Wednesday, October 17, 2012

10 Things... About Talent

-Greg Manchess

   2nd oil painting, Castle of Chillon, Switzerland

My first attempt at oil painting was a complete failure. I tried to paint a sunset and had no idea how to mix paint. I thought it would just become what I was thinking. I threw my head in a pillow and screamed, then cried for two minutes. I sat up and realized that all the drawing I had done as a kid would not miraculously give me the skill to paint. I was going to have to learn it.

This really ticked me off. I didn’t want to have to go through the learning process again. I knew from teaching myself how to drum that it would not be easy or fun. But I really wanted to paint pictures. I wanted to know how to paint figures. Good figure paintings were the most interesting to me. If I could get good at the figure, I could paint anything from there.

I understood from that moment that I had no talent and I was going to have to manufacture it in order to learn to paint. This began my studies of neuroscience and the brain. I had to learn how to learn.

Talent is a myth.
There’s no evidence that talent actually exists. Nothing in the DNA studies points to some mysterious gene that can be identified as a talent for art, photography, painting, basketball, pinball, running, medicine, etc. Talent is built, not possessed. If it’s in the epigenetic material, it would’ve been there since the dawn of man. Clearly, Cro-Magnon man did not have a gene for ping pong.

You can’t feel it.
You only see the results. Your brain cannot retain the nerve memory of what it couldn’t do. Once you begin learning something, it feels like it’s always been there, even though, intellectually, we remember the practice. That’s why it feels like you just “always knew how to do it.” It’s also why people point to that feeling as if it were a gift.

Training over talent.
You don't have to trust what I say here. Do your own research. Or trust what pilots follow: Never trade luck for skill. You can wait for your muse to show up, or you can manhandle that muse to submit to your will. Never believe your talent will show up someday. It’s very likely it won’t. But if you train, if you go through the hard work of understanding and observing and practice, you won’t need it.

My muse is fickle. Most times when it shows up it’s an energy-sucking vampire slut. I carry a stake made from training.

Recognize skill for what it is.
Learn the difference between skill and fake knowledge. Yes, fake-it-till-you-make-it helps you learn, but for the love of Pete, know when you are faking and when you are actually learning. Practice is more than just going through the motions. It’s how we learn. At some point, having gone through the motions long enough, we start to get better, and then we innovate those motions.

Look talented.
Practice is the only way we actually build muscle memory. It’s built through the nerves, because memory is not stored in muscles. The brain drives muscles through nerve signals. That’s why brain injuries can cause us to forget how to walk. We have to retrain the brain. (If the muscles remembered, it would be a piece of cake for recovery.)

Let people think you have talent.
It’s great for getting work. Just don’t get pissed off like I do when people call me talented. It negates all the crazy long work I’ve done. Let the other guy need talent. Some people learn faster than others. They concentrate and train themselves to see trouble before it starts, but only because they’ve been through that trouble before, however small, and they record it. They remember what happened when mistakes were made and they correct for them. They make the very conscious effort to fail, correct, and move on.

If the other guy needs to believe that talent will rescue him from agony, let him. It only slows them down. You can eclipse that attitude with skill.

Great artists deny it.
Loads of creative people believe they have a gift for what they do. Frankly, they just have a poor memory for remembering that when they were young, they were training themselves to learn. I’ve followed quite a number of great creative people who will simply tell you they have no talent, never did, and had to work their arses off to get to where they are. Trust those guys.

Study neuroscience.
I’ve never thought talent existed and now science backs that up. There are great strides being made every day in learning how the brain works, and how it learns. And you can read everything about it. The field of neuroscience is at its sharpest cutting edge and we are going to benefit so much from it, we’ll likely forget where we learned it. About 40 or 50 thousand years of it.

Trouble is, we’ll just think we were ‘talented’ as a species anyway. Sigh.


  1. Interesting post! I'm not sure I agree with everything though, I certainly think that people are born with affinities for different things, that is not to say that there is a ping-pong gene or painting gene, but rather for example an affinity for creativity or seeing or coordination etc.

    I don't think that everyone starts as a blank sheet that can be molded into anything, we all have traits and personalities from our genes and I believe these affinities (or talent or whatever you want to call it) vary among people as naturally as different temperaments. But then of course even if something like talent exists it will only take you so far, hard work will always make the real difference.

    But this is just my humble opinion

    1. I don't really think the author is saying everyone is a blank slate. What he is saying is that no one has a skill (like painting or drawing or writing etc.) simply come to them. Genetics can only come into play in a very broad way. That means there are lots of things someone can be good at but at the end of the day they need to practice and refine those skills. You could be genetically predisposed to be a good runner but that won't make you an Olympic athlete.

    2. BINGO, Eric. Thanks for that. Nice clarification.

  2. Amen, Greg!

    The research of Anders Ericsson shows us how focused practice accounts for superior performance (and how we can use that to become better artists!) and Carol Dweck's research shows that believing in the primacy of talent can actually hurt your career and your mental health, while a belief in the primacy of effort, practice, and learning from failure will boost your chances of success and happiness.

    We stopped telling our children they're gifted or talented, and started congratulating them for working hard. INSTANT RESULTS in their school studies, and my 17yo daughter is already a better artist than I am.


  3. What a great post. Best thing I've read all day. Hell, maybe all year. I agree with every point. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about such concepts as "style", "taste" or "sensibility" in art. Innate or learned? Purely subjective?

  4. Two things (full disclosure... I'm a professor of chemistry, working musician, and hobby artist)
    1. I find these musings on talent to be applicable to any pursuit including the sciences... and I intend to share much of this with my organic and analytical classes.
    2. I read somewhere that you can be a "genius" at anything if you put in about 10,000 hours...
    Professor Carnrick dba "Arturo"

  5. Great post! I for one am definitely in the class of people who have zero talent for art but I've gotten better over the years through hard work and remembering to take the time to stop and think about where I'm at and how that's different from where I'm trying to be, then figuring out some steps to try and close that gap. I just got done reading The Talent Code By Daniel Coyle. It's subject is how building talent is done by the wrapping of our nerves in myelin, which helps to increase the speed and clarity of our nerve impulses. This takes time and concentrated effort, and ties in to the above comment about the theory of 10,000 hours of practice to master complicated tasks and skills. It's short on suggestion on how to implement in our day to day lives, but it gives a good outline of what's necessary to find ways to get the most out of the time we spend practicing.

  6. Replies
    1. Your work just keeps looking great, Travis!

      Something tells me you worked hard for it.

    2. LOL! Hah! It's never enough, pal.

  7. Talent is love. Whatever you love, you put time and energy into. Whatever you put time and energy into, you master.

    Man, have I mastered beer!

    1. No. Not always.
      I always loved to draw. One of the first thing one of my art teacher said about me is that in my drawing he could not see any love for them.

  8. This is great, totally agree but It's very hard to explain some people that there is no talent that even that person with no drawing skill could be great at it one day.

  9. I agree with everything you say here, Greg. Your insights are excellent! I learned early on that my fans did not want me saying I didn't have talent. So I shut up about it. Showmanship is also important.

    But I do think some aptitude helps if you want to be a visual artist. Good vision helps. I have an astigmatism that had me making distorted drawings for years until I pin-pointed the problem. But certainly, work and practice was all I needed. I've worked with other artists who had incredible visual memories - far superior to mine. And that helped them. I have a very bad memory and I had to train myself to look and see better - to build a visual storage system in my mind that would enable me to cling to important visual details. And I have been collecting visual reference for decades.

    And, it doesn't hurt if you are just a wee bit OCD. Personally, I can't walk away from something until I figure it out.

    1. Mark, physical attributes and certain mental problems can deter or enhance performance, no doubt. For instance, I'm not going to become an NBA basketball star any time soon. I'm 5'6". Just not going to happen.

      But more to the point: I don't give a rip for basketball. Could care less. I like having a ball to work with like handball or tennis etc. But I can't stand basketball. 'talent' there. : )

  10. Some people who don't or didn't have talent, because it doesn't exist:

    Michael Jordan
    Susan Boyle
    Jackie Evancho
    Albert Einstein
    Leonardo da Vinci
    The Beatles
    The list goes on...

    These people worked hard at their craft but their abilities came more naturally than others.

    Definition of talent:
    1. a special natural ability or aptitude: a talent for drawing.
    2. a capacity for achievement or success; ability: young men of talent.

    Wouldn't you say that "determination" could be categorized as a talent? Others might have given up after crying in that pillow, but you didn't! Heck, you wanted to give it a try in the first place. Not everyone wants to be a painter. But you do!

    1. Hey Anon: that's a great list. One that I use from time to time. But "natural ability" goes back into the myth stage. Like I said, if that's the case, then prehistoric people carried latent talents for ping pong, basketball, astronautics, etc. Doubt it. They might've been 'talented' with a stick or stone tool. : )

      You bring up a good point. I'm looking into "determination" which is a very ambiguous term that no scientist would use, but I'm curious about as well. Possibly "passion."? So far though, my research has shown that inspiration and ambition can be GROWN. It takes specific factors and the right environment, but when they are spot on, they are incredible.

    2. the caveman that invented the wheel or figured out how to make fire sure had a talent for figuring things out huh?

    3. Trial and error, A. Over and over again.

    4. I think the 'talent' is actually a combination of a natural 'born with it' desire, determination, and progressive development and sensitivity of the senses. You see better, hear better, etc.

  11. Thanks, all. I hope you look into this. There is much research out there on this, but most of us don't pay attention to it. If we do, we usually don't want to hear it, because it means that we can accomplish more than we realize is possible. That can be a real depressing point for many people who didn't follow their heart about something they love.

    Staffan: myths die hard. What you are supporting is what I'm saying is mostly made up. We feel something must be in there. But honestly, there's nothing to point to.

    Howard: So glad you mentioned Anders Ericsson and Carol Dweck! Their research is excellent and they write well about it. Also the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Your results with your kids is exactly what many other studies on education are finding. Fabulous stuff. Keep going with that. I think you'll find some astonishingly solid results.

    Arturo: Chime in with science any ol' time....please! But I must tell you that the 10, 000 hours thing has become a bit of a myth as well and misunderstood. Most people think it's just a matter of putting in the time.

    It's not. That is merely a guide. It has to be concentrated FOCUSED time, over those many hours. Every single time you practice has to have total focus or one just repeats the same rote sequence. Learning and challenging the brain to learn and grow takes more than just hitting a bucket of balls at the club once a week. If that's what Tiger Woods did, we wouldn't know him as the pro he is.

    Practice must be intentional, focused, and encounter failure. Failure is key. You must fail in order to correct.

