On Talent / by jean-francois dubeau

Yesterday I listened to a podcast by one Justin Robert Young. It's a good podcast. Insight on sports, politics, media, whatever. Varied enough to be interesting but also so varied that it's sometimes hit-or-miss. Doesn't matter, the host is compelling and the subjects tackled are often in synch with my interests. I listen and like it.

The latest episode was of particular interest to me. Mainly because the host said the following: "There's no such thing as talent!". Preach it Justin! Or so I initially thought. I mean, these are words, or at least a concept that I've long held as a core belief. I don't believe in talent.

It's kinda weird considering that a lot of people, very nice and generous people, tell me I'm talented. However, where this might be seen as a compliment, I have trouble swallowing it that way.

You see, talent is defined as natural skill or aptitude. I believe in skill and I believe in natural aptitude, but if you put all these ingredients into the same cake I think what you're baking is a load of excuses. We'll get to that in a moment. Skill is great because it's something you develop. It's the ability to do something well, an expertise. I believe in that. To become skillful you need to work at it. You need to put in the time and effort to build that expertise. I'm also cool with natural aptitude, but only so far as 'aptitude' is a better capacity to do something. Say if you're tall and have good reflex then you have an aptitude for basketball and ducking from low door frames.

Talent however is trickier. Especially the way it's used in today's parlance. The way people talk about talent they act as if it's a super power. Take a great composer or a brilliant illustrator. It's easy to say "Oh, he's so talented.", but have you ever heard anyone talk of a doctor as talented or an engineer as talented? Of course not. Doctors, engineers, scientists, these people are smart and have worked hard to get to where they are. Artists? They're just talented. The implication is that they're born with it.

"But JF," you whine, trying to find an excuse "a talent has to be developed.". You're a terrible person for thinking that, because that's worst. That's like saying that if you've got talent but you don't develop it, you're wasting a gift. You're Superman using his powers to do his groceries faster instead of saving the world. If someone doesn't study to become a doctor or whatever, well, they just didn't work hard enough. The 'talented' artist though? He has the power in him already! There's no excuse not to be awesome. The average Joe works hard to acquire skills, the 'talented' however have to willfully waste the skills he was given at birth.

That is a load of bullshit.

Order your own!

Order your own!

"But I mean it as a compliment." your shrill voice explains, and to that I say 'no, you don't', or maybe you do but that's not how I hear it and a lot of artists I know don't hear it that way either. Here's what we hear: "I could do that too if I had the talent.". Even if you don't use the word 'talent' as an insult, if you believe in this supernatural birthright of certain artists to be good at what they do it boils down this aforementioned thought. It single-handedly dismisses the hours upon hours of work and effort put into learning a craft while excusing you from not being able to perform to the same level. 

And that's messed up. If people could just accept that art and music and writing and all those skills that are explain with 'talent' take just as much work and effort to build up as any other expertise, then they wouldn't need to find these justifications for why they're not good at any of them.

So next time you want to compliment the artist in your life, how about you shift from "Oh my, you're so talented. I wish I was that talented." to "Wow. It must have taken a lot of work to get that good.". Trust me, they'll appreciate the compliment infinitely more because it did take them a lot of work to get that good and they deserve to have that recognized.

JF

Here, practice by telling me how talented I am at drawing cartoon foxes.  

Here, practice by telling me how talented I am at drawing cartoon foxes.