Nature vs. Nurture: where does artistic talent come from?

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If I wanted to build a house, I would have to learn the specific skills to do so.

Like many things, before being able to build a house, you must learn how to build a house. But artistic skill is a different beast altogether, as the ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ are born with more tools in their box and are gazed at enviously by others who think ‘I could never be as talented as them’. Of course, someone else’s skill will always seem to be greater than reality when you have little understanding of that skill. A famous guitarist will likely stare in awe at someone who can easily do theoretical physics.

Yet if you grow up surrounded by music and family members who are musical, surely you are more likely to find playing music easier. You would have more help and support, people to turn to for advice and assistance, making you more likely to succeed as a musician. If this child finds music easier than their peers, does it make them innately talented? To outside eyes, the result could be seen as such, but the audience never sees what goes on backstage – the preparation and practice before the show begins.

There is no greater discouragement than not feeling ‘talented’.

There are those, however, who show proficiency at such a young age that it is difficult to argue against the idea of innate talent, children who have not had the years of experience most require to attain such skill. Mozart, for example, was playing chords at age three and composing from age five. Many succeed in art without any encouragement, and there is no greater discouragement than not feeling ‘talented’. Finding things difficult, and comparing yourself negatively are things everyone encounters– yet if it happens in an artistic area, people are told to give up because they just ‘aren’t talented’ rather than told to work harder to improve. Everyone has upper limits to their progress and in this way, innate talent does have a part to play in artistic skill: you begin your craft with more ease and are able to progress further.

Someone who begins with more talent does begin with more potential.

But talent is too celebrated, effortless and easy. Skill however, is something you must work for. It was practice and motivation that allowed Mozart to compose his finest pieces, not talent. Ed Sheeran is the first to admit he wasn’t the best singer when he was younger, but that doesn’t stop him from selling out stadiums today. The only difference between an artist and a non-artist is that an artist makes art, while a non- artist does not. Someone who begins with more talent does begin with more potential, but potential is not product – just because you could do something, does not mean you will. The best artists are those who do not give up, practising endlessly to hone their craft, pushing their ideas as far as they could possibly go. No matter the talent you begin with, anyone can become a better artist simply by making art, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

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