    Perhaps I'll do some posts on Failure sometime soon. You guys'll love it. Why? Because no one talks about that in our field or many others. They think it's all about "whether you have it or you don't." And that's junk. If we educated with the notion of training vs magical talent, our schools would be amazing, and turning out even more amazing creatives.

    Thanks Robert for mentioning The Talent Code and Coyle's work. Also read: Talent Is Overrated, and The Genius In All of Us.

    Ask more questions guys....this subject is exciting because it's so full of potential: for growth.

    1. I suppose it might be a myth, like some people have stated here it can be quite insulting when someone thinks your art just popped up out of nowhere by naming it natural talent, not understanding all the hard work it really takes.

      The reason I keep thinking about having an affinity for something though, is that obviously some of us when we were young found it entertaining to draw whilst others found it much more intriguing to find out how to get to the highest branch in a tree. I suppose this could be called having an interest in something from a young age, but what does this interest come from? Since you have done some research in the talent area I'd love to hear what you think about this, Greg.

      Maybe there are two factors of importance to learn a skill, that of an initial interest and of determination to achieve something. I find what you wrote above about that ambition and inspiration can be grown very fascinating. I have experienced that myself, where investing more time makes you more passionate. The tricky question though is what comes first, the interest that makes you invest the time to grow determined as a child, or vice versa, the determination that creates an interest? What do you think?

    2. Thanks, Staffan! So glad you are fascinated about growing inspiration. I'm finding lots of stuff on that, and adding my own speculations.

      To answer quickly, we need to realize that these things don't proceed from one point of focus. It is multiple factors that add up to what we love to say is talent. What works for one individual doesn't necessarily work for another in quite the same way.

      What I'm saying is, you build your own talent (just using that label since it's easy). It can be from multiple factors. We're not looking for the egg vs the chicken, it's much much broader than that.

      And these things start EXTREMELY early in most cases, but can occur later in life, looking as if it was dormant for all that time and then the person "finally discovered" it. "Gee, I had a talent I never knew I had!"

      Inspiring students is not a finite method. Something I say to one student might not ring a bell, so to speak, until far down the road. Something I read today may not make sense to me until years from now.

  12. I have taught my students this same concept for a long time. I have always felt talent was a myth,and the idea of it was insulting to those that put in the time and effort to attain that level of skill.

    Howard: Your system of encouraging that sort of childhood development ought to be lauded and practiced by all. Big thumbs up.

    I find that there is a really strong opposition to the idea that talent is a myth. I think it's because those that feel they are not talented do not like the idea that they may have wasted some time or that they weren't putting in the full concentrated effort.

    I have often ended up in this argument with people that insist that I and those like me have had an easier time of learning thanks to our 'talent'.
    I like to use a quote that is written in the syntax of that heavily argued concept of talent, but really says what we are saying here.

    "We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents." -Bruce Lee

    Works every time.

    1. Dead on, Izzy.

      " I think it's because those that feel they are not talented do not like the idea that they may have wasted some time or that they weren't putting in the full concentrated effort."

      Exactly. It's very difficult to hear that. Suddenly my inner Rock Star says, "you mean I could've done that?? Dang!" Yes, that's right: ya coulda been the novelist, or actor, or opera singer, or baseball player, etc, that you always dreamt of becoming. Would you have been great? That would be up to you.

      I know this: I can train students to be really, really better painters, no question. Can I teach them to be great? That's a whole different endeavor. But----workin' on it!


  13. Inspirational post! Thanks! I'm still going to school and I'm not where I want to be, but I know if I keep working and pushing, I'll get there. I sometimes get frustrated when people say, "You're so talented", or "I couldn't do that, I can only draw a stick figure". Well, chances are they don't spend 10 hours or more a day drawing and painting and haven't been trying to learn to draw for 20+ years. I think that anything can be learned, we just need the desire to do so. I do think that it might come a little easier for some people....maybe not artists so much, but more like child prodigy musicians. But, when you hear those prodigies talk about what they do, that is all they do. They love music so much, that is all they want to do, so it becomes their life and who they are.

    1. Whoa....nice comment, Allison! And I really shouldn't go on and on about it here, but will try to keep this short.

      There are many prodigies out there whose brains are functioning on a different level than the majority. They are being studied because if we can find out what their abnormal brains are doing to achieve such crazy mental feats, then perhaps we can tap into the same realms. But make no mistake, the structure of their brains are different or damaged. That 'flaw' may be allowing them to do these things.

      But it says one thing clearly: the brain has the potential for far, far greater achievements than we give it credit for.

      Lastly, those musicians are learning early, but much of that stuff is fascinating because the instrument fits the child. You won't see the miracle 3 yr old cello player....they can't hold the instrument. And if talent is an across-the-board "special something" then, why don't we see miracle child investors? Writers? Physicians? Chemists? Tennis players?

      The physical attributes can determine much.

  14. Thank you, Greg. This is exactly what I needed to hear and it came at a time when I really needed to hear it.

  15. Agree with you 100%. It's good to know I'm not the only one that thinks that way about talent. I've always thought highly successful people must have been taught talent = myth from a very early age. Knowing there is no talent makes you realize it is up to YOU to get to where you want to be. No magical abilities are going to get you there. You aren't a special "Chosen" one. I also like that you differentiated between time & FOCUSED TIME in the comments. Huge difference there. Thank you for sharing your thoughts & experience.

  16. Hey Greg,

    thank you so much for this post!Hearing that is really encouraging an illuminating coming from a pro like you!Even the comments are important because reading them makes you feel not so dumb while you struggle with a face or a new technique...
    A question:
    how do you link tracing and deep practice?What would be the best way to use it?



    1. Tracing is magnificent practice, M! But ONLY if you are acutely tuned into training and paying attention every time you do it. EVERY time. Sharp focus. 100% aware. Otherwise, you're just tracing.

      Just as a golfer will watch a pro, or even a golf teacher gets behind you and helps you feel the swing, tracing is feeling the edges, the lines, the shapes of objects. But in order to learn it, you have to step away and draw something else similar in freehand.

      Make sense?

  17. I disagree with you about the talent! Talant is not some magical ability to wake up one morning and say "Hey I wont be a guitar player anymore- I'll be a painter" and paint a Mona Lisa. Talent is when you train hard , when u put a lot of work-just like the other 10 000 guys who r doing the same right now and yet to be among the top 10. Talent is when at 15 years Mike Tyson weighted like 90 kilos of pure dynamite and shocked the world. Do you think that you or me can go down the same path, do the same routine and same training as he did and become Iron Mikes ourselves? Do you think that with hard work we can become great runners? Some ppl are born with the genes and the phisics to be bigger,faster, stronger- they r not born with a gene for ping pong but with a gene for speed and reflexes and that makes them better in ping pong. Some of us have some wierd gene that helps us see colour or imagine shape in 3d easier (beleve me some guys cant imagine a cube...) and that makes us better in art. That is talent- that happy accident, that soup of genes that make you expecialy good at smth. It is up to every1 of us to find that smth and rly to work our arses off to be among the best, cause many other folks out there probably rolled the same genes and some have already realised it :D

  18. There is a hole worn into the kitchen floor of Micheal Jackson's house where he would practice his spin.

  19. Cool Post Gregg! I think the four key elements are; determination,observation, visual memory and questions what makes something what it is. It started for me when I was three years old and drew a horse (of course a blocky, dog like animal) but I included elements that I had already observed and remembered; like the mane,back bending rear leg joint, one hoof. People recognized it for what it was. My observations, visual memory and the all important question of what makes something unique unto itself. Thank you for your posts, they give us all alot of insights.

  20. Passion is what leads to mastery if it's pointed in the right direction. Those born with advanced cognition will go nowhere without it. Those with average cognition will achieve mastery through time fueled by passion. Passion drives the quest for knowledge. Which, applied through repetition, one can eventually achieve mastery.

  21. This post is excellent! I have been saying the same things for a while but didn't realize anyone else felt this way. One thing I would add is that when I was in art school I saw guys who were "talented" get tons of attention and 15 years later are no better now then they were in school. Other guys came into art school without the ability to draw a stick figure and with alot of hard work and reading, are now successful professionals.....

  22. ''Arturo: Chime in with science any ol' time....please! But I must tell you that the 10, 000 hours thing has become a bit of a myth as well and misunderstood. Most people think it's just a matter of putting in the time.''

    I agree that the commonly stated '10,000 hours' concept is misleading. Sure, put in the time and you will see results but you'll get to a point where you'll plateau out. I rather tell myself regulary 'Work Hard, Think Smart'. I've known people that have worked very hard all their lives and have gotten know where and really have nothing to show for all their efforts. No one can dispute that hard work is involved but you also have to think smart and use the failures to teach yourself. If your not willing to look at what you can do to improve on your failures then your going to take a long time to get to your destination. For me it's about increasing my learning curve as much as I can and hope to reduce that 10,000 hours down to 7,000 hours. Work hard, think smart!


  23. Excellent post. And I completely agree. I think desire (substitute passion if you like) is the common element in gaining excellence in any field. If you want something badly enough to put in the hours of concentration and effort to attain it you will at least get closer to what you desire. Everyone will not reach the same level because some begin to work at it earlier than others. Some may have access to tools and resources that others don't. But if you put in the time in the right way you are guaranteed to improve. "Practice makes perfect" is not quite true however. The right kind of practice makes perfect is closer. Thanks very much for all of your posts!

    1. New saying from Daniel Coyle: "Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect."

  24. Thanks again, Greg, for an interesting and thoughtful post. I am always glad to read what you have to tell us. I read a book recently called "The Outliers" that you might enjoy. Anyway, from an old lady's perspective, I am glad for the knowledge that I can learn new things...I just hope I am granted the time to do it! Melody

  25. Greg, have you ever read a book called The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin? I think you may find it interesting.

    I totally agree with what you are saying. Many successful people do. If you hear Will Smith talk about success he repeatedly states that he wasn't gifted, and that he only got to where he was through an insane work ethic. As a kid, he was apparently tasked with rebuilding a brick wall, and did so over the course of a year or something similar (don't quote me on the timeframe haha). He looks at all challenges now as "laying one brick at a time."

    It's interesting because I've actually been doubting my art and artistic ability of late, on the cusp of my graduation with a Bachelors in Illustration (the wrong time to do it!) This was something I probably needed to hear. Time to get back on the horse.

  26. An individuals aptitude to quickly gain particular skill sets, can be considered "talent". I mostly agree with this guy on the grounds that pretty much anyone can learn to do anything through training. you can even be trained on techniques to think more creatively.

    However, the intensity of inspiration and rate of comprehension depend on having an intangible, immeasurable human trait (like love) called talent. It's the difference between a highly-trained artist, and a visionary.

