Finding your talent

Dear Artist, Current research is now telling us that something other than high IQ and putting in lots of time makes for talent. New theories are ventured weekly, it seems, including such ideas as individual physiological differences like having the good luck to own an oversized connector between your left and right hemispheres. Some researchers are concluding there’s some sort of unique feature — some sort of “gift.” Meanwhile, Malcolm Gladwell’s solution of putting in 10,000 hours is still alive and well. In one recent study, psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University asked violin students to estimate the amount of time they had actually practiced since they started playing. The students (all aged 20) whom the faculty identified as the “best” players had accumulated an average of over 10,000 hours, compared to just under 8,000 hours for the “good” players and less than 5,000 hours for the least skilled. My inquiries into cumulative painting times have met with dubious results. Actual working time of artists who told me they paint “all the time” ranged from people who paint twelve hours a day and keep track of it — to people whose studio door is always open. Recently I noticed a small painting on the easel of an “all the time” painter that she had signed and dated “1978.” As far as I’m concerned, Professor Ericsson’s studies could only be confirmed by some sort of gizmo fastened within the violin that only counted the hours when the instrument was vibrating. I once installed a timer on my studio chair that activated when I sat, only to find just how little I sat. Also, not surprisingly, sitting did not always result in painting. While contemplation-time counts, the “Genn Improved Patent Painting Interval Time-Tester” (GIPPITT) would only tally when the brush completed an electric circuit as it touched the canvas. How to avoid electrocuting the painter has not yet been developed. Fact is, artists who keep track of time may be whistling Dixie. Keeping track of both finished and unfinished projects is a better way to measure progress. “Putting Paid to Projects” (PPP) is my new and improved measurement. A worker with 10,000 projects is more likely to be the one with the “talent.” Best regards, Robert PS: “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” (Emile Zola) Esoterica: Some outside problem, inconvenience, disability or inadequacy may be needed to find the will to craft the work that finds the talent. Edward Bulwer-Lytton thought it to be simply “the will to labour.” At some point it generally requires some sort of solitude. “Talent develops in tranquility,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I think it may have something to do with innate curiosity. I’ve wondered if some people just aren’t curious enough to become talented. Whatever the mysterious thing called talent is, it is there, like Santa, by agreed consent. And however evasive this “gift” may be, most of us would love to have more of it. Perhaps unlocking talent is in itself a talent.   Total engagement in the work by Dean Drewyer, Leesburg, VA, USA  

“December Frost”
oil painting, 14 x 14 inches
by Dean Drewyer

A wonderful little book that touches on all this is called Life Work, written by Donald Hall — I highly recommend it. In it he relates some wonderful time he spent talking with Henry Moore and the paraphrase from (my) memory is that a sculptor can be tap, tap, tapping at a marble, day and night, and still not really be working – what is required is an absorbed-ness resulting from total engagement in the work. You will have to fine tune your invention for measuring to detect this engagement! Enjoy that book if you can find it.   There are 2 comments for Total engagement in the work by Dean Drewyer
From: Anonymous — Dec 22, 2011

I have identified as an artist since I was 7 years old, and have drawn and painted most days of my adult life. Now, at the age of 51, I am finally attaining my Bachelor of Fine Art. A course this year required me to draw from life 6 hours a week and keep a daily sketchbook, and I am amazed at the improvement in my drawing skills. So practice makes a huge difference, but I suspect that an almost autistic focus and will to practice is the vital ingredient. For those of us who simply cannot leave it alone, there is no tedium in those 10,000 hours of practice; rather a magical engagement within which the hours fly by.

From: Virginia Wieringa — Dec 23, 2011

Stunning painting!

  Painting-a-day pays off by Kimberly Santini, Lake Orion, MI, USA  

original painting
by Kimberly Santini

I’ve gotta say, the choice to become a Daily Painter (6 years ago) was one of the best decisions I ever made. Originally designed to allow me to explore and experiment with ideas outside of commissioned work, I allotted one hour each day to a smaller piece with no pressure to complete it. The project’s blog caught on, the artwork appealed to my collectors, and my entire studio operations shifted seemingly overnight to a self-sustaining model. While I was at it, the hours of practice accumulated and my knowledge banks grew. I’m closing in on that magic number, 10,000 hours, with roughly 1300 paintings created, but only now starting to fully realize the scope of what I have yet to learn! However, I look back at what I’ve been able to process during a relatively short window of time, and I am amazed.   Measuring your progress by Randall Cogburn, Alvin, Texas, USA  

