What is TALENT? What to do about it
In today’s blog, I want to talk about talent. Everybody tells me, when they see my woodworking or the pictures I make by hand or with a camera, “Oh, you’re so TALENTED”. I’m flattered, of course, but in my mind I want to quibble with that.
The word talent, as with so many words, has lost its real meaning. Most of the time it’s used to indicate appreciation of good work. When someone, take as an example a knitter, makes a beautiful sweater or hat, some will explain, “Oh, I wish I had your talent”.
Well, that always gets me, because I know, for myself, that I am NOT a talented woodworker or a talented painter or a talented photographer. And I know that the knitter worked hard to get the SKILL to knit beautifully.
Why do I say that? Because I understand the meaning of the WORD. Words means something. When their meaning is lost and the words are used in some other way we don’t communicate well.
Fussy? Yeah, I guess so. I’m a geek and always have been. I have a picture of me at about age four or five that shows just how geeky I was then. I’ve always been geeky.
So I obsess about words. Communication has always been important to me. Maybe I’m worried that other people will misunderstnd me. Actually, people have always misunderstood me. I think that misunderstanding is common and often leads to unnecessary hurt feelings or even anger.
So don’t get mad at me, OK? I just want to clear the air about one word, “talent”. I don’t mean to criticize.
What is the real meaning of the word?
One dictionary definition is this, endowment, gift, natural endowment.”
If something I can do was a GIFT, it is something I was born with. However, I was not born with any natural gift for art. I wanted to acquire ability, but I didn’t have it at the beginning, when I first decided I wanted to be an artist. I must have admired the work of other artists and just wanted to emulate them.
Actually, I worked hard for many years to be able to draw and what I got for my trouble was ABILITY, not talent. I got experience, and at some basic level, could draw fairly well.
And then, after some study, I found out that nearly every person with a normal brain possessed a natural ability to draw! Really! It’s TALENT!
For most people in modern society, however, the brain processes that permit us to draw what we see with our eyes is suppressed in schools that emphasize left brain activity. That means things like heavy emphasis on mathematics, memorization and so forth.
But. I digress. My point is this: One doesn’t get to have talent. Talent is inborn. It is manifested before training. So a child who toddles over to the family piano and begins playing music is indeed talented.
A child who, from the start, has a beautiful singing voice and good pitch, is talented.
But one can’t have a talent for building electronic devices, for example. There’s nothing natural about that. The ability for things like that, having a tendency or desire to work with electronics, I think, comes from another talent, one which seems to be unrecognized, and that is the natural ability or gift of LEARNING.
Think about it. The desire to learn is supremely important in getting the ability to do things which are not natural. Singing is natural. Building a computer is not. I can do both, but I don’t believe that the abilities I have in those endeavors are talents. They are acquired experience. Before I discovered the natural way of drawing I was struggling to do it by practice. But Talent doesn’t work that way.
Talent is precious and must be carefully protected and developed if it is to be of any benefit to its owner. If one shows native ability to draw and paint that one should be exposed to teaching that promotes the Talent. Otherwise, the natural gift will wither. Talented singers, for example, without training to bring the Talent forth, will remain at the level of ability they had when born and will not progress to become great singers.
My woodworking, whether it is common or not, isn’t the product of talent, it comes from practice and learning. My Talent, if I have one, is Learning. I love learning. I’ve been promoting my own education all my life. I even love tests! I think that comes from my love of learning. So, I’ve learned woodworking because of my natural ability to learn, and I applied that ability toward acquiring SKILL in woodworking. Skill and Talent aren’t the same things!
Now, don’t misunderstand. When I say I am skilled not talented at something, that doesn’t imply there is something of less value about it. Talent is the same as aptitude, and it steers us in ways that allow us to become skilled in that particular work. I think many so-called artists have no natural talent and prove it by slopping paint on a canvas and representing it as Art. If they have talent, they haven’t developed it. Using art materials is a skill and if one has artistic Talent, that must be developed until the Talent blooms. Picasso seems to have had Talent, as exhibited in his “Blue Period” but later discovered that people would pay big money for childish and unnatural paintings, he stopped developing his talent.
I hope you notice that I used the upper case “T” where the Talent is cherished and developed. Where it is ignored or unused I don’t capitalize the word. That’s deliberate. I mean to show appreciation for Talent well used.
May all of you find and cherish your own Talents.
Don Butler June 2, 2010
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