Shortly after I read the report card of my 14 year old daughter, I was breathing fire.
Her art teacher commented for a paragraph about how my daughter was an interested student who took enthusiastic participation in her classes. Then she wrote, "Camille has some talent at art"...
...and that's the exact moment when flames spontaneously shot out of my esophagus.
"What is that supposed to mean?" I demanded the ambient air. "Some talent? Is that the level between "ripe with talent" and "no talent"?
I've never met this art teacher but I was appalled. Who appointed her the judge of "talent" for a group of Grade 8s? God? Herself? The ghost of Leondardo da Vinci?
I'm perfectly fine with an art teacher commenting on my child's output, her paying attention (or not) in class, her creative evolution, etc. etc. but I take exception with a teacher commenting on a student's "talent", or perceived lack thereof.
Once I had calmed down (roughly two days and three tablets of chocolate later) I asked myself, is talent truly such a dirty word?
Yes, I concluded. It is.
One thing that annoys the hell out of me about "talent" is that it is such a passive notion. There is a perception that if you have talent, you don't need to work hard, and that if you don't have talent, there is no point in working anyway.
Few people lack the requisite modesty (Kanye West being a vastly entertaining exception to his rule) to declare themselves talented. That means the huge majority of people are waiting around for someone else - an agent, a gallery owner, a reviewer, or a theatre critic art - to decree how much talent they possess.
From what I have seen, one thing all successful creatives have in common is fricking hard work. Their success comes from an epic amount of time and energy invested in front of a canvas, or their French Horn, or a Word document, or a loom, or on a stage, or wherever their chosen creative outlet may be. They do not waste time contemplating their god-given degree of talent, or listening to others' judgements on the issue. They are too busy developing their craft.
From the writing workshops I have attended and led, I have noticed that the word "talent" is probably the biggest single roadblock to aspiring writers living the creative lives their souls yearn for.
I'm always amazed that one little word has the power to prevent so many dreams from coming to fruition.
The notion of having their talent judged breeds visceral fear - fear that if they expose themselves by creating and sharing work it will lead them to be judged "untalented". Many aspiring writers would equate this with the end of their creative road. What is the point of working, after all, when untalented?
My last beef with talent is that it is such a static notion. It doesn't have any space to accommodate the true nature of art. Creatives get better from working hard. They improve. They innovate. Their art evolves. Their craft interacts in a dynamic way with their self and life which, as we all need to accept, is ever-changing. Creativity at its very core is unpredictable movement.
A small, cramped word like talent has no role to play in the magical lighting storm that is creativity.
In my mind, talent is an ill-adapted, damaging notion. Anyone who uses it in relation to my children may find me stalking them with a bar of soap to wash their mouths out.