“Loch Leven”
oil painting, 5.5 x 5.5 inches
by Randall Cogburn

The ability to learn from one’s mistakes I think is the key to becoming a great painter. That and focusing on what you’re doing. I’m mostly talking about painting that requires multiple levels of skill like brushwork, color matching, drawing etc. I think the artists who pick it up quick learn from their mistakes very quickly, while others need to hash it out. Kevin Macpherson’s Landscape Painting Inside and Out stated that one should be able to match a color he sees within 3 tries of mixing paint. Well I’m probably a 4-5 and that’s if I really try to match something and that’s in studio. If I’m plein air painting it might be 4-5 but that’s only if I’m not picky. One thing holding me back is funds to paint. I remember you saying to go for a 6 month painting spree but I don’t think I can work and not paint until I get enough money to go for a 6 month painting vacation. There is 1 comment for Measuring your progress by Randall Cogburn
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Dec 23, 2011

Wonderful painting! I love the first sentence… I tell my students they learn best from their own mistakes! And I love Kevin’s book, and refer to it often.

  Hit by a Mac truck by Mary Spring, Rochester, NH, USA   I was living in California for quite some time and painting weekly with a group. I would also keep my current painting on my easel with my oils at the side, and could not pass the easel without stopping and doing some “work” on the painting. I was very prolific and was increasing my talent by leaps and bounds. I was also attending SWA’s meetings and Demo’s on a routine basis, which helped. Well, 2 years ago, I was hit by a Mac truck and lost my job as a trauma nurse in the ER, due to my injuries. With the onslaught of depression, I stopped painting! (How odd that I didn’t turn to painting for healing). I have just started painting again, and have included water colors. Now, with any other talent, if you don’t use it, you usually lose it… I am as good as, if not better than, I was before. I have taken to watercolors “Like a duck…” I think talent is a combination of many things: The brain hemisphere connection (I am ambidextrous) – Practice, practice, practice, and the deep desire just to create something beautiful. There are 3 comments for Hit by a Mac truck by Mary Spring
From: Anonymous — Dec 24, 2011

I like this comment, it reminds me that Mac Trucks can come in all shapes and sizes. Good for you for getting back at it and best wishes for continued progress

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Feb 21, 2012

I can relate to this. I’m partially disabled now, with a fatigue issue ruling me too often – and my easel is always waiting for me to continue. And I surmise that having things uncertain, and having distractions, and having my confidence shaken has impeded my productivity. But this has little to do with talent. Using both hands may have more to do with talent – tapping into the middle brain. I played piano when I was younger and missed it so much until I started painting. I paint with both hands – conciously – and it seems to help keep the wheels turning. When I painted acrylics, I churned out a large number of them. Working with oils I have decided that it’s not about counting projects but counting sessions, since each one will take on a different aspect of the painting. I don’t really want to slap-dash a painting. I enjoy the deliberation, the pauses, the fine tuning. Hell, I just enjoy painting!

From: Anonymous — Aug 16, 2012

This is a great comment. I was a fairly optimistic and prolific painter until my mother died suddenly, (she also painted) it was a good ten years before I picked up a brush again, like you, I would have thought I would find healing in painting but any motivation I had just left. I’m back again now, due to buying a book of the work of the recently deceased Mary Fedden, a fantastic British artist of the 20th Century, I now understand I have nothing to lose with my art and all to gain, and I know my art has come back even stronger in the form of oils and lino prints.

  Passion more important by Claudio Ghirardo, Mississauga, ON, Canada  

“Super Hero Icon #2”
original painting
by Claudio Ghirardo

I have met and known many talented individuals who never continued pursuing their “gift.” Interesting enough, I met many successful artists in many fields and they all told me that they weren’t that “talented” in the beginning of their career and had to learn their “trade” but it was something they loved to do and wanted to do it for the rest of their lives. I don’t believe it is the amount of hours you put in or a gift that makes talent. It is passion for what you do. There is 1 comment for Passion more important by Claudio Ghirardo
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Dec 23, 2011

I have said the same thing many times. It can be “some” talent, but miles of practice, and more than anything, it is the “wanting” or “passion” to follow this path we set ourselves on! And Patience!

  The squandering of a talent by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA  

“Ashley in a Tutu”
pastel painting
by Sharon Knettell

I have a friend who no longer draws or paints though she has a studio. She married excessively well which probably killed her interest. She did a large painting of a motorcycle rider when she was 17 that knocked my socks off. It looked like it had been done by someone with enormous talent who had been painting for years. It was a completely bravura performance with not a hint of amateurism. I was green with envy. However, she really did not like to paint because she was a very social person and disliked solitude. She became a very successful illustrator despite herself, worked only when she was paid and grudgingly. She only went to art school for a year but picked up techniques with alacrity. Whenever I think of the question of talent, I think of her. There are 2 comments for The squandering of a talent by Sharon Knettell
From: Sharon Knettell — Dec 23, 2011

I was not the only one who thought she was extraordinary. She got a full scholarship to the Boston Museum School plus a stipend for art supplies and room and board.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Feb 21, 2012

Well, and you should think of YOU. Very nice painting here.