    1. Your denial of talent seems more like you're trying to find a reason for your own inadequacies. Your training can only take you so far, and your lack of creativity seems to be what sets you apart from the true artists of the world. Think about John Lennon.

    2. Exactly, the Beatles were no "Classically Trained". Like a caveman discovering fire, the Beatles heard music while growing up, trained themselves to have the skill to perform music, and had the TALENT to figure out how music works on their own and innovate within that realm.

    3. Great example....The Beatles. Always look into the backgrounds of highly "talented" creatives. You find many seeds of what pushes them.

      And it's never just's multiple factors working together.

  27. FINALLY!

    I'm so glad you wrote this, Greg. I loved hearing your thoughts about talent and stories of your own struggles at the TLC workshop last year, and I've always wanted to share them with other people. Now I can. =)

    This is going to help people more than you know.

    1. I hope so Carmen....but until this becomes widespread in our artistic attitudes, take advantage of what you can gain by rejecting the notion that magic waits inside your head to rescue you from your agony. : ) Mine, too.

      Go after it. Research and experiment and push. It's the method that honestly works well.

      Glad to have you at IMC, too!!!

    2. Duuuuh.....I meant TLC! sheesh....

  28. Completely agree, but ... where is the sunset painting? The painting of Castle of Chillon is far too good to be a suitable eye-catcher for this post ;-)

    1. LOL! The sunset painting was scraped immediately! I kept it for YEARS, and then one day, I painted over it. Not a very good painting either, mind you. Maybe that particular canvas is haunted! Haunted by all the artists who died waiting for their talent to show up.....: )

      Thank you for the compliment on the Castle ptg, but is it rotten for a painting. Look at all the straight black shadows: I didn't know how to mix shadow colors. I drew pretty well by then so I could capture the shape of the castle, but the rest of the ptg is not so good. What you are seeing is someone who managed to keep the drawing in place while I added color. This I learned from DRAWING, not painting. I also figured at that stage that maybe if I faked the skill to paint, it would look like I knew what I was doing.

      And years later, I found out that faking it---by mimicing the color I saw in the reference---is exactly the method I needed to make it look good. Later on, that turns into skill.

  29. I agree with your article and it's something I've believed to be true as well. I had a very natural aptitude for drawing when I was young and then went to college as an adult and got a degree in Studio Art but never reached the skill level I wanted. I worked quite hard on my degree, but in the long run I was studying the wrong subject matter for what I wanted to learn. Since then I've worked as a graphic designer and have always had good technical skills but struggled with creativity. I've heard many people argue the issue as talent or no talent. I think it's actually passion or no passion. I was less creative as a designer because it was a job not a passion or love. I'm now studying Illustration because I love it and I'm passionate about it. So now it's just a matter of focusing and investing the proper amount of time and energy to get out of it what I'm looking for. Too many people use the word talent to elevate their own status or ego or put someone else down. Drive, passion and work ethic should be admired because those qualities rolled into one package are more rare than natural aptitude.

  30. Thank you for sharing this Greg, your insights and amazing ability continue to inspire so many (including me!)

    I like to tell people that I met you once, and when you looked at a doodle I did of you, you commented, "I look like someone from Firefly!"

    I couldn't believe it, everything you said that night made you so much more amazing

    1. Thanks, Stewart!

      I'm getting better at being able to talk about what I learn. This takes years as well. You are literally watching an artist grow in skill levels.

      That skill is where the 'magic' comes out that people point to and call "talent."

  31. Waiting until there were 40+ comments led to an interesting observation. The artists agree with Greg and the rest don't. It's like Izzy and others have said, those that don't want to put in the work for something dream up the concept of 'talent' to give themselves a handy excuse as to why they could *never* have become an artist; a musician; a poet. The sad part is, those folks will never be convinced they are wrong unless you can flip the tables on them.

    The next time someone talks of your 'talent', flip it back to them by saying you admire their 'talent' in [insert career]. Once they say that doesn't take talent, you can hit them with their own comments. Sooner or later they'll admit that being a lawyer; plumber; truck-driver took hard work, not talent, you might convince them your artwork is the same. We chose to work hard at being an artist, they chose [insert career].

    It's not talent, it's training and we all, every one of us, have trained and worked hard at something to get better.

    Oh, and Greg, thanks for having the courage to post your early painting. You have balls of steel, my friend.

    1. Interesting observation, Michael. Thanks! took me years of trail and error and building confidence to be able to have 'balls of steel'. I can assure you, THAT is something learned as well.

      But hey---thanks again!

  32. Great post Greg and as many others, I wholly agree with everything you said. Here's a link to an episode of the Big Picture Science podcast that deals with the concept of talent that you and others might find interesting:

  33. I completely agree with you, Greg. But I have found that it can turn into a rather heated discussion that does not lead anywhere, so nowadays I do not openly claim that there is no such thing as talent.

    What I say (and I feel that there's really no way to argue with this) is that hard work seems to be a lot more important than talent.

    While you can certainly make up for lack of talent with a lot of hard work, no ammount of talent can spare you the hard work if you want to be good.

    Awesome post, as always, Greg!

  34. I can't buy this... I agree that "talent" is overrated, and hard work is what makes a person great. I was a very good drawer for my age at 6, and even moreso at 12. But it's when I went to Art School, and spent countless hours working on my portfolio in the subsequent years when my art took a true step forward. Lots of hard work, solving problems, and getting a routine. Problems that once took me ages to see on the page would jump out at me immediately. I'd say hard work is responsible for the majority of my success. But I do think I had a natural aptitude for it.

    Caveman may not be born to be pong players, but one could have much better hand-eye coordination than another. A caveman with good hand eye coordination may be good at pong, but the one with good coordination AND a 36 inch vertical leap will have a greater aptitude for basketball than his pong playing counterpart. Of course, one w/ less natural skill but who spends 6 hours a day doing bball drills could surpass them both.

    If there is no "talent" how do you explain Mozart? He was composing at age five - clearly he had an insane talent for music. Some minds are built around the visual - observing line and color and contrast and being able to duplicate that with a pen. Some people often say they can't draw a straight line, as if hand eye coordination has something to do with art and becoming a great artist. I think it's more to do w/ how the brain sees and interprets the world.

    Likewise, great athletes in baseball, basketball, football all have great hand eye coordination to react to the ball, make accurate throws, etc (not taking into account the physical gifts of height, strength, speed). I could drop my pencil and devote the next 5 years of my life playing basketball and I'll be limited by my coordination. I would improve in fundamentals and stuff, and be a much better basketball player, but you could find a 9 year old that can handle the ball much better than me just because that's how his brain works.

    It's interesting, and I agree with you that talent is way overblown in art. I've come a long way, largely do to sweat and hard work. But certain people are more talented in certain areas, and it's just because we're all different.

    1. Mozart's father was a composer who mentored him into his 20's. He did write melodious work, but nothing masterful until he was an adult.

    2. Okay - but bottom line I could play basketball every day for a few years to try and figure out how to handle the ball deftly with my left hand. A child with better hand eye coordination could do it in months (and to better results). He doesn't have the natural born "talent to play basketball" but he has a brain that his better wired to handle any variety of motor skills. And I likely have a brain more suited to observe and duplicate what I see via art.

      I don't disagree with Greg completely, just in the sense that talent is a myth. Hard work is SUCH a big part of what made me the artist I am today. Way more than talent...But I do have a talent for it. And I believe talent exists, though not in the form of having a "basketball gene", but in having a brain that's more suited to handling those fine motor tasks.

    3. Those fine motor skills are built, Keith, not ingrained to a high level.

      I could prattle on a bunch about Mozart. Look into his life. He was trained by TWO people: his father (who was an excellent teacher in his day and developed a method for learning) and his older sister, whom M's father started to train, then dropped to push Mozart because back then, the bread-winner of the family was the male. He was hedging his bets.

      Many experts agree that Mozart was good, but not phenomenal until the last handful of years of his tragically short life. (Read what Mozart says about it as well....he didn't 'believe' in talent either.) He early work is mostly copied compositions from other professionals. He didn't start to innovate until he was in his late teens. Which is, ironically, a repeated pattern.

      If you really want some stimulating reading, check into Beethoven. Beaten as a child to play at the clavier. Sent to bed, only to be woken up, middle of the night, and beaten back to the instrument. And this happened routinely when he was FOUR.

      Got a reason to get good? Try that method.

      There's more to this than a "special something" that lingers in the ether waiting to drop into our specific chemical makeup.

    4. Forgot to mention that Mozart's sister helped train the boy as well.

  35. Thanks for this thought-provoking and insightful post, Greg. The number and nature of the comments are proof that you're making people think ;) I have an interesting insight to share, regarding the "Parable of the Talents" found in Matthew 25 in the Bible, specifically verse 20, "And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability…" Talents here refer to RESPONSIBILITIES given, not to the ABILITY each servant had previously developed. In other words, today we often think of the "talent" as the gift, but what is being taught is that responsibilities are given for the application of one's own developed abilities (something I learned from Sal Velutto, a pro comic artist, when I interviewed him for my blog,

    1. I have to add a balancing thought to my statement above. I enjoy how humbling and empowering this post's content is. Humbling because it destroys the notion of a superior or single "identity" being taken by someone who believes that the summation of his or her life is in "being an artist." Art is wonderful, but it is just one small slice of a full life. The elitism unfortunately found in art can be humbled by these thoughts and a fuller man or woman can come out of this. It is conversely empowering to remember or realize that anyone currently lacking professional skill (but possessing fervent, passionate interest) CAN become what he or she dreams of becoming.

    2. I agree with this totally and have used this allegory before. If you don't take care of what you have and work at it, it will become nothing. Relying on past work is the worst thing you can do.

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  37. The word 'talent' is such a loaded word. I think people are born with different physical and mental traits. Some are useful for certain tasks while others are detrimental.

    To me 'skill' is someones ability to execute a particular task and often has as its largest component practice and experience. Beyond that, each effort (a painting in this case) is usually judged independent of the person and doesn't always reflect that persons highest skill level. So we have many people starting from different places, with different skill levels, and displaying work of varying personal levels of quality.

    If you combine that with the subjective nature of each viewer's appreciation of a particular piece of art, it seems impossible to measure someones 'talent'. Regardless if you think talent exists or not, it is more useful to focus on the things that will help each artist improve and to meet their individual goals.

  38. SO many good comments....from everyone! Thanks!

    I'll try to keep this short.

    Let's start with the length of work. It's not about how long your practice, Keith. It's about how accurate you train yourself during each focused session of work. So Rick is right: think smart.

    Hear that again: you must be sharply attuned to your training IN THE MOMENT to correct failures immediately. When someone says they "have been working hard all their lives" begs the question of how accurately have they trained.

