Drawabox.com | On the Subject of Talent
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I recently responded to someone on /r/learnart asking some questions about talent. I believe the question was specifically whether a person "with no talent" but who put in a lot of hard work could ever stand to create work as good as someone "with talent" who also put in a lot of hard work. While one can certainly argue about the validity of talent until they're blue in the face, it's rarely productive. Now admittedly, my response may have been a bit more harsh than was warranted, but I still think it's an important message to send. I've included it below.

Sounds to me like you're looking for an excuse not to bother with that there hard work. That's been the case with every question I've ever come across involving that insipid 'T' word. It's always someone feeling frustrated, feeling discouraged, asking themselves what the point of it all is, and part of them is looking for an excuse to call it quits. It happens to the best of us, and it's certainly happening to you.

The funny thing is, accurate memory only goes back so far. We're not great at remembering what it really was like to be awful at something, once we've developed some skill. We may remember it on a logical level - certainly that was the case - but on an emotional level, we just feel like we've been able to create cool things. And so develops the notion of talent. That we've always been this way.

I've got only one real touchstone to recall the days when I was complete and absolute garbage, and frankly I wish I still had the drawing to prove it. I'm no spectacular artist now, but I do well enough with it to make a living. When I was very young - think five or six, maybe seven - I was intensely jealous of my brother's drawing ability. He was remarkably good at being very precise. His lines were crisp, his shapes pristine. Thinking back on it now, his houses were still rectangles topped with triangles, but at the time I couldn't even begin to grasp his dexterity, his clear intent and his seemingly masterful execution.

In my jealousy, I took a black pen to one of the drawings he had pinned to the refrigerator, and like one slashing a painting with a knife, I made one thin, jagged, zig-zagging mark (because even in that, I could not control the tool well enough for a smooth slash).

I also remember insisting to my father that I would draw - with his help - something better, that would be worthy of its place on the fridge door. It was going to be an elephant, and by god it was horrendous. I added blue pompoms for the ears in an attempt to salvage it, but surely not even the mixed media nor modern art communities would have accepted this travesty. My parents still pinned it up, but it was nothing beside my brother's richly coloured works. Even with the black streak.

Yes, I was a child, no older than seven. But surely had I been gifted in any way, things would not have turned out quite as I described them. Had I drawn more before that point, my elephant might have been somewhat recognizable. Had I looked more closely at what actually constitutes an elephant - had I made regular trips to the zoo, had I studied elephants in any real detail beyond the natural icon our brains evolved to understand when seeing such a creature - I would certainly have drawn a much better elephant, and would have earned my place on that fridge properly, without relying on my parents' pity.

But at that moment, I understood what an elephant was, and so I assumed I knew what one looked like. But I didn't - and it's quite likely that neither do you.

There is no such thing as talent. There is only a history of one's self that is so easily forgotten. A history full of experiences - or a history devoid of them. A history of exposure to some things over others. We grow up learning how to understand things, like how seven year old me probably understood an elephant to be a big grey beast with saggy scrotal skin all over its body (okay, maybe not in those words). But did I grasp even an iota of the information I required in order to draw it? Not even close

But like you, I didn't grasp the difference. If I understand something, I must be able to communicate it visually? Not so. There is much more to be learned about looking at and grasping the world around you, much beyond a simple academic understanding of a thing. But because you know so much already that seems like it would equip you to perform these tasks, you become discouraged by the inevitable failures that greet you.

So relax. You're not special. You're not uniquely ungifted. You're just showing up to a jousting match armed with a bow and arrow, and don't yet fully understand the difference. But you will, if you're willing to get knocked down to the ground over and over again.

You're allowed to feel down on yourself, and you're allowed to cry over your scrapes. Just don't forget: rather than talent, it is another t-word that makes a master. Tenacity.

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