What About Talent?


Whatever you have is exactly what you need to produce your best work…

Talent, in common parlance is, “what comes easily”. So sooner or later, inevitably, you reach a point where the work doesn’t come easily, and— Aha!, it’s just as you feared! 

Wrong. By definition, whatever you have is exactly what you need to produce your best work. There is probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have—and probably no worry more common. This is true even among artists of considerable accomplishment. 

Talent, if it is anything, is a gift, and nothing of the artist’s own making. 

Were talent a prerequisite, then the better the artwork, the easier it would have been to make. But alas, the fates are rarely so generous. For every artist who has developed a mature vision with grace and speed, countless others have laboriously nurtured their art through fertile periods and dry spells, through false starts and breakaway bursts, through successive and significant changes of direction, medium, and subject matter. Talent may get some off the starting blocks faster, but without a sense of direction or a goal to strive for, it won’t count for much. The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything. And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented. 

Even at best talent remains a constant, and those who rely upon that gift alone, without developing further, peak quickly and soon fade to obscurity. Examples of genius only accentuate the truth. Newspapers love to print stories about five-year-old musical prodigies giving solo recitals, but you rarely read about one going on to become a Mozart. The point here is that whatever his initial gift, Mozart was also an artist who learned to work on his work, and thereby improved. In that respect he shares common ground with the rest of us. Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work and by learning from their work. They commit themselves to the work of their heart, and act upon that commitment. So when you ask, “then why doesn’t it come easily for me?”, the answer is probably, “Because making art is hard!” What you end up caring about is what you do, not whether the doing came hard or easy. 

Talent is a snare and delusion. In the end, the practical questions about talent came down to these: 

Who cares? Who would know? And What difference does it make? 

And the practical answers are: Nobody, Nobody and None. 

Excerpted from Fear & Art by David Bayles & Ted Orland