
Sorry for the long comment, I’ve had this trapped inside for a long time! I will probably turn this to a blog post.
Thank you Baha for sharing your story I really appreciate it. I’m glad you see that you can learn now should you have the desire and commitment! Best wishes to you.
Everyone can draw or learn the skills of drawing (or any other art field), but not everyone can become an artist. People with talent can be great artists if they spent an effort on themselves and acquire skills. Finally, talent can discovered on youth and if not, their talent is going to decrease.
Khalel, R. A., PhD Helwan University, faculty of arts education.
I appreciate your understanding and perspective. Our worldwide perception of talent being so very valuable is a paradigm we all need to change. And our perceptions as teachers can often determine and discourage students from engaging in the arts for the very argument you describe. I ask you: what’s the point? If people want to become artists, why should we tell them they can’t try?
I’d also love to see the science-based research that backs up your claims. I’ve read and researched many things on this topic. I heavily encourage you to review the research by Anders Ericsson where he spent 30+ years studying what are the underlying traits and mechanisms used by experts in their respective fields. He concludes ANYONE can make these changes and become talented if they use this formula and put in the time.
As for age – this is completely false. Famous successful artists have started their art ranged in ages from childhood to their 70s and have thriving art careers.
I also have a masters in education from a very prestigious university, but that doesn’t mean I know more than everyone else. It just means I’ve been in the education system longer, which can sometimes mean I’m less open to new ideas because I’ve been in the system so long. I hope you can use these resources I share and it might help you see the world with fresh eyes.
I want to know the date of publishing this article for research purposes. I’m preparing a research about this topic. I’d like to thank you about the resources; it was useful. I am an proponent to this stance in present.
Original date of publication is Feb 16, 2013. Good luck with your research!
ART is a skill not a talent,depending on how you take it, can be a talent to you or a skill
Holly I’m not sure I understand, tell me more? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I think talent is different, a talented artist can create something special that a skill artist cant.
I wish i had more talent.
Hi Alan, I totally respect that you feel that way. Society has been telling us that for ages, not to mention this gives us a bit of an excuse for why haven’t improved our skill or make the art we may be scared to make. At least I know I can feel that way!! You can grow talent – you can make special art. It takes showing up and making a lot of art to find that special voice. Best wishes to you. Carrie
hi! how could you explain my situation? (i really need answers) the drawings that i made when i was in elementary were always bullied, i was always bullied about it, then after a few years i had realized that my drawings were really bad. Then i stopped for 4 years, but when I tried to draw an entry for art club, my drawings,as my mom said, had improved greatly (not to brag) i haven’t practice coloring and shading techniques but my art teacher was very impressed on my work.
Hi Gwyneth! Thanks for asking.
First off: bullying offers no useful information. Bullying is about exerting power over another person, so, that tells me people were threatened or uncomfortable with the art you made (perhaps because you showed enthusiasm or skill).
I’m sad to hear you stopped. But I’m glad to know you are returning to your art. Art isn’t something you are “just” good at or bad at, it’s something you have to practice to build your skill. No one is good to start. That’s just how it works!
As for taking a break and coming back to art, I find when I take a break and return to my art making my skill is always improved. Just because we aren’t drawing or painting doesn’t mean we aren’t observing the world around us and learning things that will help us make better art!
I’m so pleased you are finding reward in your art again. But please understand to make art means to make a lot and I mean A LOT of bad art. That’s the path to the good stuff. So: keep making “bad” art! <3
I’m not an artist. In fact, my stick figures usually look like they need to see the chiropractor. What I am though, is a musician. I sing and play nine instruments. Some I picked up easily and others I know only the basics of playing even after years of practice.
I have an in born skill to hear music and reproduce it, but I spend hours a day working to hone it. Like you, I don’t like the word talent because I worked very hard to get where I am. If I had not worked to hone that inborn talent, I would not be able to play and sing the way I do now. It takes a lot of practice and work to get really good, just like anything else
For any discipline, some people find things easier or harder than others. It still comes down to our desire to persist and practice in the right way to develop those skills. Thank you for sharing some of your experience!
I believe you are born with a talent and that talent can be honed by practice. I also believe you can have little to no talent but acquire the skills to become competent, even talented at using those learned skills. People with natural talent will, unsurprisingly, grow their talent more easily and have more potential to become exceptional. I know that from a very young age I drew compulsively and could easily capture a likeness or scene and knew instinctively about proportion, perspective, values, even colour mixing. What sets a born artist apart is their compulsion to create. It would kill me to not be creating artwork on a daily basis apart from when I need to step away to recharge my imagination. I actually prefer the term painter to artist but that!s another discussion altogether.
Thanks for sharing Carol! I’m concerned when people use talent as an excuse to NOT pursue their interests, because either they have “it,” or they don’t. That’s patently false. As you say, people who are not naturally interested in a topic can build skill and become really good at it. It’s that magic of desire, persistence and being willing to fail repeatedly that helps us really take our art to the next level.
Carrie, I really respect your optimism and hope that anyone can do it. The truth is that yeah anybody can do it, but not anybody can do it with greatness. That takes a natural born talent. I have not been brainwashed into thinking this way, it is the simple truth. Years ago I was really into starting a band and I bought a brand new bass and started taking lessons. I did this for years and I did get better but it only went so far. My sense of rhythm just was never very great and my bass lines were mediocre. That being said all of my life I have been a great painter and drawer. I am pretty much self taught. I have shown my work in numerous galleries and I have even done a little teaching. I do agree that anybody can learn art and become somewhat good to great at it, but the ones that do become great at it are always and I mean always the ones that have had a talent for it at an early age. I consider myself a very good artist who in my lifetime has…not joking…put about 30,000 hours into practice. I am still going to create art till the day I die, but no matter how many more hours I put into it, I will never paint with the genius and talent of a Picasso or a Van Gogh. I can’t say I put more hours and practice than Picasso but I have been creating longer than Van Gogh ever did. He was a more talented artist than me, it really is that simple and I am ok with that. I think a big part of the problem is that too many people want to be the good guy rather than the honest guy. However I will leave it on one more thought… I do believe we are all good at something or that we were meant for something, whether we find it or not.