  Keeping track impeded talent by Jill Charuk, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Standing in the shadows”
acrylic painting, 36 x 48 inches
by Jill Charuk

After renting an “outside” studio (outside the home) I decided to set down on paper how much work I produced. I gave myself a quota, at retail prices, to paint each month. I wrote down the sizes, medium, etc, of each piece and kept a running total. At the end of the year I had an impressive amount of paintings. I would say that this was my least favourite group of work in ten years. I became a poorer painter rather than a better one. There were successes, but forcing the work out didn’t work for me. It seems to me that something as fickle as my talent has its own time frame. I still spend lots of time at the studio but production has slowed way down. I feel better about that.   Camera setup follows process by Maxx Maxted, Nimbin, Australia  

“The Voyage of St. Brendan”
acrylic painting
by Maxx Maxted

I once set up a super 8 camera with a 10 second delay on each exposure at the Lismore Regional Art Gallery. This gave me a 3 minute movie of a 30 hour painting. I did another 30 hours in the studio to finish. I had a sketch of what I wanted but had no idea what the interlocking motifs or details would be. I took no references in with me. My prediction was that the viewer would see me start in chalk then charcoal onto a toned canvas and then build up the painting through wash to solid passages, details and final finish, in a dull blur, realizing that the camera needs 12 frames at least in order to register an image on the retina and therefore I would not be clearly ‘in shot’ for very long. To my amazement, on viewing the final result I saw that I started the painting in overalls and very quickly moved through a week’s worth of costume change but my image was consistently recognizable, as if I had been standing still for hours at a time while working from the same spot, perhaps conscious of the stationary camera but moving my arms?   10,000 Hours by David Chesney, White Rock, BC, Canada   Bob Lefsetz writes a very fine blog along the lines of yours, but for people within the music industry. Here’s some material from his latest: “It’s 10,000 hours of HARD PRACTICE! Let me put it to you this way… If you spend 10,000 hours on the bunny slope, you’re never going to win the World Cup. You’ve got to challenge yourself, ski the double blacks, go out when it’s blowin’ and snowin’ as well as when it’s sunny and smooth. So you can play the riffs on the record, good for you. But can you play the riffs on the records you don’t like, that aren’t in your genre? Mutt Lange, the best record producer in the world, honed his chops, learned his craft by making soundalike records in South Africa. Speak to anybody who’s worked with him. Mutt can make the records himself — can you? Can you play the drums as well as the guitar? Jeff Beck plays without a pick — have you mastered his technique? It’s only when you’ve got all the basics down that you can fly. Have you written a thousand songs? No, let me refocus this so you get it. Have you worked on your craft to the point of frustration? Instead of telling everybody how !@#$% great you are, have you gone to bed thinking you’re dog shit, that you just can’t get it right? If you haven’t had this feeling, you’re never going to make it. Get off your self-satisfied soapbox and realize that all the masters slogged through shit to get to where they are. Don’t look at Justin Bieber and the TV wonders, they’re flashes in the pan, celebrities du jour barely different from the kids in the “Real World” house. Play to the public. They know what’s good. And if you haven’t made it, chances are you suck. Or you’re just not good enough yet. Instead of complaining, go back into your bedroom and PRACTICE!” There are 2 comments for 10,000 Hours by David Chesney
From: Heather Assaf — Dec 23, 2011

Right on!!! Especially the’frustration’ part. So many times I get totally frustrated in the middle of a painting and think I can’t finish, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m no good. I’ll put the work away, face against the wall and come back a few days later and have another go. When these paintings are finished I am the most satisfied because I ‘solved the puzzle’ by challenging myself to complete something by letting my mind go into the zone of intuition and letting my ego get out of the way.

From: Susie Cipolla — Dec 23, 2011

Yahoo, the brutal truth!

