Skill vs. Talent: The “Good” Artists

I was just thinkin’. You know... thinkin.

[Editorial Note:] I originally started this post all the way back in 2011, and recently made some tweaks to it so if some of this seems familiar, that’s the reason. 🙂

I’ve long been of the opinion that there are two major categories of ‘good’ artists in the world: Skilled and Talented. As this was a topic that came up on a recent episode of The Writer’s Well podcast, now was as good a time as any to update my thoughts here.

Those with Skillz

For the purposes of discussion, I’m looking at the idea of skilled artists as learned technical skill. People who don’t already know that I make this clarification start arguing with me when I say that I have no talent. While I’m flattered, it usually just frustrates me because I’m not fishing for compliments.

But You’re So Talented!

And for the idea of talented artists, I’m talking about something innate – something the artist was presumably ‘born with’.

Admittedly, I fudge the borders here a bit. I don’t know that I believe in some specific gene or group of genes which make one ‘talented’ at something. I would absolutely allow for the Nurture portion of the Nature vs Nurture argument to be the source of capability for the talented artists. Sure, a child could learn about music by listening to musically capable parents their entire lives. The key component is that it’s not a learned skill. It’s not something that they sat themselves down to understand and worked hard at for an extended period of time.

It’s All in the Mix

So what makes a ‘good’ artist? It’s the mix of the two ideas above. Perhaps the artist in question was born with a plentitude of talent. That would simply mean that they wouldn’t need to spend as much time practicing to qualify as ‘good’ or ‘capable’.

The reverse, of course, is also true: the artist in question could have little or no innate talent, but if they have the drive and focus required to keep working at training themselves, their improved skill will eventually earn them the rank of ‘good’ or ‘capable’.

As with nearly all things in life, there’s no simple, single answer that fits ALL THE THINGS. I have to say though, that I’m actually glad in this case since I’ve got some (though very very little) innate talent when it comes to art. I still have the ability to learn and grow through focused effort.