It’s A Cop Out!
You are SO talented! is a compliment artists hear with various frequencies. But what does it mean?
The word talent derives from a Latin word talentum or a Greek word talanton representing a unit used for counting money. In context of acquired “gift” or skill it implies wealth and the thing about wealth is that it’s usually distributed unevenly. “Some people have more talent than others…!”, we often say "and there is nothing we can do about it!" “God given talent” is one of the most nauseating expressions I’ve ever heard. It leads to a conclusion that it wasn’t Michelangelo who sculpted David and worked hard every hour of his life to get to that point but God himself. It was not Mozart who wrote Requiem but God himself. All the struggle, hard work and personal sacrifices of all artists that ever walked the Earth owe their breathtaking creations to a supernatural entity! Saying “God gave you a great gift” is literally robbing artists of their own accomplishments that, let’s be clear, aren’t easy to come by. Some believed the monetary wealth or noble titles are God given too. That idea of unchangeable divine intentionality kept the “lower masses” in check and prevented them from trying. My God! Weren’t they mistaken!
Talent is usually confused with skill. “You are so talented” is something artists hear after showing off more skill based pieces such as a realistic drawing of a horse or a realistic painting of a tree. Art that relies less on skill but more on instinct, humor and sensitivity, pieces that are born out of anguish, loss, joy and difficult process of finding one’s own voice, are mostly disregarded. Going for the “easy awe” is a cop out and while it takes more time and effort to appreciate the less skill based art, it’s well worth it in the end! Skill can be acquired by ANYONE in a specified amount of hours. Someone who put zero hours into skateboarding will always be impressed with someone who put 1000+ hours of work into acquiring the skill.
Admiring realistic art to me is like admiring a scanner and printer for their fidelity in generating already existing images and I feel entitled to say it because I am proficient with realistic rendering. I just don't give it much thought. In fact a large number of artists treat purely realistic rendering as a practice drill. Large number of audiences appreciate only manual practice drills while ignoring the difficult process of finding one’s own voice.
Curious how sometimes people seem defensive when facing an artist. They chuckle, scratch their heads and look down on the floor saying “I have not ONE creative bone in my body, ha ha!” I don't think a choice not to develop the “creative side” in a professional way shouldn’t bring shame. Should I be embarrassed for not being an accountant because “God hasn’t given me the proficiency with math”? (Here I should pause and point out that the reason I suck at math is because I didn’t spend enough time with it. Let’s not bring God into it again!) Making art as defined in a dictionary is optional but the part about not being creative is simply not true. It’s a cop out again! The mistake comes from the same confusion about manual skill being a “Gift From Heavens” and ignoring the fact that all humans come to this world with capability for creative problem solving and the potential to learn any skill they desire to learn. The apparent embarrassment about not being able to draw a horse using one’s hand is irrelevant. It’s like being ashamed of not being much of a chess player. While playing chess requires knowledge of rules and some practice, humans have inherent intellectual potential to do it. True, some will play chess with better results than others but chess with its strict set of objective logical rules differs greatly from the subjectivity of art. Art is not a contest! I always thought combining the words “art” and “contest” in one sentence is the ultimate oxymoron!
In conclusion: the concept of a God-given talent is as made up as God-given right to own a title and more material goods than others. Regardless of our current skill level the more we embrace our inherent creative side without putting emphasis on manual skill, the better for us, and the worse for those who are still trying to keep us in check and prevent us from trying.
And now a promise: next time I hear “you have a great gift from God!” I will just turn around and walk away. Why? Because it’s offensive. Because it’s a cop out!