Monday, October 5, 2009

The Magic Of Talent And The Reality Of Hard Work

I am sometimes confronted with the very well-meaning art observer who compliments me on my “great talent”. On the one hand, at its heart this is a sincere acknowledgement of appreciation for my work. It is meant as no more than a heart-felt compliment and I shouldn’t take it any other way. But on the other hand, I also find it to be a dismissal of the reality of being an artist. Let me explain...

The creation of art (and especially representational art) is somewhat of a mystery to those that feel their artistic faculties only allow them to appreciate art rather than create it. In many ways, this mystery is good for business. It effectively elevates the artist to a position of admiration which often translates into better sales. But the mystery of talent, to a large extent, can be revealed as simple determination, dedication and in the end, consistent hard work.

I fully understand that no matter the endeavor, there are those of us that will excel at any particular chosen task more so than others. Everything, from the environment in which we are raised, to the people we encounter along the way, right down to our DNA, will have a tremendous impact on how we excel at certain tasks. One need only look to athletics to see how the individual’s performance is influenced by these kinds of variables. But as with any undertaking, the effect of those variables must be tempered with perseverance and hard work. And there are few other categories in which this is truer than in art — and more specifically, representational painting.

I’ve spent my entire life drawing and painting. I am constantly trying to refine and better my skills as an artist, both fundamentally and stylistically. It’s tireless, frustrating, difficult work and I do it nearly every day of my life. My dedication to being better at what I truly love to do has gifted me tangible results. I can look back on my previous work and see great changes for the better. I can see dramatic improvements in all aspects of my work — improvements that are obvious when I look back even just a few years. In other words, I didn’t spring from the womb being able to draw and paint. In fact, I would argue that anyone could learn to draw and paint realistically. Essentially, it comes down to simple eye-hand coordination and there are a set of very effective techniques and principles one can learn that will help them to achieve that end. I can think of a couple artists who I have personally observed go from 8th grade-level competency in drawing, to truly professional quality, and their betterment can easily be explained by their dedication to constantly practicing — not by supernatural forces.

It isn’t in a person’s technical ability to recreate on paper or canvas what they see that I consider talent. And, since one’s style (and the public’s appreciation for it) is a relatively subjective thing in art, talent can’t necessarily be gauged by personal style alone. If talent in art truly exists, it can be found in the artist’s level of commitment to bettering themselves as an artist, and maybe more importantly, in their love of creating art.

Don’t let your (or anyone else's) preconceived notions about “talent” stand in the way of you becoming a better artist.


  1. Excellent, well thought out post, Dustin. The idea that art is a simple 'gift' to the artist is a myth that should be dispelled. Artists, like bookkeepers and teachers and everyone else work diligently to get better at their craft. Thanks for waving the banner for hardworking artists!