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Old July 26th, 2006, 05:37 PM   #1
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Talent does not exist

When someone says "You have talent", what does that mean really?

An article in the latest issue of Scientific American (The Expert Mind, http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?cha...9E83414B7F4945) comes in support of what I already suspected: talent does not exist. What I mean to say is that there is no innate aptitude which makes it possible for one to excel at something. Whether we're talking about Mozart, Zinédine Zidane or Garry Kasparov, it is hard work and motivation which makes it possible to excel, and not an unspecified genetic advantage (or rather, it's impact is minor). Which does not mean that the more we do, the better we get. Regardless of discipline, the majority tend to reach a plateau where they progress very little if at all thereafter.

Take cinema. It is not a question of making film after film; it is rather a question of analyzing one's weaknesses and of trying to confront them. Many artists move into a zone of comfort where they rely on their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses; this results in stagnation. They put an end to the period of training and study too soon. I believe that a filmmaker always has things to learn, aptitudes to improve on, regardless of his age or experience. I have much respect for those who take risks, even if their films are not always successful.

If I wanted to make the best possible film now, I should concentrate on what I do best, remain in my comfort zone. Perhaps that would make a good film, but I probably would not gain anything from it. I'd rather work within self-imposed constraints and face my own weaknesses, at the risk of failure. One learns more from failure than from success. My best films were also the easiest to make, and somehow disappointed me for this reason: I have the impression that the bar could have been higher.

When I shoot, to make the best possible film is a secondary objective. The prime objective is to become a better filmmaker. What is encouraging, is to see the improvement. I know that I can do things today which were impossible for me a year ago.

I don't have a talent, but I don't need it.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 12:58 PM   #2
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Some people create art with film--that takes creativity. And talent.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 01:17 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jean-Francois Robichaud
Regardless of discipline, the majority tend to reach a plateau where they progress very little if at all thereafter.
And that is what we mean by talent, or an aptitude for a given skill or discipline. Those that have talent, don't hit that plateau except at the very highest level.

Depending on what you are doing, physical limitations can come into play, along with motor skills.

On an intellectual endeavor, there are some people who 'get it' and some who don't. The ones who get it are the ones we refer to as having talent for that particular endeavor.

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Old July 30th, 2006, 03:32 PM   #4
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I've actually said this at times as well. I usually get lots of arguments.

I do believe that aptitude is involved. I was keenly interested in creative things when I was very young. My siblings didn't seem to possess quite the same level of keen interest. Is an almost innate keen interest "talent" or "aptitude"? If not, it's just about as good, because it kept me working, working, working.

Because I worked very hard to get somewhere with the creative things that interested me, it always has irked me a little to be told that it's all about talent—like I was born with it and my work and effort had nothing to do with it. I worked really hard. If I hadn't worked really hard, of course people wouldn't be telling me that I had "talent."

But getting back to the innate thing again—I've seen this over and over again. I've seen people just not GET it. No matter how hard they try, no matter how much work they put into it; they may improve, but they'll never be as good as someone else who has an innate sense for it. I've also come into a class where I knew nothing ahead of time about the discipline we were learning, and yet it just "clicked" for me immediately. For other students, it didn't. And other times, I'd attend a class where I understood (intellectually) what we were supposed to do, but I never could quite get it right. No matter how hard I tried, and how much effort I put into it. It was very frustrating, since it seemed so easy for everyone else.

No, I don't think talent is everything. I think it can at times be pretty minor. But there's something that makes some things "click" for us, while learning other things is torture.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 04:45 PM   #5
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I think it's easiest to see in an extreme example. Take Tiger Woods. He had a strong interest in golf at two years old. His innate skill level was also advanced enough to get on a late night TV show around 3 or 4 years old. Clearly, the talent (and the potential) was there from the get-go.

However, talent is not all that matters. To get to the top you also need work ethic and motivation and persistence and control of your emotions and the ability to concentrate for long periods of time and the physical agility and...and...and....

If you take Tiger's talent and mix it with average work ethic, you do not get Tiger Woods as he is. You get an average player. If you take Tiger's extreme work ethic (and other attributes) and mix it with average talent, you get an average or slightly above average player. But you do not get Tiger Woods. The people at the top have both extreme talent and extreme work ethic and extreme everything else on the list.

That's not to say someone can't discover their talent later in life. But their timetable of achievements will most likely be delayed, and probably stunted, as well. If someone with all of Tiger's attributes didn't discover golf until age 20, I think they could still get and remain at the top, but they would hit their peak years quicker and so the lifetime achievements wouldn't hold up to Tiger's, who started at such a young age and achieved so much so early.