    There is much much research on this. It depends on how much a person trains accurately. If all you do is the same rote movement over and over again, guess what the brain records? You MUST challenge your brain in order to grow the myelin it takes to improve nerve response time.

    There is no other way. I refer you back to the post: NEVER trade luck for skill. If you’d like to wait for ‘talent’ to show up, that’s your prerogative, but it may never show up.

    A master martial artist told us students all the time: “give the training about 10 years. If after that you are still struggling and not so good, then and only then, think about giving up.”

    That’s about 10,000 hours anyway, depending on how much time is put in. But the key to the phrase, the unwritten gist is this: keep going. One cannot know how well they are doing or going to do until they have exhausted their efforts to TRY.

    The Beatles are an excellent example, Anon! They put in tons of hours, focused hours into their playing. THEN, when they had been doing Elvis and Chuck Berry, etc for several years, they started to innovate on those songs and began writing in earnest. It took them about 10 years of focused effort and intense writing to get from their beginnings to Sgt. Pepper, which is consider by many to be their masterpiece album.

    This pattern shows up again and again in the studies. Another thing that happens is talent hotbeds, as Daniel Coyle calls them. Look at the music that was coming out of one town in the UK in the 60’s. The number of bands feeding into that hotbed is remarkable. Not London, not other towns....LIVERPOOL.

    I hope you all will not stop the research. Do it for you. It will inspire you, and if you follow it, you’ll do so very much better.

  39. I might have to save this article as a QR code to hand out to people. I always have the same back and forth with people.
    Them: "You're so talented"
    Me: "Actually, I just work really hard and have been learning to do this since before I can remember. It's all effort."
    Them: "Well yeah but you've got a talent for it"
    Me: "yeah... ok... talent... sure, thanks"

    1. Yep, Cas.....I've had to just acknowledge it most times. I recognize it's an efficient word to describe a lengthy process, so I just agree half the time.

      Bringing up this idea of Talent Myth can get heated, but only from those that don't look at it much, don't research it, don't pay attention, don't paint or create or sing or dance or write or act, and really need validation in some way to be 'special.'

      It's a hard myth to bury.

  40. Great post!

    When I was a really much, much younger I was really into the idea of talent, that word seemed to be thrown around quite a lot.

    But, things changed a lot growing up, I realized the reason I thought I was even just a little above average when I was younger was because I drew and practiced, a lot, and it was what I loved to do, and I was just putting in the mileage without realizing it as a kid. I don't think I had any real advantage over any other person, I just couldn't see myself doing anything else.

    Hard work and skill will eventually trump any "predisposition." That's why its so important to keep working, and not get complacent, I've known artists who were considered below the pack in school, who worked extremely hard for their skills, and now are considered "talented." Even if they weren't "talented" to begin with.

    1. Good for you, Ying! Sounds very similar to my own beginnings.

      Later, I had a friend in art school that, when he started school, was pretty clumsy in his drawing, not so good. But in our friendship we challenged each other, drove each other. By our fourth year in college, I was racing to keep up with his progress. Fascinating!

      Also, when I applied to many art schools, I was turned down by all of them, except one. And they said my portfolio was at such a level that I was accepted "on probation." That meant I had to earn a 'C' average in order to stay in school. Pretty lousy, I suppose.

      I came from the trenches and built my way up.

    2. Well, I think talent exist in nature.
      I drew and drew since I was little, but at art school, I was very below average in my drawing skills.

  41. I couldn't disagree more.My Dad, my mom, myself, my daughter,my great grandfather,all artist with no training at all. We all just have an ability to do what we do. I my self started at 2 and 1/2 years old. None of us do it for money, fame or praise, but because we are compelled to create.

    1. I don't think anyone who's put in hundreds of thousands of hours like you or Manchess would say anything like this. I would LOVE to see this work as well.

    2. Well said. Surely without training, your drawings aren't perfect, but I can imagine. i already meet people like you.

      Example, when this girl draw this was just a beginner. She started to draw about that year.

  42. When most people talk of "talent" what they actually are seeing in these "talented" individuals is intelligence.

    While I agree to a certain measure with your assumptions about "talent" not being inherent but rather learned, I do not believe all people are born with equal possibility for achievement as far as intellect, intellect that with proper training and nurture can grow into what most people regard as "talent".

    To be blunt, there are wide gaps, at birth, among intellects in the human species. I was lucky enough to be born with a IQ in the high 120's, this, pared with my near photographic memory regarding shapes and objects (never numbers or words) has allowed me to progress as an artist faster and farther than many of my classmates and friends.

    I was not taught to be intelligent.

    I had no formal education past the 8th grade, yet still managed to enter University based on my SAT scores. To boil it down even further, perhaps it is a more acute memory that many people regard as "talent".

    There are many people that, at birth, have much lower I.Q.s, and while they may have a great environment growing up (I did not) and go to the best private schools ( I did not) they will struggle their whole lives to learn even the most basic of artistic, mathematic or rhetorical formulas.

    To sum up, while a good education, environment and access to top notch learning materials can get someone a long way down the path to artistic success, it takes a competent mind to bring all these factors together and form them into what many call "talent".

    I say this not as a derogatory "dig" and those who are not as intelligent, (and certainly having a great mind is no guarantee for success as many brilliant people end up accomplishing nothing), but rather I am just pointing out the facts no one else seems ready to say, namely that those who are born with a higher intellect than most, if mixed with an access to learning resources and the desire to reach a certain goal will always have an advantage over those born with a lower level of intelligence, a great often insurmountable advantage.

    Finally, while it is certainly fashionable and politically correct to tell every last person they can be Mozart or Leonardo da Vinci if they practice long and hard enough, if they read the right books, watch the right instructional videos and go to the right workshops, if they just try hard enough and long enough they can do it, it is simply not true.

    Some people, even given all this, will never get there, they can not, no matter what they do. They simply are not, nor ever will be, intelligent/"talented" enough to pull it off.

    I finish by saying this, I am not a genius, and reading my poorly worded, and doubtless error filled, statement above should be more than ample evidence of this fact.

    I was however born with, BORN with, a good mind, a sharp mind and a clear memory in regards to shapes and objects and pictures. Many people are not born with these innate abilities. They just are not. This does not make them less as people, it just makes them different than myself and many other talented artists.

    There is, in this modern age, an entire multi million dollar industry built around telling these people that they can be something they have no possible ability to be. Many of them will waste years of their lives in frustration and futile efforts, and unless they sink themselves into complete self delusion as to the quality of their art, (many do decend to this level of delusion, small co-op art shops are full of the "art" they churn out) they will never reach their goals as an artist. Ever.

    Thank you, that is all.

  43. --Thank you, that is all.

    No, thank YOU, anonymous for pointing to the perfect example of what I mean by self-determining your path in life. You obviously believe you were born intelligent and absolutely no one, NO ONE taught you how to be smart.

    Then, your brain is different from ours and we should study you.

    But before that I think it would be good for you to take a look in depth at the research, and especially read up on the entire history of Intelligent Quotient testing.

    IQ tests were invented as a general way to understand where a student was in their ability to grasp the information that the system had been teaching for awhile. It was a way of actually showing authorities that people were NOT born intelligent or stupid and proved that when given the right training, intelligence can be grown through education and practice. This study was made because kids, low income kids specifically, were getting the educational shaft until the IQ test proved that the average individual could train his brain. It was believed at the time that intelligence was only a factor in high income sections of society. It was believed that poorer people were that way because they were inherently stupid.

    Don't believe me. Believe the guy who invented it, Alfred Binet, who said very famously, but ignored by most people who thought they were born that way: "Some assert that an individual's intelligence is a fixed quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism." He said this 100 years ago, in 1909.

    Since that time, our species has managed to raise the intelligence level of virtually EVERYONE over the last century.

    Again, check the research. If you have a 120 IQ rating, this should be an easy thing for you.

    But to assume that most people will turn out to be morons who couldn't possibly follow their passions, and who patently buy in to goofy seminars about how to get rich quick or become famous motivational speakers is discounting a boatload of research.

    Last question....won't you show us some of your art? We'd love to see! That's what we do here at Muddy!

    1. I am well aware of the reasons for, history of and inherent troubles with the Indigence Quotient tests, and using them as an example to demonstrate intelligence was a poor choice on my part, and honestly left my argument wide open for attack.

      The IQ test, its' history, its' reasons for being created and its' current status in the field of neuroscience are all immaterial to my premise.

      Forget IQ tests.

      In an art application, are you saying that there is zero percent difference between my friends child, who at the age of four years old was drawing three dimensional rooms, with perspective and objects receding in size placed in that room in relation to their distance from the viewer, and some one like my classmates in University, who I saw struggle for months trying to draw something as simple as a box in proper perspective, struggle to the point of tears, and never master it?

      At four years old my friends' child had grasped a concept I have seen people 20 years older try over and over again to grasp and yet still fail.

      Perspective is my nemesis as well, and this child, who I know for a fact had 0% artistic training of any kind,( the drawings where crude to be sure, but clearly depicted people and objects such as chairs and tables in perspective) at 4 years old was nearly as good at perspective as myself at 22.

      What the evidence supports is that there is a wide sliding scale as to inherent intelligence and ability, the majority fall in the center, with the ability, through training, education and practice to grasp 98% of concepts and skills. There are however around 10% at either end of the scale, the 10% on the high end have a far easier time grasping concepts and their applications in general, those on the low end have a far more difficult time.

      My question is this, are you really saying this is not true? Are you really saying that all human beings are born with the same potential, it just has to be nurtured properly and we would all be the same?

      If you are really saying there is no difference between myself and this child, between Bach and Jessica Simpson or between G.W.Bush and J.F.K, no difference at all between say Steve Jobs and "Mama" from the hit show "Here comes Honey Boo Boo", that there is no nature, it is all nurture, everyone starts with the same tools it just takes practice and education and we are all the same, if that is what you are really saying.........

      I will have to politely disagree, and I would not be alone in my disagreement.

      As a side note my friends child scores far beyond my score of 128 on the IQ test, near genius level in fact. No surprise to me.

      Finally, I was not saying that "most people will turn out to be morons who couldn't possibly follow their passions, and who patently buy in to goofy seminars about how to get rich quick or become famous motivational speakers", not at all.

      I was speaking very specifically about the thousands of people with no aptitude for art at all, or at least very minimal aptitude, who are told from infancy that they can do it! They can be just as good as Leonardo da Vinci or J.S. Sargent!

      All they have to do is keep trying! Keep buying online courses and going to $2,000 workshops!

