Is it talent or skill?
Often I hear something like “Oh, you are so talented! When did you start painting?” (I was young) These comments didn’t bother me much until I started teaching oil painting and I saw how hard my students worked to learn the basics of putting paint on canvas. It was only then that I bristled when someone told them - oh, you are so talented!
I wanted to put the ALL CAPS on and shout - Do you know how hard they worked to render that painting!? How many hours of study and practice it took? Do you!?
Of course, I don’t do this. But I sure feel like it. Instead, I growl a little under my breath and shake my head. Why you ask? Because being a creative being of any sort takes dedication, commitment and rigorous practice - even if you love it! Even if you might be retired from your day job. Even if your mother, father or seventh cousin once removed was a painter, a pianist, a photographer or a novelist you still have to put in the dedicated time to become skilled at what you do. And this is the rub for me.
When we say “oh, you are soooo talented!” without meaning too, we are dismissing all the hours of practice it has taken to become skilled at something that is creative. So what can we do instead? Well, let’s see if we can figure this out together. Sticking with painting for the moment, here is a start…
1. Be specific and own what is working for us in a creative piece. “See those lines there - they really attract my eye to follow the lines towards where the boy is fishing.”
2. Ask a specific question about a piece. “I notice you have used a different kind of yellow in these last three paintings. Is there something significant in this change for you?”
3. Just spend time with the piece. You really don’t need to say much of anything. If you are online just share how you are enjoying the piece. “Each morning this week, I have been sitting with your painting open on my screen while I have my coffee. It takes me to a place where I can cheerfully greet the day.” This says it all!
Now it is your turn - what else can we do that takes us beyond the notion of a creative piece being the result talent alone?
P.S. “Catching Waves at Georgina Point Mayne Island B.C.” a 30 X 40 inch oil painting sold a week ago for just over $6,000 with taxes. Not once did the art collectors turn to me and say “You are so talented!” They said all sorts of other specific things about the painting and my work but not THAT! ;)