I believe we each have different degrees of an inborn capacity of talent that we start with. People with greater degrees of talent advance quicker and easier to high performance levels. They can also stay there, live there, or return there with more ease. People with lesser degrees of talent have to work harder to reach the higher levels of performance. And they have to work harder to stay there. And most likely they can't. Even with their hardest efforts, they may rise for a burst, but then fall quickly, rise then fall quickly. They have their moments, but they don't stay at the top. For others, the inborn potential is just not there. They can work their asses off and maybe eek out a living. But they hit a wall and even with all the hard work in the world, there are limits to how high a level they will ever achieve.

Talent definitely does exist.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 06:23 PM   #6
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"Take Tiger Woods. He had a strong interest in golf at two years old."

IMO a 2 year old doesn't becomed interested in golf unless one's mother/father/somebody is putting the club in a 2 year olds hands ..

my 4 year grand daughter was just visiting .. so was it just a natural "thing" for her to become interested in putting on makeup at age 3 .. or for her to want to take cheer leading lessons 6 months ago ????? i think PARENTS play a huge roll on what a 1-5 year old becomes interested in ...
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Old July 30th, 2006, 07:21 PM   #7
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Agreed. Parents play A role in introducing their kids to things. But the drive to excel at something comes from within.

I think there's a certain degree of destiny in life. Certain conditions exist that make something more or less likely to happen. But it still takes the actual doing and the proper decision making on behalf of the person for the full potential to be realized.

A parent can put the golf club in their kid's hands, but they can't swing it for them. A parent has a lot of influence over their child when they're young, but eventually the world broadens, and the kid either has the fire inside them or not.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 07:55 PM   #8
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I took a look at the article and I have to say that I am skeptical of a model extrapolated from chess to other areas, espcially complex artisitc tasks.

My wife is a Suzuki violin (method mentioned in the article) teacher and often starts young children on the instrument. After some years of watching students begin and progress, there is little question in my mind that "talent" makes a big difference. Some kids have perfect pitch, others a tin ear. Some have the small motor and aural (listening) skills needed to percieve if they are playing in tune and others, believe me, do not. Some can bring emotions to music in an immediate and personal way, and others play a in flat, technical way. Without these abilities there is little to build on, however hard the student works.

One of her current students, who she started at the start of the summer is now at least a year ahead of another student she started teaching a year ago. The parents of the student who is behind are both professional musicians. The student who is ahead is able to teach herself pieces in matter of days. Her father is a medical doctor.

If the author of the article thinks there is no way to pick out talent at a recital, he's not been to very many recitals.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 09:49 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wiley
If the author of the article thinks there is no way to pick out talent at a recital, he's not been to very many recitals.
Yes! Agreed.

Actually, as a child I was actively discouraged from pursuing my creative interests. At times the discouragment was pretty aggressive. At one point I seriously meant to give it up, because of all the grief I got. (I didn't give it up, of course! Couldn't stay away!)

Parents can certainly pave the way, but even if they don't, sometimes it's just inside of a kid and it will come out.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 10:22 PM   #10
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I'm not certain how anyone could deny that there is an inherent, genetic propensity toward "talent," for lack of a better word, in certain artistic arenas. Quoting Mozart as an example of the argument, is very odd, despite the fact that he had a domineering parental influence. My parents could have pushed me as hard as they liked, and I would have never been able to write operas as a child. However, I will cite one of the greatest, most prolific American writer of the 20th century, William Faulkner -- no education, no parental involvement, just a rip-roaring alcoholic, who was possessed to write. And Absalom, Absalom! is widely regarded as one of the greatest American novels written. When he had no paper, he wrote on his walls. When Hollywood came calling, he ran away (literally). This is a very odd debate, IMHO.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 10:53 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruth Verdugo
Yes! Agreed.

Actually, as a child I was actively discouraged from pursuing my creative interests. At times the discouragment was pretty aggressive. At one point I seriously meant to give it up, because of all the grief I got. (I didn't give it up, of course! Couldn't stay away!)

Parents can certainly pave the way, but even if they don't, sometimes it's just inside of a kid and it will come out.

I would agree, Ruth. My parents had no influence on what I actually became in the professional world. I always had a natural curiousity about how things worked and I destroyed many toys as a child by trying to figure out what made them tick. Luckily, as a young adult, and with proper training, I became just as good at putting things back together.

I would say that my 'talent' if you will is the ability to look at a piece of machinery and know how it works, indeed how it must work. That ability propelled me to become a technician because if it's not working, and you can figure out how it should work, then you know what must be done to repair it so that it works again.

Another talent that I've been told that I have is the ability to take a concept and translate it into laymen's terms so that others can understand. That's the main reason I am here on this forum, to help and teach others those things that seem to come natural to me.

