The Artist "Talent" Myth
If you have looked at an artists work, especially my work, and said "you're so talented" before I am sorry for what you are about to read.
I hate being called talented.
I'm sorry but I really really do. And so do many other artists.
And I know you meant it as a compliment so I usually just say thank you or try to politely comment on the phrase with something like "it's not talent it's mostly hard work!" and move on.
There are many reasons why I dislike the phrase "you're so talented", one of them being claims of talent is a myth and is destructive to artists and the art community, and here are reasons why.
It belittles an artists hard work.
If you have called someone talented before I am sure you meant it in a sweet and loving compliment of their craft and not in a backhanded way. Being an artist is an incredibly strange career in the sense that people seem to have the misconception that you were born with the ability to draw and with a natural ability to work with colour. That you have this god given talent, an inherent gift that was blessed upon them. This journey of yours was handed to you on a silver plate. You just picked up a pencil or a paint brush and here you are! This thought overshadows the hard work and the amount of hours that goes into being an artist. Improving your art can take thousands of hours of practicing, observing, and learning and when someone's art is taken down to talent their creation becomes a thing of luck instead of hard work. The years it takes working on a project or the breakthrough they make within a series is discounted as a gift - something that was just handed to them.
It makes artists who are working hard to improve at their craft feel inadequate because they aren't "naturally amazing".
It has been shown within calling people gifted, talented, etc has negative impacts - especially on children. It creates a level of perfectionism which is negative on mental health and wellbeing. It also creates a pedestal for their work and becomes deeply personal for them when it isn't to their standard. This creates feelings of "I'm not good enough" and leads to children leaving their interests behind due to fear of failure upon high gifted standards. Here is a good article by Psychology Today talking about gifted children.
The truth is I wasn't always a good artist.
I actually was pretty terrible for a while and I still tried anyways, I always worked hard at my art. That is the important thing. I tried to do realistic portraits and they would end up looking more like weird fish people with bizarre proportions. The myth of talent made me think "well I am not talented enough so
I should give up." I felt if it didn't come naturally then I was not good enough to call myself an artist or to even try to be an Artist. Luckily I have an amazing support system of friends and family who supported me even when I was down.
Here is one of my weird fish people portraits (I hope it makes you giggle like it makes me giggle) I am okay with it not being perfect now. At the time I was extremely embarrassed and hated it but now I appreciate it for what it was me learning and growing. And this is a lot better than other portraits I attempted! I refused to even photograph those ones and often tore them up so they would never be seen again.
It encourages people to quit before they try.
I often get told "I could never create anything like that!"
YES YOU CAN! With hard work you can absolutely learn to paint. You can learn to draw and you can make your artistic dreams come true with practice. No one is instantly good at anything their first time trying and practice is everything!
It is never too late to start doing art if it is something you want to do and enjoy!
It creates a toxic art school or learning environment.
Of course people have their own experiences but when I was at University studying art I really struggled within the art department. I believed the "naturally talented artist" myth and because of this I felt like my art was not good enough - constantly. And it wasn't just me who believed it because there were lots of comments regarding these myths in classes and in critiques. This hindered my creativity and due to the pressure I was putting on my art it halted my learning and ability to push my art further. Many art students were incredibly supportive and non judgemental and I feel grateful for those connections I made, but many were arrogant and belittled other art students who were learning. Art school is a weird place because in most school/education situations peers and teachers don't expect your work to be excellent and amazing at the beginning, they expect you to learn and grow throughout the course. Because you were born as an artist right? You can just pick up a pencil and draw perfectly right? I found myself often embarrassed of my work due to this mentality and was pressured due to the "talent" myth.
What do we mean when we say "talented"
Someone who is skilled in their craft due to their practice of their craft, and persistence at their craft, and works hard to create their vision. Perseverance is important, to push through barriers and to have breakthroughs in their work. Talent is not something you are born with - it is something you build. It is a result of years of hard work, motivation, and determination.
So blah blah blah... We get it don't call people talented or gifted or hold children to unrealistic standards.... now what?
What am I supposed to say to an artist when I like their work???
How you feel about the piece? Get specific! What do you actually like about the painting, drawing, etc? Because simply saying "you're so talented" doesn't actually say anything in particular. Do you like the colours they chose? Why do you like those colours? Do you like the pose of the portrait or the figure? Do you like how stylised or realistic it is? I promise you that if you respond to an artists work in this way they will appreciate it greatly.
Now, what are your thoughts on "talent"?