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from the :”Levels of Illusion” series by Karina Nishi Marcus

“I am doubtful of any talent, so whatever I choose to be, will be accomplished only by long study and work…” —  Jackson Pollock

“I’ve not been cursed with talent, which could be a great inhibitor.”  — Robert Rauschenberg

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.”  — Ernest Hemingway

How many times have we artists heard the refrain echoed: “ I wish I could paint, but I don’t have any talent – I can’t even draw a straight line” – enough to make an artist weep with frustration.  The myth of talent is one of the most pervasive, pernicious, perverse fallacies in the world of art.

I don’t believe in talent.

Talent is overrated.  And how did that mathematically straight line become the harbinger of talent anyway?  Nobody can draw a straight line — that is why the ruler exists.

When the argument concerning the nature of talent is presented – the name of Mozart bubbles to the surface.  I am not asserting that talent does not occur – only that it is irrelevant to the working artist.  Mozart started his rigorous, compulsory musical training at a very young age, and current scholarship suggests influence of the hand of his father in the early compositions. I love Mozart. He displayed genius. No one else is Mozart so this does not function in the assessment of any sort of requirement of talent for making art. Every so often the media trots out like a prize pony a so-called precocious child art prodigy, but one seldom sees anything more after the flurry of publicity.  Talent is never enough.

Talent is viewed as some innate, inborn, even hereditary commodity – that if you do not think you possess this magic quality at birth, then sorry – you cannot be an artist.  I have even heard accomplished artists question themselves if they have “enough” talent, or they might falsely believe that another artist has “more” talent than they possess. And these beliefs do a lot of damage to tender souls.

Talent might get you early attention – but it is often the wrong sort.  Too often we, from a young age, are so conditioned within society to place things in a hieratical manner – that there is one best and all the rest are less. For often, those who produce early, easy and facile success are short-changed in their education as an artist.

There is no urgency of exploring, of experimentation. They do not learn the vital survival lesson that not everyone will vibrate to the string of investigation you are following, that not everyone will be sympathetic to your work.  Remember, our audience might not have been born yet.  Once the acknowledged talent leaves the formal school environment, they often times cannot sustain their work without continual accolades. And within the isolation that is the nature of the studio, they crumble. They do not incorporate the habit to risk failure.

Failure can be your greatest teacher but it is a hard and harsh taskmaster. Rejection (couched in the parlance of “not accepted” from exhibits and galleries) can sting.   Some artists are bitter with failure that they view as painful defeat.  While it is neither romantic nor pleasant, feed on your failure, nourish your spirit from the entire scope of your work – it is all interrelated. This skill of dealing with failure from a position of strength, confronting it, learning the message and proceeding onward in another new direction is essential to being an artist and to art-making. This is not an easy lesson.

It matters little if you were lauded early or misunderstood, neither are worthy as identifiers in your of life as an artist.  Throw both of these archaic notions on the junk-pile.

Instead of entertaining the delusional phantom of talent – consider potential.  Everyone has potential and nothing and no one a can limit or take away your limitless potential.

It is the personal imperative of creation, that intangible essence for the individual, that lust and longing for the creative life that is the deciding issue for the making of an artist, to the make-up of the artist.

More vital than the myth of talent, we artists must cultivate the necessities of desire, determination, dedication and discipline.  These qualities are developed, often slowly, not bestowed as gifts. They are found within the parameters of our potential and in the recesses of the artist’s soul.

How do the attributes of desire, determination, dedication and discipline manifest in your artistic life? 

Do you believe in innate talent?

Karina Nishi Marcus