I recently came across an artist on FB who was railing against the idea of her artistic ability being a gift from God. Her main argument was, essentially, “Hell, no – it was my hard work.” I want to discuss this topic but I want to do it without God-issues muddying up things so I will use the word talent to signify an ability that exists without practice or effort.
So is artistic ability due to talent or hard work? It seems a bit like the nature/nurture debate therefore it’s really easy to default to “Well, both.” And that is probably the best answer if it’s not a forced-choice question. Certainly an adult artist has invested years of experience, training, and effort into creating their artwork. But likewise, an adult could spend years working, hoping and learning to become an artist and never accomplish the goal. If other factors such as gender, race, location, quality of education and materials and temperament (outgoing or aloof) were equal you would still have at least two variables that could explain the different outcomes. The first is luck and the second is talent. Since luck is understood as inherently elusive talent becomes the default reason for one person to succeed where another fails. But all that is for mature human beings …
The “Well, both” response seems far more questionable when you are talking about very young people. An obvious reason is that the hard work requirement hasn’t been met by anyone because even if one child has drawn more than another child of the same age – they haven’t had that much more time. Not years worth, probably not even months worth, yet Child A’s drawing might be quite a bit better than Child B’s. Also how do you explain the differences in outcome when a medium is novel to both children? In that type of scenario talent explains the difference while hard work and luck aren’t even contenders.
None of this is to say that a non-artistically talented child cannot be an artist or that an artistically talented child will be an artist because there is work and effort involved in being good at anything. All children should have access to art materials. Some children will have more artistic talent than the others, some children will work harder than the others, and a few children will work harder AND have more talent than the others. Although a few of the hard working children (from either group) might 15 or 20 years later resent the idea that other people think they are “just” talented.