The Laws of Nature

Monday, May 10, 2010


(not a picture of Kathy)

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

Continuing in chapter 3, we've reached the section about "talent," which the authors define as what comes easily. But, they ask, what happens when we reach a point where our artmaking doesn't come easily? Does this mean that we don't have "talent?" No, because talent is a gift and nothing of the artist's own making. So, whatever we have is exactly what we need to produce our best work.

But, talent isn't all that it's cracked-up to be. It may give us a good start, but if we don't have direction and do something with it, it doesn't amount to much. The authors remind us that the world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts yet never produce anything. And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.

But, there's more to it than just having talent. One can develop that talent to higher levels by using it in challenging ways. We can learn and sharpen our skills. And, if we challenge ourselves then artmaking becomes progressively harder. That doesn't mean we don't have talent, it just means that we're trying to take it to another level.

In conclusion, the authors give us this perspective: Talent is a snare and a delusion. In the end, the practical questions about talent come down to these:
Who cares?
Who would know?
What difference would it make?

And the practical answers are:

What are your thoughts?


-Don said...

Regrettably, some of the laziest people I know are also some of the most talented. Maybe it's human nature that if things come too easy to someone they don't appreciate it as much. I've seen it in several areas of life, but it's always more obvious in sports and in the arts.

I know we've had discussions here before where some do not believe in talent and think that everything can be learned if the desire is there. Although I believe that anyone can learn any skill if they set their mind to it, I agree with the authors that, "talent is a gift and nothing of the artist's own making". As such, and with any gift we receive in life, we should show our appreciation by using it to the fullest extent of our ability. If you don't use it, you'll lose it - and, in the words of my son, that would be an "epic fail".

No matter how talented anyone is, if they don't stretch their abilities they will stop growing and become stagnate. If a talented athlete does not hone his or her skills daily, someone with less talent, but more drive, will bypass them in their abilities to perform at a high level. If an artist doesn't hone their skills daily their work will show for it and, as Kathy pointed out, soon nobody will care.

I guess I just gave a long-winded response when all I really had to say was, "amen".


Deborah C. Stearns said...

Interesting -- I'm not sure I think of talent this way. Talent, to me, reflects one's current level of skill, as reflected in the person's work, as well as one's potential level of ability. I care about both -- I want to be skilled and produce good work, and I wonder about my potential for growth. When we compare ourselves to others who are more "talented", we worry that we are not skilled enough or will not ever reach that other person's level of ability. Perhaps, as Bayles and Orland note, we simply envy the (seming)ease with which they do the work, and bemoan our laborious and difficult process. But everything gets easier with practice -- I tend to be more concerned about how far I can go. If I will never be particularly good, is it worth persisting? Should I switch to some other endeavor in which I can truly excell? I absolutely agree that we have abilities that may never be tapped -- talent without drive doesn't take us very far. And it may well be that these kind of concerns (will I ever be truly great?) are simply distractions from the gritty necessity of doing the work and improving our skills. But when we are frustrated and stuck, we might wonder if we are "talented" enough to get where we want to go.

Carolyn Abrams said...

Kathy, tell me that sweet photo is you??? Recently my 27 year old daughter ( who was always very musicial) took out her grade school flute. In it was a little post it note that i had written when she first began her lessons. It said "Your music is a gift from God, what you do with it is up to you". To me that says it all.

Casey Klahn said...

The comments here are the icing on this post. Don's especially - I agree about talent. I guess my only exceptions of belief would be that natural talent, which I believe in, can redound to slovenly behavior. Better than your class at reading? If you are gifted, often you are also deficit in attention.

The girl (Kathy?) in the photo shows awesome talent - I really love the composition and colors there. Talent proven.

I just read a book about the "last men" ( those who earned the lowest scores in all categories) who graduated from West Point in the 19th Century. Many who went on to become geniuses in their fields, in spite of their showing in school. It is a great study in talent and behavior, and fascinating to study the genius of these characters. BTW, among the low men listed were Edgar Allen Poe and James McNeill Whistler.

