First off, let’s get the semantics out of the way: talent can mean an innate gift, and a person can be talented with special abilities (gained through time or otherwise). I have felt through the years that people – when complimenting me, which I very much appreciate – use the term “talent” interchangeably, and somewhat dismissively towards the labor that has been put towards gaining my abilities in art.

I was not born with my skills. Shocking, I know, but have you seen what all two-year-olds draw? Non of it is necessarily museum-worthy.

I drew this when I was roughly 5 years old. And I was so proud of it that I gave it to my mom. Hardly something I would describe as being the work of a future artist, if I may be so bold.

So, the reason that I point this out is because I want you all to realize that very few people are born with innate talent. Those who are are called prodigies, and I am not one of  them.

Akiane Kramarik, an actual child prodigy.

For the skills that I possess, I worked for. My talent, if I have any in terms of natural aptitude, is in being critical of my work; of being willing to try to make every piece of art better than the last in some way or another. Every element of my artwork has been pushed through trial and error over a long time. I just recently began to trust my skills at drawing, only because my musclememory finally adopted the methods that I have been practicing and drilling for years. You know that whole brain-hand-connection thing? It’s something you have to practice into yourself. Same with archery, surgery, instruments, etc. The capability to make your hands do what your brain tells them to. It’s a skill.

Because I know that people with no innate talent can become decent or amazing at art, I wish people would stop saying “Man, I wish that I could draw.” I’ve heard that so many times, and it’s frustrating for me because no matter how much I say, “You can; anyone can,” people dismiss it like artists are some unattainable master-class of people. My job at Uncorked Canvas – wherein I teach people who are non-artists how to create a piece of art – tells me, without a doubt, that anyone can pick up a brush and create something.  There have now been studies that tell you what I and every artists will tell you: Decide you want it more than you don’t, and work at it. You have to want it. You have to want it so bad that you will work through the times in practicing that you hate art. You have to spend hours every week studying artists that you love, artists that you hate, and you have to borrow and steal elements from all of them. You have to draw still-lifes and people and bugs and things that you don’t care about. And it will not happen over night. It will take years. And, once those years are over, you will realize how much you still suck, but you will love it so much that you will be overjoyed at the idea of pushing yourself harder. Put simply, “If you’re stuck on stick figures, the good news, according to researchers at the University College London, is that people can improve…with practice ( 1).”

I started out like everyone else. I am not innately gifted, but I am passionate, and willing to fail.  I have spent so many years staring at art online that I probably don’t even have room in my brain for an original idea, but in place of that I have inspiration from thousands of pieces of art. I have drawn since I was young, and I haven’t stopped drawing because I find so much joy in creating. But I can’t say that I’m anywhere near the skill-level that I want to be. I’m pushing through from sheer determination to see where the talents God has given me will take me.  And I can tell you from experience that there are many phases in becoming an artist – most of them are in ditches where you are sure that you are incapable of creating something even halfway decent. You’ll know if your passion outweighs your impatience if you push through those moments: you have to dig your way out and paint with mud until you reach the surface. It’s awful, but so worth it. And don’t let your age dictate your limitations – I’ve met women who started painting after retirement because they suddenly had time, and their skills outstrip me. Sometimes age just means you can practice smarter.

And, just so that the world knows, the only reason I am an artist today – the only reason that I pushed through – was the encouragement that I received from my parents and friends. And, once the internet came around, the encouragement I received from YOU.

(Please read the comments section for some other thoughts)

10 thoughts on “Talent vs. Hard Work”

  1. Well written. I’m glad you outlined that. It’s very close to what I’ve told people is the likely story when I show off your work to them (“See this. Isn’t it great? Yeah, a friend from school made it!”). However, I have to disagree with you just a tiny bit, and it may only come down to semantics.

    You are very talented. It’s not an innate talent, as you outlined. But it is talent nonetheless. I have held for some time that most people appear to be talented only because they have practiced so much. You’ve had a lifetime of practice, developing into a talent for creating beautiful works.

    So, when someone says “Wow, you’re so talented!” just assume them to mean “I am so proud of the work you have done. I am amazed at the years of dedication and growth I’ve seen. Congrats on getting this far, I cant’ wait to see where you go.” (And yes, I read that HuffPost article, too. Even commented on it when Dave posted it on Facebook.) And I do look forward to seeing what you create in the future.

    1. I will agree with you completely. I suppose when someone says, “You’re so talented,” I sense that they don’t understand the difference between prodigy and working to cultivate talent. Talent is defined as “Natural aptitude or skill,” and can be a “gift” or an “ability.” You are right in saying that I have worked to become talented. I think that you are right in your critique of the semantics; you make a very good point. Thank you!

      1. Okay, another thought. It’s when they use the term “talent” in unison with a longing for the skills. I suppose that’s what I hear most often.

        It’s the difference between looking at what they see as talent (skill) and using it for incentive to work harder, versus looking at talent (prodigious) and using it as an excuse to never even try.

        So you are very right in pointing out the semantics; there is a difference. So I guess that there is a time and place to use the term correctly. But you wouldn’t pick up a camera because you saw a Steven Speilberg film and assume that you could create a masterpiece. You can’t assume that you can pick up a pencil and create a timeless work of art within a day’s time.

  2. I’m from Portugal and i saw right now a video about you (documentary) in one of that internacional channels. i’m 18years old and i swear i paint like you when you were 2years (like you show in that draw). i really like your work, so, i googling you and i don’t see anything more recently… well, i don’t know if you still be “new”, but it’s normal if i don’t find anything here in Portugal. i want to know how you are like now and how is your work… do you want this for life? well, good luck. (sorry if my english is not the best…) cheers*

    1. Hi, Alexandra!

      I’m so very sorry for such a late reply; I haven’t spent much time on this site recently, but I am looking to remedy that.
      If I’m understanding your questions correctly, you can see me update this website regularly with new work. I plan to be an artist in some fashion for the rest of my life; it’s what I was born to do, and I couldn’t go through life without it. I’m not sure where you might have seen me on a documentary. Perhaps you’re on the wrong website? I have a couple of self-made videos on YouTube, but I’ve never appeared on or been featured in any films (I’m DEFINITELY not famous enough for that in ANY way).
      Thank you so much for the comment; I’m so very glad to hear that my work can be seen all over the world, and that you enjoyed it. I hope you enjoy my future work as well 🙂

  3. I googled Marla Olmstead and it led me to your site. Just for the record, the picture of “Marla” you posted is actually a picture of Akiane, another extremely talented young lady. Marla, it appears from her website, paints mainly abstract artwork.

    1. Thank you! When looking up pictures of Marla, the paintings didn’t seem to match the style of the portrait in this picture, but this photo came up as well so I just assumed. I appreciate you letting me know 🙂 I’ll see if I can find something more accurate…

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