Whenever I hear that you are either born with it or not, I think about babies. We humans are born with a very limited set of skills. We can’t walk or sit up straight, we can’t talk or manipulate silverware; we need to be carried everywhere, bathed, fed, dressed, and changed. And yet, in the space of a short year, months really, we learn how to do all of those things and then some. We may be slow compared to other animals, but the progress we make in that brief period of time is still pretty spectacular.
Imagine if we thought none of that was possible. If we took one look at a baby and declared that he or she was doomed: they weren’t born with it after all. Sounds ridiculous, right?
Well, I think that the belief that people either have talent or they don’t, and nothing can be done in the latter case, is no less ridiculous.
Sure, there’s such a thing as a natural inclination towards some things as opposed to others: we’ve all been there. I remember one mom coming to her son’s parent/teacher conference and looking at his work, noticing that, unlike the other kids in his class, he had left the first page of his notebook blank. The teachers would smile with understanding and explain that they were well aware of his deep-seated aversion to coloring, drawing and all things arts and crafts, so, to avoid causing him any unnecessary stress, they told him he could do whatever he liked with the page.
The kid is not artistically inclined. At least not when it comes to drawing or painting or gluing. He loves the stage and the stage loves him, but his fine motor skills need some work. Plus, he is just not interested.
Does that mean he can never create anything with his hands? Far from it. He can and has been known to. It’s called practice and experimenting and developing skill.
And yes, the same goes for talent.
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, writes about two different types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. The idea is that you either believe that you are dealt a certain hand in life where talent and ability are concerned and that’s that or, instead, you go for a different approach, which is the idea that you can cultivate talent through effort.
It’s true that there are rare individuals, wunderkinder if you like, who can do incredible things at a very young age. They are the ones who can recite verse after verse of Shakespeare at the age of three or play Mozart while blindfolded and create the kind of paintings a professional artist only sees in his dreams. These people exist, they do, but what about the rest of us?
Taking Picasso’s famous quote up a notch, I will say that every person is an artist. While skill is something we have to work on just like babies painstakingly learn to sit up and crawl, artistic vision is something we are all born with. And if you can see it, it’s real. Children are all about imagination. There is magic and creativity inside everyone, even the kid who loves to play soccer but can’t stand coloring inside the lines.
Let them color outside the lines then. Tell them nothing is off limits. Give them full artistic freedom. Then sit back and watch what they can do.
I have seen this happen time and time again. We all start with stick figures and weird-looking blobs. Just like those first tentative steps we take as tiny little humans, often falling onto our diaper-clad behinds or diving nose first into the nearest piece of furniture, our stick figures can grow into realistic-looking bodies, and every object in our drawings can easily be identified for what it is, with time and patience and, yes, effort.
I have seen kids improve their skills so significantly, you can hardly tell this artist is one and the same. And yet you can. Because skill aside, their vision is unique. Their works, from toddler doodles to very solid attempts of a portrait, always have their stamp on it, that one-of-a-kind view of the world that’s like a fingerprint: no two views are the same.
To perceive talent only as something we are born with, a natural ability or gift that manifests itself immediately, upon our first encounter with all things creative, is to deprive ourselves of the inimitable beauty and meaning of art. The joy and self-discovery, the colors and experiences, the pure, unadulterated fun.
I see people telling others to keep their day jobs, in a manner of speaking, all the time. Parents to children and adults to one another.
I want to come up to them and say: would you tell a baby she should give up on walking just because she keeps falling on her butt all the time? Ridiculous, right? Or is it?
Talent is a living, breathing thing. One can take a brush in their hands for the first time at the age of sixty and, with gentle guidance or without, produce beautiful landscapes or natures mortes.
We are born a clean slate. We can make anything we want of ourselves. We can do anything. A growth mindset opens up so many doors and dimensions for you, it seems a shame to limit yourself by falling prey to the fixed mindset instead.
We may all start out with a different level of success and we may all reach different levels of skill as we progress, but the process, the progress, the journey is what matters. One person can learn the time table in ten minutes, while it may take another several days. The important part is that both of them learn it in the end.
Art is an incredible outlet for one’s creativity and has infinite healing powers. It opens our minds and also doors to a multitude of worlds beyond our familiar stomping grounds.
There is no such thing as bad art. Everyone’s art, just like the story behind it, is unique. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t have to fit any mold or preconceived idea. That’s the beauty and raw power of it.
So, don’t let yourself think there’s only natural ability and prodigy title worthy gifts. Pick up that brush and grab onto that pencil and see where they take you. We promise you this journey will be well worth the effort and the end result will be both tangible and mystically poetic.