      Someday they will get there! These folks often descend into a impenetrable cocoon of false praise and long dead mummified dreams, secure in the warm words of so many for so long that they never do an honest self assessment and realize they are not great artists and may never be, they may be great people, and may be just awesome at any one of a thousand other skills. But they are not great artists, for some reason this is not for them, they should try something else.

      Also your last three paragraphs skewed sharply towards underhanded sarcasm and borderline rudeness, with insinuations regarding my intelligence and artistic ability. There is no need for that, lets be civil.


    2. One final thought, If what you are saying is correct, what quality do I posses that has led me to educate my self through high school, (and I really mean that, I got no formal education of any kind past the 8th grade, not till I entered University) get into University and keep a 3.0 G.P.A, and finally begin to scratch a tentative hold in the world of professional art?

      What makes me different from so many of the people I grew up with, who had the same kind of education, if not better, who lived in the same kind of environment as I did, though often significantly more wealthy, who by all accounts had more of every kind of everything from emotional support at home, to money to connections, yet some of them are homeless, some are in prison and many still live at home, unable or unwilling to launch themselves into real life.

      What has put me into the place I am now, as shaky and tentative as it may be, yet so many of them have fallen back, halted or failed? If not intelligence then what?

      I am honesty asking, no irony at all.

      If not intelligence then what? Why am I where I am and they are not? Furthermore, why are some who I know personally and have for years so far ahead of me when they try half as hard? Is it luck? Fate? Morality? Determination?

      I have always chalked it up to the fact I was "a bright kid, sharp as a tack", but I am willing to consider that I have been wrong.

      Honestly tell me, what sets me apart from my old University classmate who works at Taco Bell and still lives at home at 25 years old if not intelligence / "talent"?

    3. "Honestly tell me, what sets me apart from my old University classmate who works at Taco Bell and still lives at home at 25 years old if not intelligence / "talent"? "

      Anecdotal stories about child prodigies or expressing opinions regarding nature vs nurture are perfectly fine for conversations, but they're not hard evidence of anything, are they? It's easy to make assertions, particularly when doing so anonymously on-line...but where's your proof? Post your name, post your work, and your last question can be answered. Steer us to your website or blog or page at deviantArt or wherever. Without any supporting evidence the only things any of us have to go by are your posts...and that's not good enough. Please: let's see your art.

    4. I understand your argument, but I think that you're using a lot of very separate issues to make your point.

      Firstly, I'm not questioning your intelligence as I know very little about you, but it sounds to me that what got you through school and brought you your successes in life has been determination, motivation or will power which are possessed by many people of differing intellect or IQ level.

      As you've mentioned the child and the perspective drawings and your own struggle with perspective... I think many of us have our strengths and weaknesses. I myself have always had problems with drawing the figure in perspective and when I see people do it with ease I often think their brain must work different than mine, but the truth is the vast majority of them have spent more time and focused more energy into it and are therefore rightly better than me. Now obviously your friend's child probably hasn't spent more time practicing perspective than you(or anyone else) but it's unlikely that child has a grasp on many of the visual principles you've mastered and just happens to have a natural aptitude for something that frustrates you and therefore it stands out to you.

      Everybody learns at different rates and because one learns faster than another doesn't make that person more intelligent or necessarily have a higher potential for mastery of a particular skill. It just means they're able to learn certain subjects faster than others. It's well known and accepted that many people give up drawing as children because they see another child's drawing and think theirs is inferior. Which is about lack of confidence, not because they were born without the capacity to draw.

      The people you speak of that are doing the expensive seminars and are failures as artists and you say they'll never be any good... maybe they're learning in a way that doesn't suit them or maybe they simply are looking for a different end outcome out of their artistic skills than you. There are many people that want to develop their skills so they can paint water color landscapes and acrylic cows or just something pretty and utilitarian, because it makes them happy. They have no interest in impressing people with complex concepts or photo real portraits. They just want to create something. Now if their motivation were different then the overall potential for the level of mastery would increase as well. Because they would need an increased skill set to achieve their goal.

      You're obviously an intelligent person, I just think you need to recognize how many different factors contribute to someone's potential for artistic skill.

      Not sure how well I made my point, but it's late and that's my two cents. At the end of the day it's not something people have to agree about but it is certainly an interesting topic.

  44. Highly educating post, indeed! For even if people might not become convinced or come to agree completely, they are still left with plenty of references, researches and articles to explore and to come to their own mind on the subject.
    Can't say that I'm totally agree or that I changed my mind on the matter after the post - but neither I'm in need to, since if I even might believe in 'talent' I consider it being a 'poor choice of word' to designate a complex of all those properties and deeds discussed here over. And ofcourse I don't think that 'talent' in the sense of what people commonly put in this word is anyhow crucial or even a primary thing to be successfull in any field. Those affinities are just a support for the determination, focus and efforts over time.
    Reading all those examples about The Beatles or Mozart made me come to recall a more contemporary and dare I say much closer to all MC readers (and possibly authors) example. I don't know why I think that this should be familiar to every artist on the Net, but still want to mention it: I'm talking about the "Journey of an Absolute Rookie" from forums. If you haven't seen it - just google up the phrase and it will be the first result. It might take some time and efforts to browse through all those pages of the thread, but hey, we ARE talking about efforts and time here :) For short - it's a blog/sketchbook of a guy with virtually now starting art skills who devoted himself a couple of years ago to become an artist and to record his progress publically, so you simply might witness his progress with all failures, efforts, life issues and accomplishments. I think, in that blog there's no way to point with one's finger and say "That's talent!"
    It's devotion.

  45. "This really ticked me off. I didn’t want to have to go through the learning process again."

    So far I have read this post up until this point and already you are stating exactly what I am feeling. Today I had some kids coming over for a drawing lesson. One of them said he wanted to learn to draw horses and I don't know anything about horses or how to draw them. But I sat down this morning and learned, and then relearned how to do it in a basic style that I could show to a seven year old. But my first thought was... " I didn’t want to have to go through the learning process again."
    Obviously you are stealing my thoughts Gregory Manchess. Cut it out.

  46. To Gregory and Anonimous: Finally someone that's saying loudly what i thought for a life.

    I don't believe that some individual cannot do something because he's less intelligent than another though. I do believe that in order to learn to do something like to be an artist you have to learn to be intelligent. And this is something that can be learned without doubts.

    In my entire life there was always someone that was saying that i am a very gifted or talented person for art but i remember what i was when i started to do art... i was a complete disaster (and i have books that can prove that... locked in a secret location obviously). I had to work through the process of becoming good and i had to learn how to learn to draw before anything else.

    But there's something i always answer to those persons that thinks that i woke up a morning and i was good at drawing... i always answer that my talent is diligence and thanks to that i'm able to learn everything that i want to learn, not just drawing.

  47. What about savant syndrome? ( Some of their "talents" are far beyond what is possible for a normal person to achieve, regardless of the effort they put in.
    I don't think its unreasonable to believe that some people are born with different levels of innate potential in certain area's, and its that potential that we call talent.
    Savants may be at the extreme end of the scale, but maybe all people are born with differing levels of what they have, just in a much milder way for the majority of the population?
    Its not that hard work isn't the most important factor, but I do think some people get more bang for their buck in terms of what they get out of the time they spend learning a skill. I can't back any of this up, it just the first thing that came to mind after reading the article and some of the comments.

    1. The most common "savants" possess abilities considered "splinter skills," which consist primarily of obsessive memorization (of trivia, statistics, lists, maps, measurements, etc.).

      "Talented Savants" are those, according to the Wisconsin Medical Society study, " whom musical, artistic, mathematical or other special skills are more prominent and highly honed, usually within an area of single expertise, and are very conspicuous when viewed against their overall handicap. The term Prodigious Savant is reserved for those very rare persons in this already uncommon condition where the special skill or ability is so outstanding that it would be spectacular even if it were to occur in a non-handicapped person. There are probably fewer than 50 prodigious savants living worldwide at the present time who would meet this high threshold of special skill."

      So, as you say, savant syndrome is at the extreme end of the scale in this discussion, particularly since the syndrome itself is rare, but...have you ever heard of a savant who could create and not merely imitate? I don't know of any successful painters who could, once the evidence is examined, truthfully be described as "savants," but that doesn't mean there haven't been or aren't any now: I just don't know who they might be. It's one thing to be able to hear a song or see an artwork or view a disassembled motor and be able to replicate it, but another to be the originator of the music or sculpture or engine.

      The creation of anything—either artistic, scientific, or mechanical—always is the result of thought, study, and hard work--with many failures and false starts along the way.

    2. There are savants that can create. Those are, most likely, savants with neurotypical mind and extreme talent.
      Is instead normal that, somebody would copy before using creativity.

  48. Allow me to state, yet again, that I am NOT talking about what you are attempting to describe.

    Anonymous, the post is not about absolutes as you present them. It IS about a more general sense of how we learn and that our efforts can be enhanced if we learn how to learn and utilize an open-minded (lol!) positive attitude.

    This post is mainly for students and working artists who come here to learn more and express their ideas and struggles and this post is meant to help with that, not completely solve it. The struggle to achieve is key to the learning process.

    All people, everyone can be taught to get better at the things they do or desire to do. This is not about teaching someone to be great, it's about teaching interested students to be skilled. And that is a learned process.

    Your comments are about the famous Bell Curve, which has been practically dismissed as a viable measure within the field. I am not talking about savantism, and have clearly stated that these folks are being studied profusely so that we might be able to understand how they do what they do. Hopefully, we might gain the abilities to train our brains to learn like that. To enhance our current state of intelligence. I have stated that their brains are clearly structured differently, and are also examples of the potentials our brains can achieve. Indeed, they are working examples of the brain in a state of extreme functioning! Wow! Might we not achieve this some day?

    There's been no mention of sarcasm here, save for within your lengthy comments, and none meant to be expressed. If you took it that way, I'm sincerely sorry as your perspective is warranted for this discussion.

    But I implore you to study the research. There is a LOT of it, before you use your own observations to express facts. And please reread the post. I think you may be 'off topic' a little bit.

    So....I'm also asking you to let us know a little more about you. Show us some work, or show us what you mean when you say you are an accomplished artist. We love art here, as you can see! I've shown, through my own example, a very limited skill set. We'd really love to see your example of not having to learn about painting.

    And thanks to everyone once again for the fabulous comments!

    1. I do genuinely wish that any one of you would answer my question.

      The question being, what makes us different from each other?

      Why can children from the same environment go in such opposite directions in life? What sets you apart from the guy on the corner begging for change?

      You can deconstruct my arguments all day, but if you do not offer any real alternative then I am forced to wonder why not?

