No Such Thing as Talent

Rock Cut, Storm in the Valley Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

Rock Cut, Storm in the Valley
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

I wonder if maybe there is no such thing as talent.

Bear with me here.  Talent, in the dictionary I checked, is defined as a natural aptitude or skill.  It’s something you’re born with, you either have it or you don’t.  A talent for photography, for example, suggests that it would take less effort for one with the talent to become accomplished in the discipline than one who has no talent, because the presence of talent supplies a natural aptitude or skill that can be developed and that is lacking in one with no talent.

But what if the operative force is not talent, but interest?  To have an interest in something, say photography, suggests to me a capability to invest time pursuing it.  One with an interest in photography, for example, might enjoy viewing many photographs, reading books on photography, and generally thinking about photography a lot.

It’s the capability to invest substantial time that’s important.  Having the interest means you’re more likely to stick with it because your interest keeps you going, even when things aren’t necessarily going well or otherwise become difficult.  Naturally, the more time you invest in something, the more likely it is you are to become accomplished at it, so it follows that those who become accomplished in something may well do so simply because of a driving interest in that thing, rather than some innate aptitude or skill for it thought of as talent.

Okay, I’m not really sure I fully believe this myself.  Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  I find it interesting food for thought, though.

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  1. Rick G December 25, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

    While I certainly understand your point here, Misha, I would make the case that it is possible to possess a natural talent in the psychological aspects of image-making, as opposed to the technological side of things.

    Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with many good friends and fellow photographers. Two, that I met years apart, come to mind. They both had won regional contests and received several awards from a local club with a significant membership. The images in their respective portfolios were impressive, so you can imagine my surprise at discovering that neither of them knew beans (formally speaking) about composition, leading lines, color theory, etc. In fact, one had no idea what an aperture was. And when I tried to pass on a few tips that might help them in these areas, neither expressed much interest in learning.

    What they both possessed in spades, however, was an uncanny eye for framing a shot and a creative vision that led them to some of the most original compositions I’ve ever seen. They just put the camera on automatic and had a ball. Over time I discovered that because they took so many wild chances visually and didn’t really know what they were doing in terms of depth-of-field, exposure, etc., that the vast majority of their shots were failures. But every time we went out they would come back with two or three images that just made my jaw drop.

    So call it natural talent, a fearless sense of playfulness, or an incredible eye, but whenever we shot together I felt like Salieri around Mozart- they displayed, frequently and nonchalantly, what I’ve worked hard for decades to occasionally achieve.
    (By the way, I still enjoyed going out with them just to see what their keepers looked like!)

    • admin January 18, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

      Thanks, Rick, appreciate the comment. You make a good point, though I’m not sure on which side of it I come down. On the one hand, you certainly present a good argument for talent and a “natural eye.” On the other hand, if they persist with their photography through many failures (and, importantly, are not demotivated by their failures), it would seem to evidence a commitment of “time in” to practicing photography, and that the natural result of spending a lot of time doing something is improvement?

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