kieferart  FAQ: Talent: Genetic, Acquired or Innate?

"It's so interesting to me how [artistic talent is] transmitted/acquired . . . is it through the genes? Or is it just because [you and your brother] were raised with art all around you? And seeing the technique and hearing the language from the time you were born? Is that what makes one person an artist and someone else unable to draw a straight line? I've often wondered about that while wishing that I had drawing or musical talents. . . . "

Let's first take a look at the word "talent". It's defined as a "natural aptitude or skill". But it's also a loaded word that can put people off and can make them feel small if they sense they don't belong to that exclusive "country club". The word has always bugged me and can douse a flicker of creative light REAL fast. I'd like to try to disarm the "T" word by asking these questions. Be honest. Answering "yes" to any or all of these is perfectly okay.
  • Do you want to create art for pleasure?
  • Do you want to create art so you'll feel special?
  • Do you want to create art for money or prestige?
  • Do you want to be a famous artist?
Most people starting out just want to learn it for the heck of it. So if that's the case with you, there is no reason to fret over quality up front, just learn your tools, experiment and enjoy it. Judges tend to look more for moxy and a natural bent on trend than skill. They reward innovation, the use of trendy or mixed mediums and metaphoric/metaphysical themes. But, in the words of one of the great minds of our times, "One day you're in, and the next you're out." - Heidi Klum. If you simply want to try to learn to draw or paint just for the fun of it, you can develop your innate artistic ability (otherwise known as "talent") - it's just a matter of finding a medium that you like and working at it. Give it time and don't compare yourself to others. Just ENJOY working through each project.

I haven't seen any evidence that the ability to create art is genetic. I think it has more to do with permission and will and, yes, maybe exposure. The majority of artists are everyday people. You'll find "genius" in any field - Michelangelo and those guys were exceptionally accurate and efficient with their tools but they were mostly master observers. Every person on the planet can create art - maybe not masterfully, but if you can think, you can express your ideas in paint or any other medium. So much of it is learnable. Comparisons, fed by insecurity and competitiveness, is the killer:  someone tries to draw something, it doesn't compare to the level of the masters, so they quit, thinking the skill should just "exist" in them. It takes time and work to, first, condition yourself to be a keen observer and then to learn to use a particular tool to represent that image. It's true that my brother and I were given "permission" to do art. We watched our parents paint, saw them succeed, saw them sometimes fail (without the world ending) and we picked up some technical skills - all definitely a leg up. But a whole lot of excellent artists weren't exposed to art at all in their beginnings - they picked up a tool (chalk, spray paint, charcoal, etc.) and just played.

About 10 years ago, a commission client of mine bought her boyfriend 5 painting sessions with me as a birthday gift. The guy had never been exposed to art. He was in the well drilling business. The only thing he'd done artwise was a few tightly-drawn sketches of this or that. You should have seen him that first day in my studio. His body language told the story - slumped at the neck, no eye contact with me, fear in his voice. Long story short, by the end of that 5th session, he was standing tall, joking around, excited about his next subject (to paint on his own) and left my studio carrying his two completed oil paintings. So it really has more to do with giving yourself permission to make mistakes and learning how to correct them. There's no reason to reinvent the wheel (like I did, working without instruction for so many years), so pick a medium and find out about its properties and how to use the tools. Condition yourself to be a keen observer so you can choose a subject that suits you then practice your brains out.

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