It’s time to debunk the myth of the talented artist. This is one of the most harmful myths.
At an early age, grown ups are looking for signs of talent in us: the prodigy, the natural.
Grown Ups are well intentioned. “If we can invest in this person at a young age,” they think, “They will have years of practice, become masterful and make the world a better place”
Grown Ups think they are special because they have recognised talent. They make it all about them.
We decide, as children, if we’re creative or not based on what adults tell us and how it feels when we create (joy at scribbling or frustration when the picture doesn’t look like we imagine). Often, we believe this is set in stone.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” they say. I’ve never been creative, that’s not going to change.
I call BS!
With the right strategy, effort and help from others, anyone can develop their creative thinking and execution skills.
My brave students who attended a 2-hour workshop to learn how to draw a female portrait are proof. Just look at the progress they made in just 2 hours! #superproud
The “Talent” myth backfires in 3 serious ways:
1. Talent makes ‘the talented’ lazy.
Artist Te Haunui Tuna is open about his early talent and how it made him lazy. Because he was ‘a natural’ he felt he didn’t need to practice to be great. It took him years to see this and take steps to overcome it by building a purposeful habit and pushing through the challenges that come with pursuing mastery.
The truth is, an ‘early sign of talent’ is a hypothesis. We believe this person could be great (they have a great start); but only time, persistence, practice, mentorship and community will tell.
2. Talent that is pushed, can rob the joy from creating.
When a young person shows talent, they are funnelled into activities to grow this talent into something bigger: enter competitions, attend the elite extra-curricular class, practice constantly.
All well intentioned (practice makes perfect, right?), but this additional pressure to perform and to achieve can rob the craft of its joy.
Often, these ‘naturals’ give up early because of burnout or boredom – they just don’t love it anymore.
The key here is all about the motivation for encouraging growth: is it child-led or feeding your ego?
If they genuinely like the craft, express their own interest in developing and growing it, then they will thrive with the extra practice and being in community with like-minded people.
If they are not that into it but you’re worried their talent will be lost or squandered (use it or lose it), that’s pushing the talent too far. Better to let them play and explore and discover their genuine interest.
3. Talent conditions a fixed mindset and stops learning.
A fixed mindset says, “you’ve got it or you don’t”.
When someone is labelled talented, they’ve got it. But, when the craft gets tough, when they lack motivation or fall short of the standard in more competitive settings: they’ve lost it – there’s something wrong with them.
Why would you put your self-worth on the line? It’s better not to take the risk, to stay mediocre. You’ll never be better than you are because talent can’t be learned.
On the other hand, a growth mindset says, “everything can be learned with effort, strategy and help from others.”
So, even if you’re not talented, that doesn’t mean you can’t be great.
The same qualities that make a talented person great apply to a person who finds it more challenging in the beginning: time, persistence, practice, mentorship and community.
And, the ones who aren’t labelled ‘talented’ but happen to feel joy when they do their craft, they’re more likely to develop the resilience to help them when the craft is challenging, when their efforts are not recognised or rewarded, when practicing scales over and over seems boring.
The worst part about the talent myth: it stops people giving it a go later on.
I dare you to question your assumptions about what’s possible for you. Challenge the belief that you’re not creative. Take a class (there are so many good ones online if you can’t get out), use an inexpensive material that seems exciting to you: pencil and paper, crayons, kids paints, cross-stitch… really anything that you’d like to try.
I promise you’ll surprise yourself.
Be Brave and Curious,