Natural Talent is Overrated!
I’d love to address the idea of natural talent. I’m always flattered when people think I’m incredibly talented. It makes it sound like God touched me with a special spark that not many others have. In reality, the gift He gave me is the desire to learn and dedication to practice.
I took two years of Spanish in high school. By the end of those two years if I had gone to Mexico I may have been able to hold a basic conversation with a native but I could never have passed as one of them. In the years since, my Spanish skills have all but disappeared. Why? Because I don’t practice it. Spanish is a language. And so is art. If I had grown up speaking Spanish all my life I would be fluent right now. The same is true for art.
No one is born understanding a language. It must be learned. When people tell me they can only draw stick figures its like saying, “I only learned to say “Hola”. It’s not because they have no further potential! It’s because they haven’t found a need or desire to pursue further education in it. When I explain that becoming an artist is a skill that can be learned, the most common objection I hear is “I’m not naturally gifted.” Baloney. Natural giftedness doesn’t deserve the credit it gets. There’s a quote I always tell my students: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Over the last couple decades of teaching people art, I’ve seen it more times than I can count: A kid is told he is talented by everyone, so he coasts along, not challenging himself. He does the same stuff without taking risks or being willing to learn. Next to him sits the hard working kid who barely got in the program, whose work isn’t on par YET. The next year comes around and the second kid is catching up. His work is looking a lot better. He’s growing through practice and error. He takes instruction well and learns from it. Before you know it the “talented” kid wants to quit because he feels like he was never talented to begin with. I would say that he never had the desire to learn or grit to push through challenges.
Next time you see really great artwork, consider complimenting them by saying, “Wow, you must have worked so hard to get that good at your craft.” It’s the greatest complement you could give.