natural · short diatribe · stuff · talent

Talent

A pet hate of mine is the way people talk about talent. Particularly with regard to artistic talent, I often hear people saying that they don’t have ‘it’, as though the crucial ingredient to being able to draw, or play a musical instrument, or other skills of this type is some intangible thing that you are either born with or you’re not. This really annoys me for two reasons. One; it suggests that artistic talent doesn’t require effort, which is not true. It requires a lot of dedicated work and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of practice and people saying ‘Ooh, you’re so lucky to be so good at that,’ undermines all that hard work. Two; it justifies laziness. What’s the point of trying if you don’t have the mysterious ‘it’ ingredient that allows talent to exist?

I have long held the belief that anyone can be good at anything, within the limits of physical capability. The question isn’t whether practice will yield results, it is whether or not you will practice at all. The idea that talent is natural is an illusion that people don’t always want dispelled. To see someone do something effortlessly may have taken them years to perfect, but all we see is effortlessness. We only see the final result. Attempting to replicate the same effect at the first try will inevitably fail, that effortlessness that we saw does not belong to us and we surrender our aspirations as an impossible job. But then we hear the secret, the means to all ends; that if we practice we too can achieve such marvelous results. But years of practice is a lot of work and the end result so far away. So no, ‘I don’t have it, you’re so lucky that you do’.

There are many components to getting good at something. Practice is the most important but there also needs to be passion. Passion is what keeps you practicing. It is also important to have the right information on how to do whatever it is you are trying to do. Practicing to do something in the wrong way will only ever teach you to do it wrong. But none of these things are innate. None of them are natural, they all require action.

I have been playing the guitar for almost twenty years. I’m not brilliant, but I can play well enough to make a pleasant sound. Music is one of those things that seem like there needs to be some kind of natural predisposition to become good, but twenty years ago when I first set to learning I couldn’t do anything with a guitar. But I played a little everyday, I learned songs I liked and played along with the cd, I bought magazines with lessons in and twenty years later I can play something that sounds like something. Nothing natural about it, just a little bit every day for twenty years.

But then people say what about Mozart? What about Beethoven? Well, I guess there are exceptions to everything. I don’t know how it is that prodigal geniuses come to be, but not every musician is Beethoven. There are plenty of people who grafted everyday to form their talent. Anyone can learn, it just takes interest and enthusiasm. It seems though that once we reach adulthood we switch off to this idea. With childhood gone it is easy to let ambition slip away with it. But it seems a shame to think about all the things we could achieve with the time available to us and all the times I have heard people say ‘I’d love to, but I don’t have it’.

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