  Dr Aniko Boda’s successful show by Damar Minyak, Kansas City (area), MO, USA   A few weeks ago, your twice-weekly letter discussed a Dr Boda, of Hungary, in a blog that you called A shrinking violet. Since that time, I have traded emails with her a couple of times. First, to give her some words of encouragement after the horrible way I felt she was treated by some of your readers. (She informed me that she had also received some rather hateful emails from some of them.) Then, just this evening, she returned the following to me, in response to my enquiry about her exhibition: Dear Damar, The opening was on 9th of Dec., and it was a great success. I’ve never dreamed of so many people sacrificing their spare time because of me. I gave a little speech and organized a tiny show with reading Somerset Maugham and playing Grieg songs on guitar. An article was published in the local papers about the show and the municipality wants to publish a brochure of my work and biography. Students turned up asking me to teach them. I decided not to sell and not to put out a price list, though I keep receiving offers. I’m thinking on ordering giclée prints. The paintings will be there for 6 months, and after the show I’ll give the paintings to carefully chosen people to place them in their homes, but they will sign a paper that they have to return the works when I ask for them. I attach some photos, I’m the one with long curly hair and extremely red cheeks. (I was sooo nervous!) Dear Damar, it feels so good you remembered me, your letter is one of my Christmas presents. Aniko There is 1 comment for Dr Aniko Boda’s successful show by Damar Minyak
From: Ruth Spooner — Dec 22, 2011



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Finding your talent

From: daniela — Dec 19, 2011

I like Emile Zola’s quotation, and,I love your sense of humour, Robert…I think ‘lighten up’ might have something to do with being able to loosen up enough to switch brains(left/right) in order to accomplish art. Personally, my journey has had much to do with finding inner quiet and I problem solve life things and also art things, when I am can be quiet.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Dec 20, 2011

Talent is certantly a gift, maybe through some quirk of DNA but I am grateful for it. I have known people with a small amount of talent who work hard and long hours and become successfull. I have also known people with amazing natural talent who choose to do nothing with it. I am myself blessed with a moderate amount of talent but cannot motivate myself to paint in the studio 12 hours a day. Too many other things call for my time. There are days when I have time to paint a 6 hour stretch, but then laundry, dinner, grocery shopping,etc. calls me. That’s my excuse anyway! The truth is I find it hard to maintain a level of excitement over my current project, beyond a certain length of time without overworking. So, I walk away. To work a 12 hour stretch daily, I would have to have quite a few projects underway.

From: Rene — Dec 20, 2011

My thoughts on this subject, Robert, is that it takes between 5 and 10 years to become a pretty good artist in any medium. It might take more or less time depending on the persons passion for making art. Talent is 90% inspiration and 10% perspiration.

From: Julia — Dec 20, 2011

Talent or absence of talent passion for art is making me to practice endless hours and if i am not Gretzki i still have a wonderful time playing!

From: Suzette Fram — Dec 20, 2011

Rene, I think you have it backwards. Talent is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration. Robert, I love the “Genn Improved Patent Painting Interval Time-Tester” (GIPPITT) would only tally when the brush completed an electric circuit as it touched the canvas. How to avoid electrocuting the painter has not yet been developed. Thanks for a good laugh. In my opinion, there are a few who have a special gift. I have seen it and it’s amazing. However, I think that most of us are not geniuses, and only time and practice will get us there. There’s also synchronicity. I have recently embarked on a program of study and coaching, which requires me to paint every day, and do exercises, as well as paint on my own work and do some readings; in a very short time, I can already see and feel a difference. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Dec 20, 2011

Curiosity, contemplation, desire, passion, study, work, intent, dedication and attitude are some of the more important ingredients making up talent.

From: Sinisa M — Dec 20, 2011

Developing an electrocuting preventive device for artists who use GIPPITT methods would be such a shame. I bet you an electrocuted artist would go straight to the Hall of Fame of the Measubator society.

From: Dianne Middleton — Dec 20, 2011

“Possessing talent is nothing more than the continuous pursuit of a life-long interest” – I believe that is the quote I’d heard given by the late Bob Ross in a documentary aired on a PBS station last week. Thus it is simply a matter of the amount of time one wishes to put into creating their art that enables ‘talent’.

From: Scott Kahn — Dec 20, 2011

If time spent painting was the barometer/measurement for genius, how do we rate Leonardo da Vinci who only painted a handful of paintings in his lifetime?

From: Barbara Boldt — Dec 20, 2011

Talent is evident throughout my family, this generation and generations back into the 1700s. My great-great grandmother was a painter who studied and worked with Horace Vernet of France in that century. One of her sons Dr. Robert Hartmann, 1832-1896, was a scientific artist, traveling in Africa as an ethnographer, and sketching all the way. My father’s parents and grandparents of that family were both very talented. Two of my three children were very gifted, sadly passed away during their careers. Two of my grandchildren are working in design and original art. I do believe that talent is inherited, yet the work required to use this talent is dependent on the intention of the individual. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “What you have inherited from your forefathers, it takes work to make it your own.” (Loosely translated from German.)