This is a good discussion and I think we pretty much agree that we all have our strengths and weaknesses as individuals. Those strengths are commonly labeled as 'talent'

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Old July 31st, 2006, 02:26 AM   #12
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a very interesting article, entitled "The Myth of Talent"--by a very successful digital photographer, so i think the parallels are exceptional--can be found here:

http://www.radiantvista.com/archive/articles/1/

i think this might be aligned with what you are saying, jean-francois....
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Old July 31st, 2006, 05:43 AM   #13
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Oh my goodness, that is a fantastic article! Thank you so much for linking to it. I'm going to have to spread that link around . . .

Especially this part (been there, done that, especially the bolded sentence):
Quote:
Over the last few years I have heard myself being labeled as a talented photographer. Knowing what that means to most people, my impulse is to offer some kind of a clarification because I know better than anyone about the truth of my humble photographic beginnings and the national park sized “failures” those beginnings contained. I can only laugh at myself because I am in on the unintentional joke contained within the myth. Being labeled talented only means we have survived being untalented.
Isn't that the truth! I experienced this exact same thing—I decided I wanted to learn a particular artistic skill, but was the worst in the class, and remained the worst. The teacher gently hinted that I give up trying and stick with other things were I more obviously excelled. But I didn't want to give up, and after a lot of hard work I got better—only to be called "talented"!

But even though I agree with everything in that article, I still think there is a special "something" that gives people the drive and passion to work and work and not give up. (If that is not a part of "talent," it makes a pretty good substitute.) Also, as others have mentioned, some people have a tin ear; others don't. Some have no color sense (and it only gets marginally better, no matter how many color theory classes they take), while for others it's innate. But also I suspect that there's often a lack of passion or drive amongst the ones who display less aptitude.
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Old July 31st, 2006, 07:37 AM   #14
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I certainly think 'talent' exists and I think Greg illustrated the point of what talent actually is best. To me, there are two basic differing variations.

1) Learned. I think that's been the focus of this thread so far, as well as all of the myth PDFs and such. Learned talent is also the easiest for most people to recognize. Yeah - passion about something, time and energy and devotion, and you can become quite proficient at that something, which then gets labeled as you having a talent or aptitude for that something. Why that label happens can be attributed to any variety of reasons.

2) Instinct (for lack of a better term). These are fundemental personality traits that are built in - not learned. While practice can get you far, ultimately it's still a foreign subject. As dumb as it sounds, it's like Harry Potter speaking parcel tongue and not even knowing how or that he could.

Take programming - anyone who works at it long and hard enough can learn to program. It's just syntax and eventually you can memorize the rules of a language. Thinking like a computer, inborn problem solving, more abstract 'knowing' and design, etc - to a large extent these are things that just have to be intuitive. These are a lot harder to learn. While not completely direct and lots of room for error, it's the difference between one of those Microsoft certifications and a comp sci degree. One is based on a learned skill set, the other is where you create your own skill set.

A better example, and one that I consider myself to be very talented in, music. Yeah, I'm HIGHLY technically proficient at 'music' (been at it for 20+ years): playing, writing, practice, performing, whatever. I've always known how to make things sound 'good'. But I'm also a very good improviser and that's something that I've had long before I had technical proficiency and any music theory. Hell, for as much background as I do have in music, I don't have a lot of music theory simply because I've never really needed it. To use that phrase, anyone can learn to play any instrument and even play it well, very few people know how to make it really sing.

While I don't think I illustrated them terribly well (again sorry, tired and didn't get enough sleep so brain is fuzzy), those two examples are things that [if I may toot my horn] are instinctive talents for me. Learning and passion in those subjects have taken me very far, but from day one I've had unique skills I needed to really excel with them - problem solving personality, creativity and imagination, hell I've even got perfect pitch - born with it - definitely a HUGE factor in music for me.

That being said, while I consider myself to be talented in videography I wouldn't consider myself to be instinctively talented in it AT ALL. Everything I know I've had to learn or emulate. My various instinctive talents (creativity, problem solving, etc) come in handy with video, but none of them are directly attributable.

Talent exists it a variety of forms and I mean no disrespect to those who think otherwise. My inclination is that those people who think the only talents out there are learned talents (and consequently isn't really talent - which I agree with - I personally consider it proficiency) either don't have or aren't aware of their own instinctive talents to know the difference between the two.


Hope that made sense.. I don't function well on 5-6 hours of sleep (which my wife tells me is sometimes a luxury) :-)


PS: I don't mean to sound like a major tool extoling my virtues, but I know myself well enough to use me as an example in this thread.
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Old July 31st, 2006, 11:34 AM   #15
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To me it is the difference between being 'proficient' and 'inspired'. Inspiration implies imagination, improvisation, being able to interpret not merely mimic or follow rules. One can learn to paint like Rembrandt but few learn to successfully create a style on their own.
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