Training Versus Talent

Guest Post by Molly Malone.

(illustration by yours truly: penelope dullaghan)

Think about what led you on the path toward becoming the artist, illustrator, or designer you are today. Did your parents tell you that you were always drawing as a toddler? Did you get in trouble more than few times for drawing on the walls with your Crayolas? Perhaps you were a huge fan of Bob Ross, and wanted to paint “happy little trees” just like him.

Or perhaps you were never stereotypically “artsy,” and just decided it was a career path you’d enjoy embarking on. Now ask yourself what’s more important to you and your success – the talent you may have been born with, or the skills you have picked up along the way? The training vs. talent debate is an age-old one in the creative fields, but revisiting it can be eye-opening, especially if you’re feeling uninspired. Pondering your process can actually help jumpstart your creativity.

In an article by online colleges resource eCollegeFinder, two graphic designers offer their views on what makes designers and artists successful. Basically, they both name innate talent as the driving factor (read the full PDF text here). One goes on to say that though training is certainly important, not everyone has a natural ability to thrive in the art and design worlds.

In her words, “We are constantly bombarded by digital images and messages – if designing were based wholly upon training, wouldn’t we all be experts through exposure alone? There is a certain natural ability that has to be present in a person [to succeed].”

But plenty of people disagree. In this article from Inspiredology, the author claims that talent has a falloff, and skill does not. In other words, natural talent gets you so far, but it’s continuously honing your skills that ensures a long, successful career.

So if you’ve hit a wall or are feeling particularly uninspired, you’ve got options. Go take a class, attend a lecture, have coffee with other artists or designers. Any or all can help you break out of a rut and keep growing. After all, if you’re in agreement with the article at least, talent is just the seed. It still needs nourishment if it’s ever going to bloom.

But what do you think? What side are you on?


:: Molly Malone is a Philadelphia-based writer, creative, and overall lover of the internet who has worked in design, copywriting, social media, and more.

Posted by Thomas James on 09/06/12 under creativity

  • Fine Fettle

    I think anyone can be trained. Some people just have a natural ability, training can therefore be a lot quicker. If you have interest in what your creating then that is half the battle. There is not point in training if you are just not interested. Also talent is not everything as there is always room for improvement and watching your art grow….

  • Laura

    I think it varies from person to person. I’ve always had a certain knack for drawing though a lot of that may have come from repeated practice and passion in the art. I am going to school to learn now, though, because I wanted an accelerated system to really pump up my abilities in a short period of time and I wasn’t nearly where I wanted to be. So, I’d say that talent can get you pretty far but you have to be really self-motivated and driven to succeed without structured training.

  • ankepanke

    I just graduated from an Art Academy and for me it was like this: I had the talent & dream and the education helped me realise that. I think some people benefit from Education, but without talent you probably won’t get far. Just a thought :)

  • Kevin Spear

    I’ve observed talent gets you started, but training keeps you going. I’ve seen plenty of talented people that haven’t honed their skills.

  • Penelope Dullaghan

    Great comments and ideas, guys! I agree that it’s a combination for most people… but you have to have inclination and some talent to start. :)

  • theartofabthomas

    I think you have to start with the talent and vision (although I hate speaking like that I couldn’t think of another word) to create images and then you have to learn grow and improve to actually achieve your vision or potential…… jesus i sound pretentious. I hope you can see at what im getting at. Great topic though.

  • Amanda Webster

    I’d argue that it has more to do with practice and desire. You’re going to get good at anything you spend time working at – especially if it’s something you love doing. And I’m guessing most of us have been creating things since we were young while the other kids were out doing other things. Talent is only the beginning and it’s not going to get you anywhere if you don’t practice and keep on learning. There’s this great quote from Charles Eames that sums up my thinking exactly:

    “I don’t believe in this ‘gifted few’ concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.” – Charles Eames

  • David R. Vallejo

    I think success in the art profession, for most of us, has to do with a little bit of talent and a whole lot of work. I’ve know extremely creative folks who were light years ahead of me as far as talent goes, but when it came to actually making it a profession, they fail. And I’ve seen a lot of mediocre artists, with a lot of work, find their niche and it’s the story where preparation finds opportunity.

  • Colin Dullaghan

    So Penny asked me to weigh in here, because I have a strong interest in this issue, and an opinion which she says is “really interesting and which [she] disagree[s] with.” But it turns out that my allegedly illuminating and objectionable idea has already been represented: I’m pretty much with Amanda — and Charles Eames.

    “Interest is more important than aptitude,” I’ve been spouting recently — mainly because we’ve got a three-year-old who’s finding her way in such things, and only partially because it gets on Penelope’s nerves.