From: Barbara Boldt — Dec 20, 2011

Often people ask me:”How long did it take you to paint this piece?” It does not matter how big or complicated a painting, I always answer: “36 years”. I have been painting for that many years.

From: Bob Raglandl — Dec 20, 2011

I feel talent is highly overrated, I just show up in the studio or on location and put the time in.

From: Brenda Butka — Dec 20, 2011

I think there is some element in “talent” that involves the ability to suspend judgement on oneself (at least temporarily)—a “why the heck not” factor. Also some version of a wife—one can’t develop talent or projects if one is cooking and cleaning for six.

From: Kittie Beletic — Dec 20, 2011

One of my most cherished voice teachers said, “Talent is Ability”. He used the phrase often and the interpretation was a meaningful tool for me. Whether you are an artist who has achieved some level of success or you are an artist who is just beginning, there is always room to add to your talent. One’s ability to do something can come early and easily. If that person chooses to focus on that ability, he will become better that much sooner. Indeed, Mr. Zola, the talent and work go hand in hand. Demystifying the word talent has sometimes given me permission to do the work. It beckons me to join forces with my talent. Together we work out, we explore, we study, we dance. “Talent is Ability”. Thank you, Arthur Peters …

From: Paul V. Azzopardi — Dec 20, 2011

In my experience, 10K hours just makes you proficient, not expert.

From: BJ Bjork — Dec 20, 2011

To me, talent is something you are naturally good at, nothing more, nothing less. The secret to great talent is ; ‘Doing what you know is easy, challenging the unknown is ADVENTURE’. BJ Bjork

From: Jenny Adams — Dec 20, 2011

The time spent on a piece can vary so much. As a potter turned painter having experienced those days where it all works and a piece comes together almost immediately as well as the days resulting in more laboured attempts. I particularly identify with the line in your Esoterica. I’ve wondered if some people just aren’t curious enough to become talented. Whatever the mysterious thing called talent is, it is there, like Santa, by agreed consent. And however evasive this “gift” may be, most of us would love to have more of it. Perhaps unlocking talent is in itself a talent. Staying curious is a good thing. Thanks for this.

From: Eleanor Brown — Dec 20, 2011

Thanks for info about keeping art things in the car during the winter cold. In Australia I have the opposite problem. Cars can get very overheated in just a few minutes in the Aussie summer and I often wonder how much damage I’m doing to materials.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Dec 20, 2011

I think that one has the talent inherently but it has to be tapped to be manifested. Painting or any other form of art the more you do and try to improve the better you will be. Taking classes and exchanging ideas would also help.

From: Elle Fagan — Dec 20, 2011

I got working quickly, partly thanks to your twice-weekly inspirations, after a immobilizing disability knocked the wind out of my sails – and soon I got used to the idea of doing what I could and letting the rest go for a bit, with no recriminations on my or anyone else. And I did just fine, except for the lack of normal biz powers, and poor income. So I changed doctors and regained better powers and my renewed business license is recently on the wall in my new studio at the Mill on Fox Hill. I am EXACTLY at that place – at my easel and and other tasks and developing a sharp act , as the say…time off and time at the easel, the computer and the fitness that empowers it all. Fun! So I laughed and perked up from this note, mostly jubilant that I CAN do it all better than ever and actually make money again!

From: Doctor Robert — Dec 20, 2011

A very competent artist once told me, rather dogmatically, “You are not an artist until you paint one thousand paintings”. Having done about fifty such at that time, I was rather put off by his arrogance. Now that I am closer to having 250 done, I see what he meant. I have had a very attenuated painting time due to illness for the past two years, and I am amazed (and disappointed) at how my skills have slipped. I am considering going back to school, to once more fully engage with the process. (I also have a new vision which will require a new skill set!) All in all, having talent is both boon and bane, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

From: Rosemarie Caffarelli — Dec 20, 2011

I do paint every day in pastel. I have stacks and stacks of finished work and find the day is not complete for me, unless I spend at least 1-2 hours at my easel. Some days it is 4-5. I seem to never get enough, but the result, for me, is that my work is much more accomplished and I am able to interpret problems much easier. Can’t imagine a day without painting. I think the other ingredient is determination.

From: Gail Shepley — Dec 20, 2011

Sometimes I like to watch shows about antiques and was interested that an extremely complex carved piece had a German heritage and the antiques dealer was explaining that the apparent manic bi-polar seeming creation seemed to him to be a common working habit for people in this part of the world. So, who knows, maybe it’s in the blood too. I taught art skills to children, adults and special needs for over twenty years and remember how fascinated I was by a special needs man of indigenous heritage who kept making ovoids, we finally realized he wasn’t mumbling either but rather speaking Inuit. People are such funny creatures.

