Talent is Not Enough

In talking with a former student about a paying gig she had just booked, I mentioned her talent, among other things. She replied, “Talent is nothing if you weren’t taught how to access it and use it.” She’s right, of course, but I had never thought about it in exactly those terms.

Those who teach in the arts beyond the secondary level are aware that talent by itself is not enough. This often comes as a surprise to our students, who have been told since they were able to perform in whatever art they excel how talented they were and how that would insure success as they grew to adulthood. They were misinformed, although probably with the best intentions.

Parents, with few exceptions, have no frame of reference for talent. They know only that their progeny excel at some art or the other and that praise is being heaped on their child by teachers and friends, and so, because they are proud, they join the party. The problem comes when the child develops the expectation of success based on the responses they have garnered in the past. At the very least, they need to memorize that disclaimer that comes on all investment portfolios: “past performance does not guarantee future results.” It doesn’t.

So the children go to high school and join a small pool of other talented peers and form their own clique, the members of which get all the leads in the plays, win all the art prizes, and continue to impress parents and friends. All are encouraged to continue developing their art.

Then they get to college, where they are in class with 25 others who are equally talented, and they begin to realize that they may not be all that special after all. This notion comes home with a vengeance when they realize that they and the other 25 members of their class are really the underclass, that there are three more years of equally talented and more experienced artists ahead of them, and on top of that are the smaller percentage of those who are graduate students. It should be obvious that no matter how much talent each individual has, the rewards are fewer than the number of people in the room, so, if they are to excel, they will have to learn to access and use the talent they have and then go beyond that.

Still, it takes some counseling and convincing to persuade these students that talent is not enough. Not only must they learn how to use their talents, they must combine that with a willingness to work. Stephen King was exactly right when he said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” King is not the only person who has voiced this opinion. One can read similar quotations by people as diverse as Andrew Carnegie, Irving Stone, Aleister Crowley, Lou Holtz, Émile Zola, and Kurt Vonnegut.

And sometimes even talent and hard work are not enough. Success, however, you define it, is elusive, and for some seems to remain just out of reach. And although there are no guarantees, there is no question that we have a far better chance with talent and hard work than with either alone. And there is no question that the art we produce will be better than if we tried to rely on talent alone.

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Date: Sunday, 9. February 2014 23:34
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