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Durga Walker : Why talent isn't nearly enough or even that important

Why talent isn't nearly enough — or even that important

By Durga Walker | Updated 3/24/15

If I could gather all the hopeful young artists in the world together and tell them only one thing, it would be this: Wipe from your mind any thoughts of talent. It is not your most important concern and has little bearing on the satisfaction you will take in your own work. Far more important is passion, persistence, and a clear vision. Work on those, and talent will take care of itself.

Talent is a stupendously overrated attribute. We all have a talent for something, but this doesn't necessarily mean we will succeed at it. Talent by itself means very little. Its main function in our world (where we have the luxury to actually think about such things) seems to be as a red herring, derailing what could have been fine artistic careers — if only someone had pointed out that hard work and attention to detail were much more necessary.

I was told my whole young life (by my family, so please factor that in) that I had talent for drawing. But no one ever defined the benchmark, and for good reason. How can you benchmark talent? Why try? Did I draw like Michelangelo? Hardly. Like myself? I should hope so. Everyone has talent for drawing like themselves. Everyone has talent for doing something. These are blessed gifts, to be cherished with a great deal of gratitude, and nurtured to the best of our abilities.

But what I didn't have, and which turned out to be far more important in practical terms, was confidence in my own dream, unswervingly and without regard for the opinions of family or anyone else.

I've acknowledged my unswerving purpose late in life, but this is better than never having acknowledged it at all. I'm still alive and kicking, and I still have time to live every moment as passionately as I can.

Talent without drive, without gusto, sits like a stinking lump of old fish, causing nothing but discomfort and unease to its owner. Gusto without talent, on the other hand, always manages to get somewhere — have you ever noticed that? The hard worker with less talent can learn and improve and move steadily forward. Perhaps not as quickly as more talented colleagues, but certainly with greater zest for life than those who fail to notice that talent, while lovely, isn't everything, and who in consequence produce very little.

I have a newspaper clipping on my desk from 1981 of an article by Theodore F. Wolff. Here's a quote: "Talent…is a less imperative and more beclouded form of genius…Talent perceives its goal dimly and achieves it only partly. Genius seeks what it must have and finds it whole."

Do you have this genius? I believe so. I believe that this genius, far from being an exclusive gift to a chosen few, is achievable. We can create, unearth, or rediscover our own genius. Where does your genius lie? Where do you want it to lie? I would go so far as to say that genius makes, not seeks, what it must have. Your life is yours to create according to your own special genius. Seize your dream with both hands and learn to fly. Your passion will show you the way.

So this is what I would tell those tremulous young artists: Develop your God-given talent, but don't let misconceptions about talent stop you in your tracks. Instead, acknowledge your genius for making what you must have (and for drawing or writing or painting like yourself) and work toward it every day. This will carry you much, much farther. •

©2005 Durga Walker. All rights reserved.

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