Thursday, July 11, 2013

What IS talent?

tal-ent \'ta-lənt\
a: any of several ancient units of weight
b : a unit of value equal to the value of a talent of gold or silver
archaic : a characteristic feature, aptitude, or disposition of a person or animal
: the natural endowments of a person
a : a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude
b : general intelligence or mental power : ability
: a person of talent or a group of persons of talent in a field or activity
A young boy is bored one day in class. He begins to doodle in his notebook. His father happens to see the doodles and buys him a sketchbook. Shows him books about art. Takes him to museums. Introduces him to working artists. The boy draws and paints throughout his school years. He eventually goes to college and then graduate school where he studies art. He graduates and immediately gets recognition for his work and gallery shows. Is this talent?
A young girl who is shy and awkward in school doesn't make many friends. She doesn't get good grades. She reads a lot, alone in her room, and begins writing in a diary. Her parents don't make much money, and they are too busy with their own problems to give her much attention. She makes it through high school and college without any major accomplishments. Her guidance counselor worries that she doesn't show any real interest in school or friends. She floats around from job to job. She works as a waitress for a while, all the time writing in her journal. She never marries or has children. When she dies, her journals are discovered. They are filled with magnificent stories and poems, many of which are published posthumously. Her writing is read by millions worldwide. Is this talent?
I have been reading about talent, genius, creativity and success, always hoping to gain a little insight. Maybe hoping to learn something valuable. I have yet to read Gladwell's Outliers, but I am familiar with some of the ideas he outlined in his book, particularly the ten thousand hours theory. The main thing that I have so far concluded is that there is no one thing that leads a person to succeed. Not only that, but success is defined differently by everyone. Talent is also defined differently. Many of you probably already know that I have never put much faith in talent, whatever it is.  I am a proponent of the parable of the tortoise and the hare (and that's not just because I live near them and paint them!) 
I have spent too many hours writing this post, and reading about all these ideas, and now I sit here wondering why. I suppose it's because for most artists, there is always a point in time (sometimes more than one point) when we look at how we spend our days and we wonder. "Why do I paint?" "Should I paint (write, dance, sing, etc.)?" "Is creativity important?" "Do people who aren't artists even care about art anymore?" Introspection is a big part of the creative life for me. I question everything. I doubt everything. And then I go back into the studio and paint some more. Because I don't know the answers, and making art is how I search.

"A question of Time." Acrylic on cold press watercolor paper. 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches. ©Karine Swenson 2013

"Pools of Light/ pools of water." Torn envelope and acrylic on cold press watercolor paper, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches. ©Karine Swenson2013
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” 
― Calvin Coolidge
What do you think?


Rena Phillips said...

Is creativity important? It is essential! Thank you for a thoughtful look at talent and creativity.

Annie said...

I am always thinking about this stuff, I am the girl in your second story, only I paint and doubt I will be famous after my death, perhaps I will make it someday in the art world, perhaps not. I don't think talent has much to do with success, I have seen lots of bad art make it out there and I think my work is beautiful and it mostly goes unseen. I am not good at marketing and it appears you need a lot of money to do so and I have very little, painting is what I do, and even when I am ready to give up, I can't because painting is my life. xoxo

Terry V. said...

Karine - O.M.Gosh! You're so eloquent and thoughtful. Thank you for that post.

I believe expressing your own creativity is important.

I'm the third story. I take class after class and master nothing, but have a good time trying. And someday I might find that one creative outlet that satisfies my need. Until then, I create and don't expect to ever make a living from my 'art' or even be 'discovered' upon my death. But I know I enjoyed the process. (and spent too much money on supplies!)

Keep posting. I SO enjoy your art and words!


ArtPropelled said...

Yes, creativity is so important! Without it I would surely shrivel up and die. Loved this post and your paintings, thanks Karine. I was reminded of this quote by Ira Glass.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Patty said...

Excellent and thoughtful post. I just heard an interview with Larry King. He responds to a question about talent by stating that anyone who is successful and does not admit to a great deal of luck is lying.
We should do what we do for no other reason than the love we have for it.