      The undeniable fact remains, there IS a difference between you and the guy on the street, between Albert Einstein and Flava Flav, between Louie Pasture and Lindsey Lohan. It all comes down to this, what sets one individual apart from others. My argument is not anecdotal, the evidence it around us every single day in every person we meet.

      On the one hand you argue that we can get anywhere we want if we just try hard enough and educate ourselves enough, on the other hand you say we are all the same in every respect as far as potential for growth.

      And yet the undenighable, irrefutable fact is that in life some of us rise, and some sink like a stone never to recover. So, what is it? What sets us apart? All other things being equal why will some of us end up as successful artist and some end up as street corner heroin addicts? Just tell me what it is.

      I have a sibling who has gone in and out of homelessness and drug addiction for the past 12 years, tell me, do we just need to get them a better education and all will be right? Or is there a fundamental difference between them and myself?

      Some would call it "talent", determination, intelligence, resilience, "Luck", true grit or any other number of other qualities. But admitting to anyone of those, even admitting they exist at all makes your whole argument collapse, because anyone of those would set that person apart from other people in a way that would aid their success.

      The high irony of your statements is this, you state we all have the same potential, we all can grow into what ever we like, there is no inborn quality of intelligence or aptitude that sets anyone apart from anyone else, then you ask to see my artwork, as a way to somehow negate my argument by pointing out the flaws in my work, if not publicly then at least to your selves (See, he has no leg to stand on, his art is sub par.), the very act of doing so would tear down every argument you just made.

      According to your premise it wouldn't matter if my art was the worst art ever made, I would still be as good as you, I just haven't put in enough TIME yet, enough education and classes, just haven't found that magic talisman that will unlock my limitless potential. (sigh) Guess I got to keep searching.

      I understand it is risky for you as professionals to put any controversial opinion out there in print, I do, trust me. The internet is like a pool of dark water with unknown depths, you start splashing around on top enough and there is no telling what unholy creatures may rise from the depths bent on destruction, for no other reason other than you caught its' eye. At this point there is no way I can post who I am and my art work, I wish I could, but at this point it would be most unwise.

      Feel free to respond, but this is my last comment, I do love both your work, and most of the things posted on Muddy Colors are both instuctional and intertaining, I will continue to be a reader, though I will think three times befor I let myself get this carried away by an comment thread. :)

      Thankyou, that is all.

    2. O, and one final thing, show me where I ever said a person, myself or any other, does not have to work at art to become great?

      ll I am saying is that some of us have a leg up on others when it comes to art and other skills, that "smarts" or "talent" or some other inborn quality sets us apart.

      You say this is in no way true.

      That is the real point being talked about here.

      I have been taking classes and educating myself through blogs like Muddy Colors since around age 16, and I already mentiond going to University in Art. Come on!

      I have sold 10 original paintings in the last year and painting is my only job. Does that make me a professional? You tell me.

    3. " I was lucky enough to be born with a IQ in the high 120's, this, pared with my near photographic memory regarding shapes and objects (never numbers or words) has allowed me to progress as an artist faster and farther than many of my classmates and friends." -Anonymous

      I don't think Greg or Arnie were baiting you. You claimed to progress quickly because of your inborn intelligence and photographic memory. The artists on Muddycolors have taught hundreds of students, they'd probably have a good grasp on what a fast progression is, regardless of your current level of artistic faculty.

    4. "Why can children from the same environment go in such opposite directions in life? What sets you apart from the guy on the corner begging for change?

      And yet the undenighable, irrefutable fact is that in life some of us rise, and some sink like a stone never to recover. So, what is it? What sets us apart? All other things being equal why will some of us end up as successful artist and some end up as street corner heroin addicts? Just tell me what it is."

      These are gigantic questions, Anonymous, and we all embrace them. But putting the solution off to “being intelligent or not” or “being talented or not” just doesn’t quite answer that question. I’m not interested in magic. I’m interested in discovery. So are art students.

      "you state we all have the same potential, we all can grow into what ever we like, there is no inborn quality of intelligence or aptitude that sets anyone apart from anyone else"

      No, Anonymous, I actually didn’t. I’m saying the potential to get better at skill sets is not limited to an IQ test, or how much you observe the neighbor’s baby reading the newspaper at 2 years of age. Those are observations, empirical evidence, not scientific studies.

      "then you ask to see my artwork, as a way to somehow negate my argument by pointing out the flaws in my work"

      Stop---no one is asking that. We just want to see! If you don’t want to share, that’s fine. No challenge there, no judgement. You assume far too much with this entire conversation and obviously are desperate to commandeer the comments instead of adding to the discussion with curiosity.

      I wish you much success with your work and the work of your family! No offense was meant.


    5. "And yet the undenighable, irrefutable fact is that in life some of us rise, and some sink like a stone never to recover. So, what is it? What sets us apart? All other things being equal why will some of us end up as successful artist and some end up as street corner heroin addicts? Just tell me what it is."

      This is Greg's post, but...I think he's given the answer at the outset. The answer, of course, is that it's a culmination of factors that determines how things turn out, but that it boils down to work, focus, and the enthusiasm with which you pursue your goals. That's really all there is. Greg does not say that everyone will have successful careers or create masterworks that will hang in the Louvre: what he IS saying, based on scientific research on the brain, is that there's no such thing as an Art Gene and that people can learn to draw and paint well based on the amount of work they're willing to invest. He's not talking about fame or fortune, only about achieving technical ability. I know of no artist, not one, who instinctively picked up a pencil or brush and created a masterpiece. Every single artist we admire started at Point A and progressed to Point Z through work, repetition, learning from mistakes, and focus. Some may have had an "easier" time because of a number of variables. but without the work, there's no accomplishment.

      Regarding your sibling's troubles, again there are numerous scientific studies about the brain and addiction--but, of course, your argument doesn't bolster your case because it's one-sided. We don't know anything about your sibling, their history, or their situation: there's no way to respond. Which is not the same thing as your proving your point: it doesn't.

      The suggestion was made that you show your work (and you could certainly do so privately; Manchess and I are easy to get in touch with) because you make claims and assertions about your abilities. You sold 10 paintings this year and all you do is paint? Sounds interesting and worth checking out...except you don't want us to see them. I asked out of curiosity, not to set you up for an ass-whuppin'. But it is also true that the proof is in the pudding: if you believe in yourself, in your art, in your viewpoint, then you should be willing to stand behind them. Whether others agree with you or not is beside the point: people tend to respect those who are honest, regardless of whether they share their opinions. Own your words. You can't hiding behind the anonymous door.

      Now where's Manchess? I want to knock that big ol' chip off his shoulder! :-)

    6. The irony here is that the passing of any judgment of any kind on my artwork would only negate their entire argument, if they judged I was progressing faster than most there must be a reason for that progression, if they judged I was progressing slower than most then there must be a reason for that as well.

      The only way their argument holds up is if they judged that I was equal in skill to every other artist who has the same education and background, which makes any kind of judgment as to my skill null and void by default.

      To admit anything else brings up interesting questions that strike to the heart of their assertion.

      As stated in my entire giant post before, namely, what sets us apart as individuals in our progress through life if not intelligence/ talent/ ability?


      All other things being equal, why do some succeed and some fail? My entire point is that we are all equal as human beings as far as our worth as human beings.

      The level of talent or aptitude we are born with does not somehow make us "better" than others, and yet this does not mean that we are all at the same level of aptitude in every respect as far as inborn talents and abilities.

      Cut right to center of my argument and strike it down if you can.

      Don't nibble around the edges quibbling over incidentals.

      Tell me why students in the same school, from the same family, with the same teachers can end up in completely different places in life?

      Tell me why, if not from some inborn difference in talent, intelligence or aptitude then why?

      Are they somehow "less" as human beings? Are they "lazy", "no account" or "shiftless"?

      I will listen to any logical answer if you can give one to me.


    7. Sorry, I posted the above comment befor you both resonded.

    8. John Calvin just stated it very well in his comment below, "So, really "talented" is the wrong word for this discussion. The correct word is "interested".

      So call it "interest" for the sake of argument, the desire to to attain a certain goal.

      Where does that come from? I love beautiful and intricate things, I am entranced, fascinated and enthralled by them and have been since my earliest memories, my main goal in life has been to create something beautiful myself.

      Where did this desire come from? I always assumed I was born with it.

      My other brother has no desire for creation at all, he is far more "successful" than myself by standard definitions, (he makes 10 times what I do and loves his work.) and is a wonderful person in every respect. But why, being raised in the same home, does he instead love numbers and math? He would insist he was not "born" to be an artist, it interests him only in the regard that he cares about me, otherwise he has no interest in art at all. He didn't even have any art in his home, not even a poster, till I gave him some of mine. Bare walls.

      He is as different from me as I am from my sibling who has spent long stretches of time homeless and addicted to drugs. (but who is doing much better now, and is back in school).

      My entire argument is this, once again for the record. All human beings are born with the aptitudes /talents/ desire/ to progress faster and farther than most in a certain skill.

      Not all brilliant mathematicians could be brilliant artists and not all great musicians could be rocket scientists. It really boils down to a difference in world view.

      Some view all humans as programmable data banks, you get out only what you put in, never anything more. I take a different view.

      As for reveling my identity, the only reason anyone would wish for that would be to then make judgment calls as to the validity of my arguments based on some personal trait or attribute of mine, such as my gender, race, weight, nationality, good looks, lack of good looks or the "talent" I may poses or not posses, all of which have no bering on my main premise, and any atempt to judge my premise based on these factors would negate your whole argument.

      Not to mention the inherit dangers of disagreeing with popular opinion on a public forum, I think the crowd here on Muddy Colors are great folks, but am not willing to take the chance on the risk of one lurker. I am not "hiding behind anonymity" I am protecting my self from the chance of very real, very scary repercusions.

      Thank you, I do like a lively discussion, if nothing else it is never a bad thing to hash out what one believes and write it down.

    9. "Some may have had an "easier" time because of a number of variables. but without the work, there's no accomplishment"

      May have had an "easier time because of a number of variables" that, right there is my whole argument, you agree with me, we just don't agree on what those "variables" are, I say they are a mix of both nature and nuture, you are unwilling in any way shape or form to admit they may be nature. Thats where the sticking point is, righ there.

    10. Naaa, you're wrong: we don't agree. "Easier" was in quotes for one reason: a matter of perception. But the perceptions of an outside observer rarely, if ever, are accurate. Only the person taking the journey knows what it takes to reach their destination: what others perceive as "easy" is often extremely difficult for the person doing the heavy lifting.

      Regardless, we're talking in circles. You don't agree with Greg's viewpoint: great. If you want to believe that you or anyone else was born with a special artistic gift, wonderful. Go out and set the world on fire.

