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The Talent Myth

The Talent Myth

4 Mins
August 24, 2016

While friends and family often compliment my artwork by commenting on my natural talent, people in the artistic community generally avoid that type of praise. Instead, peers evaluate my work by simply stating how good it is, which better credits the hard work I have done.


But why is the narrative different depending on who is involved in the discussion? Why this dichotomy? A public obsession with talent is particularly present in regards to art (visual or music) and sports. We generally don’t talk about talent in the same way as other professions – pilots, doctors and businessmen are rarely said to have an inborn ability or natural gift.

Why is that? Why is the concept of talent so narrowly applied?

In short, a talent myth has been created to help explain the work of high-achieving individuals in the artistic and athletic fields. People don’t see the years of training and practice that creates excellence, so they misattribute success to natural gifts or inherent talent.

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. — Stephen King

The talent narrative perhaps first came into existence when masterful artists destroyed their early works to ensure the public never saw how they learned their craft. This was especially prevalent before the era of modern art.

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Awkward drawings, bad attempts at sculpture and poorly executed paintings never saw the light of the day, so genius artists were known just for the portfolio of polished works they went on to produce. People never saw their struggles and the years of studies that led to such extraordinary work, blurring the perception of what causes creative success.

Like many of those artists, I am not eager to advertise my early work or the work that I don’t find well executed; if a painting doesn’t meet my expectations, I will not publish it on Instagram, enter it in a show or send it to a gallery. Only my best work is put out for the public to see.

Therefore, the people who tell me I have an in-built artistic talent don’t fully grasp the amount of work, commitment, time and sacrifice in my private life that it took for me to become a competent artist.

I like comparing being a painter to being a chef. Being a great chef requires a combination of hard work, imagination, experience and recipes. No one wakes up one morning and becomes a world class chef. You learn how to cook through practice and learning from mistakes.

At first, you can’t even make decent scrambled eggs and your first meatloaf is dry and bland. The pie is probably burnt. But if you pour your heart into cooking and practice it every day over an extended period, then you will probably become great at it. Painting is no different. As the famous quote goes: “You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.”

Agnieszka is one of judges in the Atlas Art Contest, which is open for entries until September 30, 2016.

Born and raised in Poland, Agnieszka moved to the US in 2001 and graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco with a B.F.A. She pursues a career in fine art painting while simultaneously working on a graphic novel. Agnieszka is continuing her art education at Justin Hess Atelier in San Francisco and her work can be found in private collections in the United States and in Poland.

Agnieszka Pilat
About the author:
Agnieszka Pilat
Art and Literature
Work and Achievement