From: doris — Dec 20, 2011

Some time I go to my studio to eat lunch and look at all that drival I have created. Then I finish lunch and try to complete some of the unfinished stuff!! Have to keep working on trying to complete something that I could not do a week before..and some times it works. Art is not easy, especially after looking at all those art magazines and saying to will never be good enough..and then continue to paint for yourself.

From: Jack Wahl — Dec 20, 2011

There seems to be many things to help shape an Artist’s career, but I think one of the MOST important, is for the artist to be able to tell the difference between GOOD WORK AND BAD WORK. If he can’t, he will continue to paint poorly and think what he is doing is good.

From: Nonny Kordelia Kudel — Dec 20, 2011

awwwww, Robert, your “GIPPITT” brought on a surge of nostalgia and i have to share a funny with you…. Besides my artistic ‘bent’, i get my wonderful twisted sensa huma from my Dad, and about 45 yrs ago, when he was semi-retired, he was working at a local college, painting walls. As a gift, i gave him an electric paintbrush. A local store had generic (wall) paintbrushes in white & red. I bought one of those, some red tape, and a red extension cord. I cut off the “inny” part of the cord, laid the bare wire end against the handle of the brush, and carefully taped it down, winding it around the handle…. you could see nothing amiss…. My dad wore the ubiquitous white coveralls, and had the brush sticking up out of a back pocket, trailing the wire so that “the guys” would see and ask him about it…. and they did. He explained his “daughter in Philadelphia” (at that time) had gotten him “the latest”, an Electric Paintbrush. Skeptical, they asked him how it worked, and he explained: “You plug it in, dip it in the paint and then brush back and forth, like this…” demonstrating a brushstroke. He could do this with the greatest pokerface, and innocently could just NOT understand why THEY couldn’t understand. Best $4.58 I ever spent.

From: Stephanie Denny — Dec 20, 2011

I want you to know how much I enjoy your twice weekly letters — certainly for all the good advice and guidance, but also for your wit, and the way you turn a phrase. You’re a delight to read! Mesa, AZ

From: Wes Giesbrecht — Dec 20, 2011

For many years I made my living as a singer/musician and would regularly encounter people who would say things like, “You’re so very lucky to have this God-given talent.” Little did they know that my stage career had begun in church at the age of 5 and that not only had I been singing and playing since childhood, but that for me, it didn’t come easy. I struggled, putting in long hours of practice, to learn what I did. I’ve never cared for the word talent and it’s not part of my regular vocabulary. I’ll allow that there’s such a thing as aptitude but the word talent has this ‘God-given’ connotation in most people’s minds so I never use it to describe what is really, ability.

From: Lanie Frick — Dec 20, 2011
From: Eddith Buis — Dec 21, 2011

As a 34-year veteran of art teaching, I just “retired” to see if I could find MY way prior to getting too old. I’m 71. Hard to do the hours, tho…always garden, film, sputtering and fussing around the house can allow obfuscation…What pushes me is the entry deadline for shows… (Nebraska Women’s Caucus for Art, friends who include me, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, which asks for entries)… Have settled on Carl Jung’s advice: “Be simple and always take the next step. You needn’t see it in advance, but you can look back at it afterwards.There is no ‘how’ of life, one just does it.”

From: Aleada Siragusa — Dec 21, 2011

IQ is something bean counters created and love because it’s quantifiable. IQ testing was originally created to test for retardation and evolved to become the gold standard in judging the brains highest function. These IQ results are great for knowing if you will be able to participate in game shows like Jeopardy. But testing your brains ability to gather information does not easily test what you will be able to do with that information. Of course creativity is part of the brains higher intelligence or what we think of as IQ, unfortunately it’s harder to test and therefore is undervalued. So the arts are undervalued as a study because they rely heavily on this unquantifiable aspect of our thinking. Nature, what you are born with, and Nurture, what life offers you thereafter, both play a part in the development of the brains functions. Play Time and the Arts are so important and it is unfortunate that they are undervalued in our current educational systems in the USA. I’m not sure of is happening in education elsewhere in the world, but do know what’s happening in my neck of the woods. “Learning to the test” which has revolutionized the educational system in the USA is harmful to the brain, not to mention the soul. Over emphasis on testing doesn’t allow for creativity which may just be the most important aspect of brain development. Nor does it value physical education, physical education or “PE” is also crucial to the development of not only the body but also, as recent scientific studies have shown, help in the development of the brain. For more information on this look up, Science Daily, Exercise Appears To Improve Brain Function Among Younger People. Temple Grandin makes a good case for the importance of art education. She is an American doctor of animal science and professor at Colorado State University, she also note worthy because she credits much of her insights to being born with autism which gives her a unique way of learning and special insights into animal behavior. In her book , {Animals Make Us Human, page 187 } she states, “I see all kinds of problems with college students who have never had an art class or built anything themselves. This lack of hands on experience really hurts their understanding of how different things relate to each other in the physical world. “Since around 2000, the percentage of students having difficulty with drawings has increased due to lack of hands on experience with drawing in grade school.” When scientists separate the creative aspect of the brains function from IQ they are doing a disservice to humanity. Creativity just may be the most important aspect of our brains higher function or IQ.