Hi Mike, thanks for your contribution to this conversation. People can be super skillful and talented and still not “succeed” by today’s measures. You mention van Gogh and he’s a perfect example. He was a failure during his lifetime. Today we acknowledge his work. That isn’t about skill or talent, that’s about societal standards and definitions about what’s “worth” our time and investment. That’s about cultural norms.
HOW we practice to develop our skill is important and is more important than any perceived talents we have. Talent, as I mention in the article, is that pre-disposal to be committed, interested, and stckl with something to keep developing our skill. And maybe it’s the will to keep going, as van Gogh did, because we are called to do it.
Carrie, although I do not agree with everything you said, the fact that you believe in people is a greater gift than being a great artist (as cheesy as that sounds)…which is why you would make for a great teacher. You are by the way, a great artist. I saw your artist page to see some of your work…very well done. I also like the fact that you’re bringing a spotlight to women who truly meant something yet sometimes are forgotten simply because of the era they lived in or the fact that they were women. I never had to worry about this problem.
It is a sad thought knowing you might never be appreciated or considered great simply because of your gender. That is ridiculous. This is changing of course for the better. It is a male run world no doubt about it, maybe that is why it needs so much improvement.
What do you think of someone who start from 0 ground at the age of 38 in arts. Currently i’m learning sketching, trying my very best to squeeze time to practice daily. I often feel bit down and intimidated whenever i see other work of arts and can’t stop wonder if i can get up to that level.
Suedev you absolutely can improve in your skill and make great art. What happens is when we are adults and have our lives put together, we often don’t give ourselves the leeway to fail and learn from those failures, which is an IMPORTANT part of the learning process. It’s how we learn techniques and develop our skill. You can get to the level you seek. Strategic practice is integral to making that happen. You CAN do it.
Obviously, I can’t speak for others out there about my opinion on talent or if it exists, but in my experience I believe talent has nothing to do with being good at art.
In my case, I have no “talent”. But, what I do have is a disposition to create artworks. I could stare at a work for hours scrutinizing it and taking mental notes of what’s good and bad, but I could not tell you why I do that. However, by unconsciously examining the artworks of artists over many years, I’ve “naturally” been able to draw decently from imagination. I have an understanding of proportion, composition and what looks aesthetically pleasing. I am very good at criticizing my work, which increases my rate of improvement. So, does being able to analyze and have an interest in art make you talented?
On the flip side, while hard-work or constant practice is important, it doesn’t always mean you will create great art either. I take huge breaks of a few months to half a year. Not to mention I hate doodling or sketching because it’s laborious without any purpose for me. But, every-time I sit down and draw after months of not-practicing, my art advances to another level. Why? Some may say it’s talent.But, in reality it’s because I have accumulated artistic knowledge that can never be gotten rid of due years of observing and acquiring other bits of knowledge from online.
Sometimes when I look at artists that I admire, I have a feeling that I could almost duplicate their artworks. If I am able to duplicate their works, that means I have the technical prowess to create such cool artwork. But, the reason I cannot create such amazing artwork alone is because I don’t have the knowledge these artists have accumulated. Yes, practice helps acquire knowledge. But, If I go straight for finding artistic knowledge via youtube, then I can avoid mindless hours of sketching or being hit with “inspiration”. So, the difference between me and amazing professionals is not something as vague as “talent”. Instead, knowledge key, whether that is intentionally learned or subconsciously absorbed.
Knowledge in art, makes you understand how to draw a face, how to render an environment, how to composition etc. I’ve even found information about how to boost creativity and ways to make more visually interesting pieces, or approaches to visual development. Overall, Creativity and making art expressive are what people would typically associate with talent. But, once again, these can be learned!!! I learned them!!!
The reason you don’t have emotion in your work is because you don’t have knowledge to what makes an artwork look more emotional. So you have to learn it, digest it, then gain it. “Talent” and “practice” is a means but not an end. Talent and Practice doesn’t guarantee you will create good art, IF YOU DON”T HAVE KNOWLEDGE. Skills are powered by knowledge. So in my opinion being artistic, creative, and technical is a skill of having mass knowledge.
Yes! Personal experience, interpretation, curiosity, desires, interests… all of this feeds into art. Love what you have to say. thanks for sharing!
Nice article. Although there are people who have more raw talent than others, the truth is that talent and creativity are acquired over time. As an example, when I was younger I loved playing guitar and writing songs. Initially, I wasn’t very good, but, I kept learning new songs from other bands and the more I learned, the more I was able to formulate my own style, playing and writing better music. When I stared taking classes in graphic design, I sucked! Why? Because of the lack of knowledge I had. But over time as I learned more from other people I became better.
So, nobody is just born with absolute knowledge and talent, it all takes discipline and the acquisition of knowledge. Practice makes perfect!
Thanks Alan for taking the time to share such a thoughtful comment. It’s all about the practice!
LOL! Weighing in as the person who sketched the picture accompanying this article, I totally believe in skill and have beef with talent. There’s often a mystique presented by skill sets an individual does not posses.
ha awesome Whitney! Thanks for chiming in here 🙂 I totally agree re: mystique people feel about skills we don’t understand or possess.