Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What is Talent?

I recently read the bestselling book by Geoff Colvin entitled, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.  This book drops a bomb on the myth that some people are born with talent. Using examples from sports, business, and the arts, Colvin describes the process that leads to exceptional performance. Basically, what most people describe as talent is the result of rigorous training, the critique process and thousands of hours spent in deliberate practice.
He explains a prodigy like Tiger Woods as someone who had the advantage of superior training at very early age and invested the time so that by age 17 he was a lot better at golf than most people his age. What was rare was that he also had the drive to excel.

I recommend this book to anyone considering a career in the arts. I have always maintained that talent will only get you so far and success is the result of years of hard work. I would even go so far as to say that a natural aptitude towards something could hurt a person's development. In my own life there were always people in high school and college that were far better artists than me. The difference has been that I had to work harder and therefore learned how to work hard. When something comes easily to you, you don't learn how to work. What advantages I had came from many hours spent making things, especially sewing my own clothes. Sewing taught me patience and I was motivated to improve because I liked nice clothes. I also had parents that encouraged me and paid for lessons and materials. I was lucky to live in a town where we had good teachers and examples of good professional art I could look at. I enjoyed making things so I spent a lot of time doing it.

The doorknob locket is a pendant I made when I was a senior in high school. It came about because I was able to talk my way into a jewelry class for college upperclassmen at what was then Central Washington State College. The professor, Ken Cory, allowed to me to attend his class on the condition that I buy all my own tools. I think he thought that would get rid of me. It didn't and the opportunity to work with people who were far better than me was a huge asset. Ken pushed me to put more thought in my art. The heart image is also student work I made at Central in around 1977. I am a living example of why we need to advocate for the arts education in the public schools.