Mark Sheeky said...

Drive is more important than natural gifts... I'm not much of a runner but if a pack of dogs came at me I'd have an incentive to be one. Physical talent surely exists; short people lack talent at basketball, but I think mental telent doesn't. Clever people tend to be good at everything mental. A good brain won't help an artist with bad eyes (although bad eyes didn't do Andy Warhol any harm - so I'm wrong there!).

hw (hallie) farber said...

I always felt that making art was simply a matter of observing--that anyone interested could do it. I can't imagine not being able to draw what I see.

Several years ago, I heard my neighbor singing beautifully. It dawned on me that, although I have ears, vocal chords and can read music, there is no way in heck I can sing a note. My neighbor believes that anyone can sing if they try.

I now acknowledge the possibility of talent--something so innate we don't recognize it in ourselves.

Unknown said...

Hi all - nope, that picture is not of me! Sorry.

Hi Don - you said it all! Amen.

Hi Deborah - you'll love tomorrow's post!

Hi Caroline - your daughter is fortunate to have a wise mom who gave her the right kind of encouragement during her important formative years!

Hi Casey - I'm always fascinated by those underperformers in school who later became accomplished. I was in that category in elementary/high school simply because I was an undiagnosed dyslexic. But, I managed to use that to my advantage later. How many of us dyslexics did so? Leonardo, Einstein, etc... Wish I was in their league :-)

Hi Mark - so true; talent can't replace hard work.

Hi Hallie - I like the way you unwrapped "talent." And, I agree with you. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

M.A. Wakeley said...

I love this post and are with you in the idea that talent is a gift. We certainly didn't come here empty handed. Each of us has more than one area in which to succeed if we choose at least one that interests us and stick with it. We have to start where we are at whatever level of skill we possess.

Great subject and an excellent discussion!

Stan Kurth said...

Sorry I'm late but I've really been stretching myself lately with family, a solo exhibition, group exhibitions, organizations, commissions, graphics, etc., etc., etc.

I believe that if you want something bad enough you will focus on it and achieve it. It is your dream. It consumes you. It is your life. And you know what, somewhere in the midst of your pursuit one of your accolades will surely be someone saying something along the lines of how talented you are. The authors seem to stress there are very few Mozart types, yet there is an abundance of talent and great artists. Talent is a bi-product of lots of hard work and practice and I believe it culminates out of desire. I recently finished a piece commissioned by my niece. When I showed it to her she kept saying how beautiful it was and how talented I was. It made me think about talent. The painting is an image of a ballerina and I was elated that she like it because it certainly was not something I would have painted without commission. I'm certainly no Degas. So as a result of my artistic endeavors over the years I have become talented enough to paint what she wanted even though it is not what I'm looking for in a direction I want to go. Extraordinary art requires talent plus. There are a multitude of extremely talented artists painting extremely boring pictures. Mozart was simply a freak!

Celeste Bergin said...

I have always known all my life that I have an aptitude for visual art. That would mean very little if I didn't employ it.

-Don said...

Kathy, Your new work, "The Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics" is spectacular! I just saw it come across a few minutes ago and tried to leave a comment on your photo site. I guess I'll need to create an account and try again sometime. But for now, here is the comment I was going to leave...

This is beautiful, Kathy! I love your rich colors and the dynamic composition. My eyes flow throughout the piece continually cycling through the warms and the cools. I really like this series. It excites me to see such decidedly unique work - stuff that's never been done quite like this before. Impressive!


Unknown said...

Hi Mary Anne - thanks for reminding us that we all have talent in more than one area. I think that's true and people who are creative often have many outlets for their creativity.

Hi Stan - to escape the boring is a real challenge! There's a lot of mimicry, so pushing oneself to be original is an extraordinary effort and one that, in my opinion, is worth pursuing. Congratulations on your solo exhibit and all your other activities!!

Hi Celeste - you have a "talent" for sure! I love your work.

Hi Don - thank you!!!