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weighing in on "talent"

updated tue 30 apr 96


Janet H Walker on fri 12 apr 96

I'm going to try to say a few complex things simply. These thoughts
are not unique to me; volumes could be (and probably have been)
written on each of the points so I won't get long-winded. But I
feel compelled to try to say a few of these things:

- Belief in talent is all too often raised either as a barrier to
keep people out or as an excuse by people who are lazy and don't
understand the nature of their own capabilities.

- Believing in the need for "talent" as a prerequisite for "doing
art" is a popular red herring.

- Art is a deeply spiritual uniquely human activity. We need
"talent" for being human? Nuh-uh.

- In art as in all our most important human development, we need
guidance, discipline, and nurturing in order to move beyond unformed
raw capability.

It makes me sad to hear people say "You're so talented; I don't have
any talent". I always tell them that what they mean is "You have so
much time to put into this; I don't have any time." That's accounts
for most of the difference between me and my non-practising friends.

Jan Walker
Fun & Functional Arts
Cambridge MA USA

Richard Gralnik on sat 13 apr 96

I have a story to add in support of Jan's comments about belief in the need
for talent being a barrier to entry and people's lack of belief in themself.

In high school, a friend tried to get me to join the school choir. Ha. If
there is a less resonant substance than tin, my ears are made of it. Anyway,
he eventually got me to go, and the choir teacher signed me on because I
could make sounds as low as most of the notes on the left end of the piano
keyboard. Only problem was I didn't know if the sound I made matched the
one coming out of the piano. "Anyone can learn to sing" was the teacher's
response, and he sat me next to a guy named Ron, one of the best basses in
the choir (who didn't forgive the teacher or me until graduation 2 years

I told Ron to elbow me if I missed a note. He was more than happy to oblige,
and breathing was painful for many days. The teacher would often go section
by section in rehearsal and ask people who thought they were off key to not
sing, a very discreet method, I thought, and I dropped out every time. Funny
how that seemed to tune things up.

To make a long story short, eventually I got elbowed less and less, and even
kept singing when the teacher was checking for people missing notes.

Believe me, there was no talent there to begin with, and I'm not quitting my
day job to audition at the Met now, but I've been singing in choirs for years
thanks to that teacher's patience and methods, and helping me develop something
I didn't have in the first place (I can't say he helped me find something I
didn't know I had because we all knew it didn't exist). But I love singing
to this day.

What does this tale have to do with clay other than that I sang in choirs
instead of making pots in high school and college? Not a lot. But who knows
what a person is capable of if only they're encouraged with positive
motiviation and patience? If I can learn to sing anyone can learn to make a
good pot, whether you're blessed with genious or not.

definitely not thinking about computers on a Friday afternoon