Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Talent is Overrated

I am in the middle of reading this book, which says that great performances in any field have more to do with "deliberate practice" than with talent. We tend to believe that prodigies, like Mozart and Tiger Woods, have innate talent that is well beyond that of others in their field.

In truth, these two both had fathers who were determined to train them to excel in their fields. Early performances from either one would be considered ordinary, but their constant training and honing of their skills led each of them to extraordinary heights of mastery.

How can I use this information in painting? I have bemoaned the lack of inspiration during dry periods. During these periods, I can hone specific skills. In other words, I can do painting exercises designed to improve areas of weakness, and maintain areas of strength. I have plenty of books which suggest specific exercises for just that sort of thing.

Classically, artists have used the copy method of gaining skill. That is just what athletes and musicians do, and it is valid. To repeat what someone else has created gives the eyes and hands the experience they need; then variations on a theme can be developed, to enter into an expanded endeavor.

Painting teachers gave us exercises, yes, but the impression I had was that those exercises were for beginners, and that once one had the skills, one simply came up with one's own projects. That is not quite the way it works. Exercises accumulate experience in a specific field, and though it takes many hours to develop any one skill, it is built upon, hour after hour. Though I am learning this lesson late in life, it can still improve my work.


Young Geoffrion said...

Yes, I have to agree. I have spent years in art schools, both in North America and in China, have known and watched artists all my long life, and taught classical drawing skills to some 250 students of my own. Talent certainly is overrated, and I think the most it offers a young person is a sense of delight in the outcomes of one's efforts.
I think Malcolm Caldwell's point (in Outliers) is valid: If you spend 3 hours a day, 20 hours a week, or approximately 10,000 hours over a lifetime (about 10 years), focusing on something you are passionate about, you cannot fail to be successful. It takes 10 years of dedicated practice just to learn one's native tongue and to move with agility, even when we're at our youngest and most receptive.
For the last fifty years, North American art schools have perpetuated a highly destructive myth that you cannot teach creativity, and that mechanical skills do not an artist make. But a skilled hand, an observant eye, and a reflective mind, that are the bare minimum tools of an artist, come only with practice regardless of your chosen mode of expression.

hba said...

Seems about right to me - I'm not talented at anything in particular, but I'm still creative and have inspiration.

I think passion has a lot to do with it - I'll never be a good artist as I have no passion for it, but I love to write and have a modicum of passion that drives me on to use the medium to express my self creatively (even if it's largely using schoolboy smut to get a cheap laugh ;-D ).

Today's creative idea, popping into my head whilst struggling with a spreadsheet - maths, something else I do not have a passion for) is a new act for TSMGO - ice skating dinasours who dance the Bolero and then, at the end, one eats the other. Or spiders. Whatever is funniest on ice.

What was I saying again?