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Why I believe anyone can be an artist (the myth of talent)

Hello and welcome back! As we begin a brand new year, I’m sure a lot of people will decide that this year is THE year to become the artist they always wanted to become!

For this month’s article, I want to provide some insight into the life of an full-time artist and also deep-dive into the societal belief that art is a talent given from birth and nothing can change it.

This topic is one that is incredibly close to my heart and one that I may be a little too passionate about it. I will fight it to the death (okay maybe not quite, but almost!). With all seriousness, I do believe that this is so important to address because every year I see lots of emerging artists becoming discouraged that they definitely do not have what it takes to be an artist. And it breaks my heart, I know how hard it is! So without further ado, let’s deep dive into the myth of talent and some perspective on what life as an artist really looks like!

The myth of talent

Before we can look at the elements that make it look like art is a fun, easy, effortless practice, we need to address the elephant in the room. Yes I’m talking about ‘talent’. The word irks me, and while that might be strong of a feeling, the belief that art is a God-given talent from birth couldn’t be further from the truth.

For the longest time, art has been romanticized as a practice that only few could achieve. This belief is incredibly misleading, as what most people don’t see is the constant effort and improvement that artists work on a daily basis. You wouldn’t say that your plumber, accountant or dentist is “talented”, so why is it that art careers are dismissed as a mere gift from birth rather than years of dedication? There are a few reasons why this is still a common belief and I want to break it down into a few points to demystify why people believe talent to be a very real thing even to this day.

Non-artists do not evaluate art in the same way as artists do.

This might seem like an obvious one, or perhaps you think ‘no way I have a great eye and I’m not an artist!’. That can also be true, however, the more art you create and the more you try and improve, the more your eye improves. There are two important skills when it comes to art (or any career that involves a certain skill for that matter). The first one is your ability to see or evaluate art, meaning how trained your eye is at recognizing ‘good’ art and mistakes. The second skill is your skill at making art, usually quantified by the time that you spend to maintain and practice your skills. Ultimately, art is a cycle and both skills develop at different paces, which is why some days you’ll feel like you made the best art of your entire life and other days you feel like you can’t draw at all. This is because when your ability to evaluate art is lower than your art skills, you are unable to see the mistakes in your work, therefore believing your art to be better than it actually is. On the opposite side, when your ability to evaluate art is higher than your art skills, your perceived lack of skills sends you into a self-loathing loop where you believe that everything that you make is horrible. Now to come back to the main point of non-artists not evaluating the same way, because non-artists do not improve their skill at evaluating art, they believe art to be better than it actually is. The lack of art skills paired with the inability to evaluate art makes it the perfect combo to see art making as a mystical talent that only a few chosen one can master.

Graph by Shattered Earth, based on the original by Marc Dalessio from this great article here:

Having the same skills from a young age looks more impressive

There are still of lot of age-based beliefs when it comes to any skill. How often have you heard “I’m too old to start this skill” or “Can you believe they can do this at ONLY 6 years old?” Age is still very much a quantifiable element when it comes to skill, and while it is certainly impressive to see young kids performing complex musical pieces and making great art, you have to look at it for what it actually is: months and years of work. If you forget about their age, you will often find that younger kids that practiced for 2 years will have the same skills as an adult that learned for the exact amount of time. Children are definitely sponges when it comes to learning, so it is to their advantage to learn at a younger age, however it’s not as big of a gap as you may originally believe.

Environmental factors affect children a lot when it comes to skills

As I just mentioned, we know that children learn faster than adults based on years of researches. The environment around you shapes your skills as well. Children who’s parents are artists and/or have an environment where art is encouraged and have a much higher chance of picking it up and improving faster than in other families where the environment is poor for practicing art skills. Privilege when it comes to money/education/country of birth also has a big impact on skill development. A lot of the most famous artists of their time came from upper middle-class or wealthy backgrounds. Hard work is very important in art, but background and environment are definitely a big influence on one’s art career and opportunities. When we don’t see what people come from, it’s easy to assume that their talent must be the reason for their success.

Now that see that these points can explain why we may believe talent to be a gift from birth, let’s break down the common myths that today’s artists are still prone to believing and let’s give some hope to new and experienced artists!

Common myths

Professional/highly experienced artists don’t struggle

In an age of social media where everyone shows the best version of themselves, it’s hard to see the professional career for what it is: ups and downs. Even I struggle to post sketches that I deem less successful, trying to preserve only the best for Instagram. And a lot of professionals do the same, which can give the false impression that professional artists don’t struggle on a daily basis. I can speak for myself when I say that every illustration is a new challenge and requires all of my brain power to tackle it. There is a lot of frustration that comes for an art career, and you are not alone in your struggles, we all struggle!

Making art should be easy and good from the start

Art is a journey, it’s not a straight forward path to success. While art is extremely suggestive, there is a lot to learn when it comes to learning to draw, design, color theory, etc. Certain guidelines can help you during your learning process, as they are guides that have proven to be highly effective in the art world. There is so much to learn and there is no reason why it should be immediately easy. The more you practice, the better you will get.

I hope this can help alleviate the stress that you may be putting yourself under. I believe with all my heart that anyone can become an artist with perseverance and determination. It’s a journey well worth diving into and the next time that you get discouraged with your skills, remember that it will pass and that your art is worth being in this world.

On that note, I wish you all a great year of art and I’ll be looking forward to seeing all of the creativity

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