From: Jakki Kouffman — Dec 21, 2011

I long ago banned the use of the word “talent” in the classes and workshops that I teach. The reason: the word carries baggage, and that baggage is an impediment to learning. What is making art about, after all? For me and my students, it is about making visible the compulsions of the mind and the heart; that is, bearing witness to the human condition. Anybody, at any age, can find a qualified teacher or coach to help facilitate this process. Some artists begin working long before others, it’s true, but the main reason is usually opportunity, often provided by family, friends and community. Lacking this, a timely exposure to artistic excellence and some art supplies can help anyone leapfrog early deprivations. Artistic accomplishment requires a serious investment of time, but more importantly, it demands a willingness to push back against the relentlessness of daily life. Moreover, a good art coach doesn’t just teach technique or set up work regimens; she addresses the larger question: how do we satisfy the unexplained need to turn spirit matter into paint? Artistry has less to do with the number of hours spent at the easel, or who is qualified to call herself an artist, than with a commitment to explore the mysteries of that larger question over the course of a lifetime. Santa Fe, New Mexico

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 21, 2011

I don’t believe that countless hours of painting or any number of works created will affect your “talent”. They may improve your techinque and skill, but certainly not your talent. We are skewing the issue. Talent trumps technique and skills. I leave it up to the quanifiers to waste their time in figuring this one out. Talent is comething completely separate from effort and time spent painting. Even if it were possible to compare hours to hours, it wouldn’t necessarily result in a work of art from a talented artists who may have just pick up a brush for the first time. Talent is more keyed into something innate within a person. It’s the ability that transcends techinque working habits. I applaud those who seek the answers but even if we could find an answer it still leaves the rest of us slaving endlessly to create a work we consider good. I feel it would be easier to get agreement between American politicians than understand why someone is talented.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 21, 2011

Aleada Siragusa – I love what you’ve written and should have read it before commenting. Great stuff Thanks.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Dec 22, 2011

I agree, Rick – Aleada’s comments resonated with me too. Having known a number of people with high IQs, it long ago became apparent to me that being highly intelligent is all very well; it’s what you do with it that matters. Not having had school-age children when I moved to the UK, I have to go by what I read in the newspapers, and it seems that here too, children have suffered because of a lack of both the arts and outdoor physical activity in general education. But Rick, you are absolutely correct about practice not improving one’s “talent”, only one’s technique. If that were true, any composer of advertising jingles could eventually end up as good as Mozart. (By the way, Robert – many of these spam preventers or whatever they’re called are almost impossible to decipher – usually the second “word”.)

From: Judy Mudd — Dec 22, 2011

Robert, you’ve hit another one out of the park. I thoroughly enjoy your posts. I am a believer of “hours at the easel” to reveal your talent. (How do you know what you are capable of until you push yourself and explore the possibilities?) I tell my students that they come to me to show them the basics and offer suggestions but the real improvement will come with practice, practice, practice. I’m forwarding your post to all of them. Thanks!

From: Damar Minyak — Dec 22, 2011

“Genius is 2% inspiration, 98% perspiration.” ~Sister Mother Mary Gertrude, CCVI (Never really liked that woman, but those words glued themselves into my brain, almost 60 years ago…)

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 23, 2011

re: Aliada Siragusa’s insight. Before I write, I want to say that I am a fan of graffiti, but here is my pet theory about its proliferation. The theory is that the rise of graffiti must have a measurable relationship to the elimination of art in the schools. Bean counting “educators” responded to political pressure to “produce” in the wrong way…force feeding children information to parrot on exams while eliminating the activities that allow them to integrate that information, took art to the streets and turned artists into “criminals”. The art spirit cannot be denied and giving it voice should be part of every school’s curriculum. Denying that real fact is part of the left brain’s war on the right brain. But in this age of visual information, it is a losing battle!

