The Talent Gene
In an international collaboration, scientists identified a new area in our DNA which is associated with talent. Using a new research tool developed at the University of Michigan, researchers were able to reanalyze samples from previous genetic studies to identify variations in the genes that may increase an individual’s abilities in various art - related areas. This new technology allows researchers to provide a more detailed map of the genes than previously was possible, making it feasible to understand why some people are simply more talented than others, and to suggest targets for new and better treatments for individuals with little to no talent.
This amazing new discovery put to rest the age old argument of natural talent vs. hard work. This discovery is also fantastic in the truest sense of the word, as it is pure fantasy, something that I just made up so that I could discuss the secret behind every talented person I have worked with in my years as professional artist.
I have been fortunate to build professional relationships with some of the most talented people working in the industry today, and I can’t think of a single one that didn’t work incredibly hard to achieve their level of proficiency. Many of these artists have been told that they are lucky for being born with an artistic gift. That their artistic ability came easy because of this gift. This has always bothered me, as it appeared to negate all the effort that went into advancing their artistic skillset. What these individuals fail to realize is the countless hours these artists invested from an early age and continue to invest towards their craft. Others simply look at an artist's current skillset and assume it’s always been there, and it took little to no effort to reach their current skill level.
As an educator, I witness this misunderstanding of where talent comes from on a daily basis. Every three months I welcome a new batch of students to the school and take on the responsibility of preparing them for a career as digital artists. Each student arrives with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and usually within the first week I can determine which of the students will produce the best work throughout their time at the school. It’s quite common for the best students to have no experience. These “star” students are easy for me to spot, as they demonstrate the same attributes as the successful working professionals mentioned earlier. Students that produce less desirable results are quick to say that the more successful students are “naturally talented” or “gifted”.
If it’s not natural talent, is it simply more time invested? Earlier I mentioned the countless hours successful artists invest, but while time invested in honing one’s skills does aid in increasing their proficiency as an artist, in my opinion there are other attributes that play a much larger role.
So, what are some of these attributes? What follows are five key attributes that can be found in every talented artist that I have encountered.
Talented artists have an immense passion for their craft. They are self-motivated and driven from within by their love of creating. These artists are inspired by the world around them and have an endless need to express themselves through their art. You can imagine how effortless creating may appear to a novice or outsider when an artist truly loves what he is doing. Don’t be fooled, these artists still have to put forth a great deal of effort - they simply enjoy the process. The journey is the destination.
My favorite attribute of truly talented individuals is that they have a positive attitude. These artists are open-minded and carry a confidence that there is always a solution to every problem they face. Most of these artists are generous with their time and knowledge making them invaluable team players. The power of positive thinking goes a long way when working in this industry. Every day artists are asked to tackle the impossible, and if they go in with the attitude of can do, they’ll be able to see the task to completion. If your attitude is that what you are being asked to do is not possible, you will most likely not complete the task. Simply put, when artists go into every new venture with a positive attitude, they are able to accomplish things they never knew they could.
The most talented artists I know are intellectually curious. They have a hunger for knowledge that can’t be satisfied, and they ask questions any chance they get, challenging assumptions. They are eager to understand things, and this understanding leads to confidence in their conclusions. These individuals ask the right kinds of questions and equally as important, they listen. They truly listen. Often times the average person will either not ask questions or when they do ask questions, they don’t listen. If the answer they are given isn’t a quick fix or simple solution they shut down. Many students have told me that they don’t ask questions out of fear of looking ignorant. There is the age old saying that there are no stupid questions. Talented people understand this belief and know that the side effect of not asking questions is poor decision making.
As digital artists, we need to be problem solvers who are able to think fast and tackle any issues that are thrown our way. Talented artists are adaptable, having the ability to readily adjust to different conditions. As production artists, new problems arise constantly, and true problem solvers have to devise solutions to move forward. The more problems an artist solves the easier new problems are to overcome. Because of this, it can appear to an outsider that these artists have a natural ability to solve problems. This totally negates the prior experiences the artist has had that have led to being able to think fast and to navigate solid solutions.
Talented artists are attentive and persistent in everything they do. They go into every task with a “failure is not an option” mentality and have steadfastness in solving problems despite any difficulties, obstacles or discouragement that may arise. These artists are unstoppable when they set their mind to it and are never satisfied, always looking for a better solution to problems they’ve already solved.
I strongly believe that attaining these five attributes will aid in anyone’s ability to truly be talented. As an artist’s abilities increase, he or she can overcome new challenges with less effort. This may give the appearance that when an artist with these attributes faces a new challenge or task, it naturally comes easy to him or her… I believe this is where some misunderstand the origin of an artist’s talent.