      But...just because you don't agree certainly doesn't make you "right." On the contrary, your unwillingness to be honest invalidates your arguments. And, from my standpoint...I hate internet identity games. I want to know who I'm talking to: if you lack either the courage or the conviction to be honest, well...there's little point in carrying on a conversation with you, is there? The rules are simple: if you want respect and courtesy, give respect and courtesy in turn, even as you disagree with others. Hiding behind "anonymous" for as many posts as you have made on this subject, especially after being asked to identify yourself, is disrespectful and discourteous.

      Which means that the discussion is at an end.

    11. Sounds good to me, by the way, here is some of my art you asked for. Enjoy.

      Like a boss.

    12. The Comment above was not written by me, it is a cheap attempt by "someone" out there to discredit every thing I have said by posting a comment saying I am a troll. Grow up and get a life.

      Also, Mr. Fenner,and Greg, the fact you keep asking so intently for my identity, even stooping to personal insults in order to get me to give it to you can only point to your desire to somehow bring about negative repercussions against me, weather by black balling me in the professional realm or other means we will never know.

      I have never once in my posts insulted or name called anyone, and for no other reason other than I give an opinion contrary to your own, I am called a liar, (despite no evidence AT ALL that anything I am saying is not true) and then "someone" posts a link to "troll face" claiming it is my art, as a idiot way to discredit everything I have said.

      Why don't you just come right out and say it?

      Your view of a complete lack of inborn talent in anyone ever, shifts all blame for lack of success directly onto the shoulders of anyone who is not as successful as yourself, or at least directly onto their circumstances.

      If some poor smuck out there is not at age 30 where you where at age 30 he is lazy, dificient in some way, maybe even doomed because he was born poor, he has no chance at ever reaching the level of sucses as his wealther better educated counterparts, none at all.

      In your world, those born rich and given a good education will always rise to the top, because there is no inborn talent of any kind those starting poor can use to catch up to their wealthier better educated piers, in your world it is a impossibility, people are like computers, heck, we should give up on all creative endeavors right now, what's the point?

      As far and hard as we try we will never produce anything more than the sum of the parts we ingested through education.


      My guess is that at some point, maybe many points in your life and Greg's life people told you that you had no talent. It so impacted you that for the rest of your life you have taken the view that "Well, if I don't have it NOBODY does! So there! "sniff"."

      It could be argued as well that those scientists running these "studies" you love so much would have no idea what artistic talent was if it ran up and gave them a bear hug, and the whole point of many of their studies have been an attempt to quantify art and artistic ability out of existence.

      They have none themselves, so they seek to discredit and minimize any who do.

      This time, I am really done. This is my last comment, goodbye.

    13. Sorry anonymous, but your comments have flown far from the initial discussion and have become acerbic. And many don't even make sense at this point.

      NO ONE has called you a liar here. NO ONE. It's a discussion and I would expect you to add to that discussion, not take away from it. We are honestly curious about your work. Why wouldn't we be? As I've said before, that's what we do here! And I think you know that.

      Very sorry someone has posted another anonymous comment with regard to you, but neither Arnie nor myself would find it helpful to do so. At first I thought you were kidding, so thanks for the clarification. Not fair to you.

      At this point, I will no longer respond to any comments posted under "anonymous" and will completely and utterly avoid reading or answering them. They may even be deleted to allow others with questions and honest interests to add to the discussion. We are finished here.

      Thank you that is all

    14. Mr. Fenner said that everything I said was invalid because of my "unwillingness to be honest", he also said I "lacked the courage or conviction to be honest" if that isn't what you call calling a person I liar I give up.

    15. Hey, Anonymous. Send me an email.

      You can do a guest post us!!!
      It'll be your chance to get EVERYTHING right, and please EVERYONE.


    16. I don't think Greg or Arnie were baiting you. You claimed to progress quickly because of your inborn intelligence and photographic memory. The artists on Muddycolors have taught hundreds of students, they'd probably have a good grasp on what a fast progression is, regardless of your current level of artistic faculty

      That's also true. I've meet artists that sucked bad, and after one year they drew like pro, and othe artists that had almost pro drawing skills when they where teenager, but they evolved too slowly, and now I reached their drawing skills. (5 years ago they were far better than me).
      But usually lack of talent shows. You reach your maximum skills, then you stop to evolve.

  49. Wow! How can this guy/gal resist showing their work to Greg and Arnie? Most of us would love to be in his/her position!

    Anyway, some comments have suggested that certain people's brains have a 'structure' that might give them an edge when learning math, or music or art. I can't speak to the science of this, but I'll share my own experiences.

    My wife believes I have an innnate 'talent' for seeing around an object. I disagreed (but didn't argue with her... life lesson #1, don't argue with spouse unless you *have* to) and told her that as a young pre-teen I saw a Walter Foster book on drawing perspective that showed me the concept of drawing through an object. I also remember that for the next few months, I tried to mentally 'draw through' every object I looked at. The innate 'talent' she referred to was really the result of me obsessively practicing a concept I learned.

    I'm not trying to prove anything, really, just sharing something that I've observed from personal experience. I'm teaching my 7-year-old daughter to draw and she's catching on quickly, but that doesn't mean she's got 'talent'. It means she's practicing what I'm teaching and learning from her mistakes.

    1. Hah! Pick your battles, Michael! Thanks---great advice!

      About your daughter, I think that's fantastic. One of the things that's been noticed and studied is how we almost drum out the interest to create from our children. By the time they reach 5th or 6th grade, they've managed to quit their lively embrace of drawing and creating and begin to take on the look of what we see as a more mature affect of education.

      In other words, they let their imaginations flounder. And we support that.

      Keep hers alive, Michael. It will serve her well.

    2. Keeping her imagination alive is really the hard part. We adults tend to steer kids towards what we like and want to do; that kills their imagination faster than a trigger-happy hillbilly with a shotgun. I let her pick what she wants to draw and that keeps it fun. She likes horses so I have her tracing drawings of horses and we play games about identifying the highlights, mid-tones and shadows. It's amazing how much kids retain when you let them choose what they want to do and you keep it fun.

      It's interesting that only when you start teaching others how to draw and see them progress can you truly understand that 'talent' doesn't exist. Hard work and focus does.

    3. There is no problems with killing imagination. Those that aren't creative as adult, weren't creative not even when they were children.
      I have some cousins that clearly lacked of creativity when they were 5, 6, 7 years old. They always had to ask to more creative kids how to play certain games.

  50. "life lesson #1, don't argue with spouse unless you *have* to"

    Best. Lesson. EVER! :-)

  51. I am so sick and tired of Manchess's rants on talent.

    He's obviously got a chip on his shoulder about the fact that he wasn't gifted with talent, but had to actually WORK to become a painter.

    1. Come now, that was uncalled for...I will discus something with some one all day, but will never stoop to name calling.And your wrong, even the talented need to work at their craft, this does not mean however that talent does not play a part.

    2. I suppose that was bound to happen. But honestly, ces, this is the first time I've put anything up online about it.

      Yes, certainly: I have a "chip" as you say. Quite right. But not a chip that I wasn't talented. More of a chip that so many assume we, as artists, should be in order to have a career in the arts.

      Or you could call it an effort to give aspiring artists the chance to develop the skills they so desperately want to attain, just like me, instead of assuming they have a 'gift' or not and immediately being condemned by society as not having the stuff enough to be an artist.

      Art students don't have to get famous, ces, as many would just like to get a job in the creative arts.

      Sorry to offend you.

    3. I just told Arnie that I was staying out of this but must have skipped over this comment until now. Unless ces is making a tongue in cheek ha ha statement I am offended and I rarely get offended by internet stuff. Grain of salt and all. But the fact that Greg has posted useful, important information over and over again and been generous enough to share it not only online but elsewhere as well should be applauded not derided.

      If you have a useful opinion to express then that's another thing, but your comment helps nothing and means nothing. If you've ever spent a minute with Greg you would realize that there are very few people in this world who present themselves with less of a chip on the shoulder.

      If you're sick and tired of learning then simply don't visit places where you might learn. If you don't agree then form a cogent argument to the contrary. If you were making a joke then disregard my venom.

      Sorry Greg, I know you don't need my feeble protection.

  52. I teach art at the junior high level, and "talent" is a can of worms that comes up with frequency in my discussions with parents about grading. What if a student is not "talented" at drawing or art? Now what? What the parent is inferring is that because of a lack of a God-given gift, it will be difficult or impossible for their student to succeed, which is very discouraging. Daniel Parkhurst once said, "Talent is just another name for the love of a thing." I subscribe to that line of thinking, and believe many human beings use the idea of “lack of talent,” to simply excuse, or explain away a poor performance at any sport, hobby, activity, or skill.

    The first question I ask of a parent who states that their student is not "talented" at art would be, "How much time does he spend at drawing or art on his own?" Usually the answer is, "None," or, "Not very much," or "Just when it is required for the class." So, really "talented" is the wrong word for this discussion. The correct word is "interested." So, surely if a student is not interested in a subject or activity, it is quite likely that they will perform at it in an average, or below-average fashion, but usually not in a superior fashion, compared to their peers.

    I like to then ask about other activities that the student might be involved in. Piano? Ballet? Soccer? Basketball? Gymnastics? Video Games? How do they spend their non-structured time? The answer to that question is where the student's interests lie, and it is likely that they perform at an above-average fashion at it. Video games is a common answer, and I always suppose that their first attempts at video games were probably a bit "rough around the edges," but have vastly improved since. How can a student have spent five hours at art in a junior high class, and have spent five years playing video games, and then expect their skill levels at each to be similar?

    What has happened is that a young person has developed an interest in playing video games, and has spent countless hours "perfecting his craft." The investment of time and interest has now produced a skilled video game player; skill which now might be erroneously referred to as "talent." It is the same with any other human endeavor. An investment of time and interest will lead to skill and improvement. Might they become the best in the world? Possibly, but doubtful. Will they become above average at that particular skill? Very likely.

    A band teacher at my school once said the following, "Talent is what people say you have after you've put in a ton of work." To me, that sounds about right.

    I recently picked up oil painting again after a break of more than twenty years. Yep, I suck at it. I feel exactly as Mr. Manchess described at the beginning of his post. I'm going to have to make an investment of focused time and effort to become better. There is no other way. I take hope in the fact that I can improve with time and effort, otherwise, I should give up now, I have no talent for it.

    Thank you, Mr. Manchess, for finally putting your thoughts about talent online. I had heard some comments that you had something to say on the subject, and had been unsuccessful at finding them. I appreciate it.

    1. You can't tell me that my friend who is 5 foot tall could ever play pro basketball, or that my other friend who as a girl is 6 foot 4 in in tall and built like a linebacker could ever be a ballet star, it is physicaly impossible for ether of them.