    But my conviction has only strengthened over time. How good you are at something doesn’t matter half as much as how much you like doing that thing, because that’s what determines how much you’ll ultimately get out of it — *and*, Chuck Eames would I think argue — how much you’ll accomplish within it.

    Still, for me the first part of that sentence, “how much you’ll get out of it,” is the more relevant, important part. Very, very few of us are truly going to advance our fields with earth-shattering breakthroughs. Most, myself included, are going to muddle about, for the most part, and hopefully grow in the process and even more hopefully find a way to enjoy ourselves and more completely experience the process of being alive. Maybe we’ll even illuminate someone else’s path along the way, and help *them* grow and love and explore and do all those other things we humans are designed to do.

    But being the best, or even among the best, at doing any one of these quadrillion pursuits to which a person can devote his or her time? Nowhere in the process I just described. It just doesn’t figure in.

    So if someone’s starting down a path — let’s just say running, to keep it non-art-related and easily metaphor-able — I’d tell that person not to worry too much, if at all, whether they’ve got the potential to take gold in the 2016, or 2020, or 2040 Olympics. Leave that to the blessed freaks, I say. Focus instead on how much you look forward to getting out there each morning, putting one foot in front of the other, feeling the wind in your lungs, crossing that finish line.

    Because if you like it, you’ll keep doing it. And not only is that *how* you get good, it’s *where* you find the good in whatever you’re doing.

    Which is probably why I keep tinkering with photography, even though I kind of suck. And why I haven’t sat down to write any stories lately, even though just about anyone would tell you I’m a lot better at writing than I am at taking pictures. It’s just what inspires me right now. No way that can be a bad thing.

    And that brings me to a quote I’m not sure *I* agree with, originally from Howard Thurman but recently tweeted by Jelly Helm, who reached a whole bunch of people who probably would never have heard of Mr. Thurman.

    “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    I think there’s some value in asking what the world needs. And in finding out what need you’re particularly talented at addressing. But I do think we’ll be a lot better off if you listen more closely to what you can’t stop thinking about, and then figuring out how to direct that energy into something that helps somebody. Even if it’s only you. At first.

  • rama

    as a teacher, i try to avoid the word “talent” as much as i can. i’ve
    seen “talented kids” who do nothing with their talent, and “talentless
    kids” who blow their own minds with the things they learn to do.
    nonetheless, i have parents who demand assessments of their children’s
    talent. so, this is what i tell them:

    “interest is more important than talent. if you nurture her interest, she will develop talent.”

    ideally, students will have interest AND talent. but i’ve seen plenty of “talented” students who are rapidly surpassed in
    skill by classmates with more passion for the subject. i actually make
    use of this phenomenon when i arrange seating in my class. “talented”
    students hustle to regain their status when they
    are suddenly surpassed by “less talented” classmates.

    obviously, i think talent is more of a descriptor than an innate
    quality. i know a lot of skilled artists who don’t see talent in
    themselves because they were already outshone by a parent or an older
    sibling who had a lot more time to develop their skills, or by a
    classmate who got an earlier start. “talent” in this case is really
    destructive. once that labeling starts, students narrow their focus.
    they cling to the things they’re good at, and they shy away from
    subjects in which they might fail. this is especially dangerous because
    everyone is going to encounter failure eventually. students especially
    have to develop a taste for it.

    very simply put:

    talent is passion pursued.

    so, pursue your passions.

  • Karen Jinks

    I’m with Colin here, I was born with talent (the ability to draw better than my peers from a very young age) and it actually held me back, became a pressure not a pleasure and I almost didn’t become an artist at all. My years at art college opened my eyes to new things and new interests and slowly over the years I have become a real ‘artist’ and re-discovered my passion. Ability has nothing to do with success, although if you have a passion and an interest in something, the ability thing makes the whole process a lot easier but it’s not essential. Learning and working hard, however, is. Watching both my children grow and develop as people with creative talents has been wonderful too, and I have been careful to allow and encourage them to find their own way and discover their own interests, not do what is expected of them because of what they are supposedly good at. There is another question here too – do we create because we ‘need’ to or because we can and want to make a living from it. Money can change the way we work because the commercial world requires different things. I have my commercial art which requires skill and training (I have a degree in graphic design) to meet the needs of the client, yet I also create my own art thats feeds my own passion and the development comes from just painting and painting in my own time in my own way, the two disciplines come from very different places. Interesting discussion!


    However it sounds so good: ‘you’re so talented’, I think that if you’re interested in something, you can train it and nurture it to grow. Of course you need to like doing it in the first place! Perhaps the talent is in the liking of it?
    Maybe this is probably why some people are more succesful in their art businesses than others. Not because of their creative ‘talent’, but because they are interested in creating,and also in marketing and business.

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