Why talent by itself is not enough for art
Artistic genuis may be extremely rare, but artistic talent is quite common. What is rather difficult to find is such talent combined with intelligence, sensitivity, a sense of cultural relevancy - and creative drive.Skip to next paragraph
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These qualities are crucial, for without them talent will wither and die, or will remain, at best, a source of private pleasure or family entertainment.
We all have talent in one form or another, creative outlets through which our most inner thoughts and feelings wing their way out toward others - and receive approval and respect as a result.
For most of us, occasional recognition and appreciation are enough. We know - or at least sense - that what pleases or entertains family and friends will not necessarily impress total strangers. And if we don't realize that by ourselves, there will most certainly be a parent or a friend ready to point that out - and to remind us of the risks involved in trying to make a career in the arts.
They will be quite correct - not only with their statistics, but also with their wish to prevent future frustration. Art, in all its forms, is without doubt one of the glories and pleasures of life. It can also, however, if overly fantasized upon and unrealistically pursued, be the source of some of life's greatest pain.
Talent in the very young should be encouraged and nourished for its own sake, and not because it can be a quick route to fame, wealth, and glory. Just as there are few things more delightful to watch than children happily splashing away with paint or trying to draw a cat, so are there few things more unpleasant to see than a parent pushing a young talent into premature commercial or professional directions.
One of the most interesting things about talent is that it is not necessarily coupled with intelligence - nor with ambition, or a sense of what is important. It is a rare talent indeed that finds itself functioning fully in tandem with what else is best about a particular individual - that finds itself a crucial part of a well-conceived and clearly focused long-range creative plan.
One of the greatest misconceptions held by some doting parents and altogether too many daydreaming youngsters is that true talent will always be recognized by an ecstatic public. That just isn't true. Talent by itself amounts to very little. For it to be of any interest to the world it must be pointed and shaped to answer a need, to give the world something it wants - even if the world isn't as yet fully aware of that need or that want.
At such a point, genius, with its instinct for what is crucial in a culture, will move ahead unswervingly. Talent, on the other hand, must weigh the alternatives before pulling out all its stops. It cannot, for one thing, act alone, but must call upon every special quality its owner possesses for help - from his most sharply honed intelligence, intuition, sensibility, and imagination to his shrewdest reading of his culture and his times. Like the sharpest politician or the cleverest financier, the ambitious artist of talent must understand his resources, study the situation, weigh the alternatives - and strike with all he's got.
Now if this sounds callous and cold, let me say only that this is often precisely what it takes to succeed in art. Especially today when there are thousands of ambitious ''applicants'' for every position at the ''top.''
I bring all this up not to be discouraging, but to put the value and nature of talent into proper perspective, to lay the groundwork for a discussion of talent's proper use and function.
Talent, as I see it, is a less imperative and more beclouded form of genius. If genius perceives reality transparently and with a driving necessity, talent does so translucently and with only a modicum of need. Talent perceives its goal dimly and achieves it only partly. Genius seeks what it must have, and finds it whole.
Talent, if well handled, can startle - but it cannot jolt us out of our habitual manner of thinking or seeing - and can seldom, if ever, cause us to alter our beliefs. It is gentler, slower-moving, and more uncertain. It is easier to love and to accept because we see it as no better than ourselves. Genius, on the other hand, stands so firm, is so implacable, uncompromising, and clear, so insistent that it alone is right, that we can only love and respect it from afar.
Artistic talent reflects the ability to ''lose'' oneself in an activity, to become one with colors, sounds, ideas, movements, etc., to direct oneself and one's resources toward the realization of a creative goal above and beyond immediate gratification.