From: Aleada Siragusa — Dec 23, 2011
From: Jenny Adams — Dec 23, 2011

The time spent on a piece can vary so much. As a potter turned painter having experienced those days where it all works and a piece comes together almost immediately as well as the days resulting in more laboured attempts. I particularly identify with the line in your Esoterica. I’ve wondered if some people just aren’t curious enough to become talented. Whatever the mysterious thing called talent is, it is there, like Santa, by agreed consent. And however evasive this “gift” may be, most of us would love to have more of it. Perhaps unlocking talent is in itself a talent. Staying curious is a good thing. Thanks for this. Jenny Adams Sechelt BC

From: gail caduff-nash — Dec 23, 2011

i feel you’re confusing ‘talent’ with dedication or discipline. while there is a certain amount of discipline to showing off one’s talent, the number of hours sitting (or standing) with brush to canvas can hardly count as BEING the talent. there are a heck of a lot of talentless people who do it “all the time”. so i don’t get this concept, and my art develops in certain ways that are about half away from the easel, a good bit with my eyes closed, some at the kitchen sink. Seeing is the talent – seeing within, seeing what can be, seeing what is. This seeing could take 2 seconds or 2 years. Discipline is something else altogether and requires many hours actually working – eyes open or closed – sketchbook open or closed – hands in motion or still. And i find the main reason for the solitude to work is because people won’t shut up when they’re around, which makes it hard to hear yourself imagine.

From: Neena Plant — Dec 24, 2011

I’ve always been of the impression that talent was innate ability which practice only enhances. While some artists practice rigorously, their ability remains at about the same level. Other, more talented artists can create only occasionally or can take a complete break and still produce competent technically skilled work that is pleasing to the eye and if those talented artists practice, their skill is multiplied, often many times more than the amount of time put into their work. I believe that is talent.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Dec 25, 2011

Here is how I see talent vs. hard work in my own experience. There was something that compelled me as a toddler to draw images on every piece of paper in the house. That something gave me the capability to draw images that my teachers and peers admired, and that satisfied my imagination. That something also made it easy to learn about art and to quickly excel in some painting techniques. On the other hand it is now often very difficult for me to create a painting that satisfies me. I spend countless hours in order to master the latest medium that I chose, and I feel anguish to create images I can feel proud of. My conclusion is that there definitely is a talent in the DNA, which gave me the ability to draw and passionately love and need art. This talent defines me and I become very unhappy if it is from some reason denied. But, the talent on its own doesn’t have the value system needed in order to contribute and be measured in the outer world of art. That outer world has created a system of values, consisting of very specific skills, rules, styles, and many other qualifiers that I have to learn if I want to “be seen” and “compete”. I think that playing in the art world is a competition because of the desire to succeed by some criteria and against some odds. My inner talent is a self-content child that draws images from imagination and bravely plunges into any art experience without any consideration for consequences. The other side of me is a hard worker with passion to learn all the rules needed to play in the outer world of art.

From: nonny kordelia kudel — Dec 26, 2011
From: Damar — Dec 29, 2011

@Nonny K.K. Yea, she did credit Edison, but I just didn’t bother, here. She wrote it on the blackboard every morning, at the start of the day.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Feb 21, 2012

Speaking of middle brains, I am a middle brainer – and woe to me, as nobody gets that I really can see both sides of the coin from standing on the edge. And I often wish I was either one side or the other – the more practical side or the more creative side. I’ve had moments of both but mostly I’m always trying to BE both and it really gets in the way. There’s a constant argument going on in my head about how my day’s going to go. Back when I decided to be an artist, I jumped in with both feet and often went for days just painting. What fun that was – even when the finished product wasn’t all that great. Now I’ve almost learned too much! and I think about it more than do it. Immersion is hard to accomplish now. But I find that my greatest quest anymore is to simply fool my own eye with my painting. If I can do that, then I know it will fool anyone’s. I do recommend using both hands, though, to jiggle the little gray cells into action on both sides. Not just when you’re painting but in everything – doing dishes, petting the dog, pruning the bushes. For right handed people, this is especially important. You’ll soon find yourself having visions while at the same time thinking about the cost savings of one type of paint over another. And suddenly world politics might make more sense and you’ll come up with a solution to global warming. Look out.

     Featured Workshop: Robert and Sara Genn
122311_robert-genn‘From Plein Air to Abstraction’ with Robert and Sara Genn, Hollyhock, August, 2011   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Maroon Bells Magic

oil painting, 18 x 24 inches by Greg De Lucca, Santa Fe, NM, USA

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