    2. Don't confuse mental abilities with physical attributes. Unless you have Cerebral Palsy or some debilitating condition, Art is pretty much a mental game.

  53. I agree with everything you say, with one exception. I do think that, while hard work is behind it, there is an unmeasurable portion of success at a chosen field that has nothing to do with "talent" per se, and is more often referred to as "gifted," but is unexplainable and, as I say, I believe to be unmeasurable. Perhaps generations of learning something before that person is born does give them an edge up genetically in learning, but it remains that there exist people like Mozart, who, granted, was forced to work hard by his father, but from a very young age was far advanced and knew what his music would become when written. Others worked as hard as he (or harder, if we believe what is written about him), but could not approach his ability. What is it? We don't know. And, frankly, I don't care. The mystery of it is fine with me. I hope I will improve in my art through work and diligence, and those people like Mozart are an inspiration to me.

    1. They would disagree, in their world view every baby born IS Mozart, the kid just needs the right training and BOOM. Mozart. Hey presto! da Vinci! Shazam! Yoyo Ma! (sigh)

  54. I had a response but it ended up being an essay, so I will try and shorten this.

    I can look at my own life and "career" and tell you that Greg's post makes sense to me.

    I was put in a workshop in 4th grade with some others who were hand picked for their interest in art. Our 4th grade teacher valued that enough I guess.

    later, in a different elementary school I connected with individuals who were way more passionate than I about drawing. they introduced me to comics and they were super good at mimicking what they saw in those comics at a very early age. I was not. But I guarantee that they worked harder than I did. It was a passion for them, and I knew it.

    I rose and fell in my abilities depending on the work that I put in to it. sometimes I was super hot and sometimes I was lukewarm and complacent. I saw how hard others around me worked, and frankly I wasn't willing to sacrifice other extra curricular activities to put the time in.

    At one point I did get super serious about it but someone told me not to waste my time. and since that person meant a great deal to me I believed them. I looked at other avenues but eventually came back to Illustration.

    My Illustration teacher told us a hundred times that we had to make a decision and put in the hours or else...

    Once I decided, I did put in the hours and over the past few months I have worked hard, and made lots of progress. I'm not ready to "compete" in the art world. I’m learning that honest persistence is the only thing that will save me.

    I think that is what Greg is saying more than anything. feverish persistence.

    1. feverish persistence....

      I like that one, Kyle!

  55. "Great artists deny it.
    Loads of creative people believe they have a gift for what they do. Frankly, they just have a poor memory for remembering that when they were young, they were training themselves to learn. I’ve followed quite a number of great creative people who will simply tell you they have no talent, never did, and had to work their arses off to get to where they are. Trust those guys."

    This is a quote I liffted right from what you said.

    This is very condasending to thousands of artists who say they have talent, how can you say they are all liars who have poor memories and are untrustworthy and not expect to upset alot of people?

    The tone you take is childish and insulting to any who take another view. You don't have to insult people to make your point do you?

    If you worded it a litte better and kept your condasending comments to your self you would have much more credability.

    1. P.S.

      I do think you are right, :) I just think your tone and how you said things is more than a little insulting, very condasending across the whole article in fact.
      Sorry :(

    2. Seriously?

      What if Greg wrote: "I FEEL they just have a poor memory for remembering that when they were young, they were training themselves to learn."? Would that be more suitable?

      Do we literally have to put a disclaimer at the head of every post to remind people that this blog is composed of OPINIONS?!

      Greg's comment was not childish or insulting.

      Furthermore, I'm sure Greg wasn't worried about "insulting thousands of artists". I bet he -was- worried about how he was going to get his REAL work done, while still making time to write this post, for free, for the benefit of everyone other than himself, on a blog which no one is forced to read.

      We do posts here 6 days a week. It's a ton of work. We can't worry about the way EVERY SINGLE WORD is going to be misconstrued by someone who chooses to be personally offended by someone else's opinions.

  56. Thanks everyone. We have strayed very far from the actual topic I was attempting to discuss. Allow me to reiterate.

    When I mention the word "talent" I'm talking about the obvious use of the word, and did not mean 'this or that' in any way that wasn't specifically talking about the use of the word that we are all so used to hearing and identify with.

    You know what I understand that the term defines itself as that thing we can't explain that gives a creative person everything they need to succeed and become a great artist. That's what I meant all along. That's what Anonymous was talking about. That's what everyone assumes.

    ALL of your extra descriptions have been fascinating and also very interesting to hear! Sure, I think most of them help to define that thing we can't explain.

    But honestly, I meant the simple term that we are all familiar with. I was also not trying to describe what it is or isn't. We've yet to get that down into scientific terms. But for all of MY research and all of MY experience talent has shown little if no performance in my career and many other careers spread over multiple creative fields.

    I trust hard science on this one and there is much out there about it that I think you all will find fascinating. Why? Because if you are struggling along in your efforts to become the artist you foresee yourself becoming, you are likely running into the very same walls and grief that I and many other artists have run into. There is one way around that pain.

    Focused training. This everyone can do. Again, I like what the pilots think:


    1. Haters gonna Hate man! Don't you go listin to um. Keep up the good work! I love your stuff man and am gonna try even harder now, this blog has helped me like a ton, those videos on how to draw a eye and nose and stuff are like a whole workshop for free! don't listen to the haters man, you guys rock! Keep it up! Hard work rules all!


      An example about wnat natural talent is

      Also her first comic was also her first try. Already professional not only for the drawing, but in every tecnical aspect.

      On the other hand, I also saw an artist that lacked of talent so much that, in 8 YEARS of practice (drawing from life, studying colours, value, perspective etc), didn't inprove at all, and still draw like a first grade kid.

  57. Wow I am so confused with this anonymous thing. Which is which? Why does anyone post as anonymous in the first place? Courage of convictions and in opinion should preclude the anonymous choice and it is simply confusing. There is no internet hit squad.

    1. I know.

      It's funny how the people who lack enough conviction to -personally- stand by their opinions, are always the loudest and the most negative.

      If you were SO adamant that -your- opinion was the correct one, wouldn't you WANT to put your name next to it?

  58. "Your talent you have from God. I value in an artist only the effort." —Adolph Menzel to a younger artist.

  59. Ah... an ageless argument, nurture vs nature.
    Personally, I think it's a little of both.

    “No man can reveal to you nothing but that which already lies half-asleep in the dawning of your knowledge”.
    - Khalil Gibran

    1. Thankyou, that was what I was trying to say.

      A proffesional illustrator I think you may know once told me I had no talent, they said I "didn't have what it takes" to be an illustrator. They said I should "be something more realistic, like a plumber." They said I would be happier in the long run if I focused on things I was better at.

      I in turn said that I thought I DID have what it takes, (i.e. Talent) and all I needed was to develope my skills. They said I was wrong.

      Five years later I am not an illustrator, but have had 6 art shows this year and am suporting myself with my art.

      I hold that,

      "With out some talent hard work will only take you so far, but with out hard work "talent" will take you nowhere at all."

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  60. I am just responding to your post (not the replies-so no one yell at me), I agree with what you said. I take a figure drawing class and have been for a few years now. The only thing that made my drawing improve is effort and study. I couldn't just draw in class once a week and expect that to be enough, you have to draw every day. People in the class will ask how I draw well, I say I practice every day and I still have a lot to learn. There is no magic formula. Just practice and learn. And have patience.

  61. Thanks guys....great thoughts again!

    I'm not really focusing on Nature vs Nurture. This is more of a discussion of brain development and not brain structure. Which puts it back in the Nurture camp. There are clearly Natural aspects here to lean toward a person's physical attributes, no question. And has been no question all along. Height is a basic feature needed for basketball. Then again, there are exceptions to that as well, as surely the tallest person would be considered the "most gifted."

    Black-and-white either-or thinking doesn't fit this argument. There's much room for a broad range of development. The discussion is not about defining what talent is. That's a different discussion. The '10 Things' directions are about abandoning that useless definition and instead utilizing training to develop one's skills to get good at painting.

    Let me restate it. One cannot know or assume they understand the depths to which their brain can develop without working at it. Skill does not pop into being, springing from Athena's hip, fully armored.

    Talent will never rescue an artist from the agony of learning to draw and paint.

  62. "you're talented" is just an insult. it negates all the crazy hard work that you've done. - This is my conclusion of your writing. Keep writing.

  63. I've never really thought about it. Perhaps "talent" is really just a burning interest in something + the willingness to work your ass off to get good at it. Someone wrote a book about his theory that people have to work at something for about 10,000 hours to master it -- anyone know who I'm talking about?

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  65. As they say - passionately curious people are the ones who cultivate talent; it is imperative for talented individuals to showcase their expertise to the world. Talent Flush is one such platform that identifies and promotes budding artists and helps them get recognition. Upload your video/audio/documents on to get noticed by industry experts.

  66. Talent exist.
    Why some people at the age of 13 already drasw like professional adults? They never had all the time to a proper practice and they surely didn't had access to a complete anatomy book or to art class.

    Often they say talent belong to people that draw since they are little.
    I drew since i was little, at school teachers always told me to give up, because my drawing were always badly executed despite all the practice. Teacher always told me I have no talent at all at drawing, and I still can see-fell that I don't have that.
    Even right now i practice, i improved, but to gain skills I still take the double of a non talented average person.

  67. Thanks for the best blog. it was very useful for me.keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. Thanks for giving me the useful information. I think I need it!
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  68. great post! My muse is also an "energy-sucking vampire slut". LOL. omg. let me sleep will ya?!

  69. This comment has been removed by the author.

  70. I disagree - talent does exist. I have it, with less than 10 paintings, and even fewer drawings, under my belt. Each one gets better than the last one. The last one was an 80x60cm photorealistic painting of a market, and the first ever painting I have ever done with people in it. At first glance most people took the painting as a photograph. Artistically bland because it was simply a duplicate of a photo, but technically fantastic for someone who has no training of any kind and precious little practice.

    Since it does seem kind of strange that someone like me could accomplish that level of work, I have often wondered what element allows me to do this and came to the conclusion that it has something to do with the way my brain perceived the world around me. I suspect the same would contribute to any natural talent artist's ability.

    So yes, natural talent exists if the brain is already prewired in a certain way. But I do agree that one can also train to do the same thing, and even surpass those with natural talent, though they probably require considerably more effort to do so.

    I sometimes wonder how things might have been had I dedicated my life to art rather than engineering, but for now the art remains an occasional hobby. I understand that it is a great ability to be able to whip together beautiful pieces though, and have recently tried to dedicate more spare time to art.


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