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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


In response to my last article 'Any Requests', one of my readers has kindly offered the following question:

What do you think about the existence of talent? Does it exist and how do you interpret it?”

There is a popular notion that Talent is roughly akin to ability; that talent is something with which one is born, an innate capacity to do something extremely well. There is the familiar archetype of the 'Wunderkind', a person so naturally endowed with a particular skill that, in their early years, their prowess in the field in which they excel stretches beyond the norm.

In my opinion, more than that is necessary to constitute true talent. Far more Wunderkinder fall by the wayside early in life, or simply develop their faculties in other directions, than succeed as leaders in their field.

My readers know well that I tend to consider the Visual Arts in the context of other creative endeavours; writing, drama and especially, music, as I believe they all flow from the same spring. I possess a professional insight in the field of music in that I continue to teach classical piano technique and interpretation to advanced players, despite having abandoned my own concert career many years ago, in favour of the Visual Arts.

One may be born with a gift; very many children are. My granddaughter, aged two-and-a-half, produces abstract paintings of which I could be proud if they were my own, and I say this without the slightest hint of irony. She does so because her spirit is free, unfettered and uncluttered, and because she has never been told or taught how to do anything. A natural sense of composition and a spontaneous delight in colour inevitably blossom, but this does not mean that she will necessarily go on to become a great artist. Like most children, she demonstrates a flair. The majority of children can sing in tune at a very young age but, a decade or less into their lives, many have lost or mislaid this ability.

At the age of four, my daughter sung Berlin theatre songs by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht in German, with style, skill and accuracy, while I accompanied her at the piano. Her mother is German so she was brought up bilingual. For her it was natural to sing in German and it never occurred to us to pass her off as a prodigy. As she grew older, she expressed no interest in taking singing lessons however, nor piano nor any other instrument, and we never pushed her to do so.

My daughter – now twenty-four - remains highly creative and artistic; she draws with a developed and refined technique and has done so since her teens. In this pastime and part-time career, she has honed an ability with which she was certainly born, and has gilded the lily by instilling in her art the passion and drive that can only come from a deep love for what she does. She has also shunned the stultifying strictures thrown at her while studying Art at school. (I know that one of my readers, who went to the same school and is soon to embark on an MA at the Royal College of Art, will particularly identify with this statement!)

I refer then, to my reader's question: 'does talent exist?'

Yes, it does, but the term has been obfuscated and diluted over time – as have, in my opinion, the words 'genius' and 'prodigy'. All three are overused. Furthermore, there is something about the adjective 'talented' that makes me shudder a little. It is often employed by commentators of scant insight to describe individuals whose achievements the commentator has no hope of emulating; in this way the adjective emerges as patronising. It is frequently misused to describe high-achieving individuals whose contribution to science, culture or sport have long ago surpassed the need for that epithet. Talent is not an apex; it is a staircase that enables us to achieve, and to excel. Despite the capacity for advancement being practically limitless, there comes a point when to describe a person as 'talented' becomes empty and lazy.

To muddy the waters further, hyperbole abounds when the word 'Talent' is carelessly chosen, and here we reach the core of my own beliefs about the word.

Few people are born with talent or genius, though undeniably there are exceptions. People may demonstrate and develop a gift or a flair at a young age, often progressing to an impressive degree, but this does not mean that they necessarily possess talent. Forty years ago I taught piano to a student who became good enough to be accepted into the junior department at the Royal Academy of Music. I remember her mother very sensibly and level-headedly telling me she realised that her child was not particularly musical or talented – she had simply acquired a skill, in my opinion through hard work, intelligence and good muscular-skeletal coordination.

I agreed wholeheartedly. Talent is something much more.

Talent is something that grows, deepens and matures from a spark that is the 'gift' or 'flair'. Talent appears when the outpourings of a person's creativity begin to manifest the divine. To exhibit a gift, one does not automatically possess talent but, without the flair, talent cannot take root.

In my opinion, the emergence of talent in an individual is a kind of 'sweet spot' in artistic endeavour, a point at which there may be no turning back; one at which the flair and the gift are joined, thrillingly and mystically, by love, passion, dedication and even obsession.

Talent presents itself only once the desire to take the gift into one's heart burns fiercely and cannot be extinguished. At this point, the skill that has been nurtured takes flight. It is no longer definable as an ability or a flair; it is an entity in its own right, unique, rare, precious and ineffable.

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023

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18 de fev. de 2023

Thanks a lot for this article! As a young artist, it was very interesting for me to know your point of view

Haydn Dickenson
Haydn Dickenson
18 de fev. de 2023
Respondendo a

I'm so pleased. And thank you again for stimulating me to write it!

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