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Talent vs. Passion: Why You Don’t Need Talent to be a Great Artist

The Myth About Talent and Why it’s Overrated

“[The older kids] were so afraid to fail, that they stopped writing and they stopped drawing... they just stopped. They didn’t do anything, and it really worried me.” - Dav Pilkey

...and that’s the kicker, isn’t it? A predetermined notion we all share is that in order to be a great artist, we have to be talented. - Isn’t it strange? It’s an ideal that a lot of us have without realizing. It’s most likely because the people we see around us who have a passion for what they create just so happen to also be phenomenal at it. You don’t hear music on the radio from people who can’t sing, and you don’t wear clothes created by people who can’t sew.

Thus comes the idea of talent. It’s the label people give to individuals who seem naturally gifted at a given skill Some agree that talent exists, and others believe it’s a social construct that’s meant to separate the “gifted” from the “average”. What you believe doesn’t matter in this case, what matters is a far more important element when it comes to creating art in any form -- passion.

Do you NEED talent to be an artist?

before and after artwork by a student. The before is a somewhat crude drawing of some trees and a lake, while on the right is a realistic still life of a glass, a vase, and a cloth
Student work by Ana, in 2016 (no previous training) and 2018 after attending art classes at Winged Canvas for just over 1 year.

A question we get sometimes from parents who are enrolling students is if their child has to be good at art to join a class. “They love to create art and do it in their spare time, but they’re not very good at it,” the parent will say. First of all, that’s what art classes are for, after all! Second of all, while that’s a fair assessment, the parent is missing the point. They love to create art and do it in their spare time.

Portrait of the Artist's Mother (Pablo Picasso, 1896)
Portrait of the Artist's Mother (Picasso, 1896) -- this was painted when he was only 15!

Too much focus is placed on the “talent” aspect of creating. Truthfully, what should have more focus is the individual’s passion. The reason many superstars are where they are is because their passions and their talents aligned. Not being innately “gifted” means nothing to someone with a strong passion -- anyone can match a talented individual so long as they work hard towards their goal.

Natural talent within the art world has been present throughout the ages. Pablo Picasso and Albrecht Dürer were able to draw and paint masterful works by the age of thirteen, and you hear about child prodigies all the time from all corners of the world. However, the vast majority of successful artists got to where they are from working hard, having a strong passion for their trade, and being eager to learn.

A side by side comparison of student's past and present work. on the left is a somewhat crude traditional drawing of a character, while on the right is a fairly polished digital drawing of a different character.
Student work by Emma, in 2019 vs 2021. She started as a Cartooning and Anime student, and now takes my Art Mentorship class!

Some of my best students are the ones who are constantly willing to learn and improve. They’ll constantly participate in class, ask specific questions or just ask for advice, etc. The best part is when they submit their work, and their steady improvement becomes evident over time. While some are naturally skilled, others aren’t -- but that doesn’t stop them from constantly trying to get better. Their passion and drive has led to quick improvement, no matter what stage of artistic skill they’re at.

Talent and passion are separate entities

...which is something that’s so little talked about. Perhaps your child is innately good at the arts or anything else. That doesn’t mean that they’re passionate about it, and the difference needs to be recognized.

Restricting them to practice something they aren't passionate about is like attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole. The same goes for natural talent without passion. Sometimes, students will take art classes as per their parent’s recommendation, but you can tell the student doesn’t want to put the effort into what they create. Some students believe they’re already good enough for the professional world, and others simply have a lack of interest. Over time, it’s easy to see them falling behind or improving little compared to the students who have a constant drive to learn and improve. Art takes a very strong passion and will to create and be open to critique-- without that passion, it’ll become incredibly easy to fall behind.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work as hard.” (Tim Tebow)

Recognize your child’s passions, let them put energy and hard work into them, and talent will suddenly seem far less important.

We need to learn to nurture what children are passionate about

A side by side comparison of 2 comic pages. On the left is a crude pencil-drawn comic page, while on the right is a polished digitally drawn comic page
A comic page of mine from 2009 versus one from 2021. 12 years of hard work really pay off!

Passion is what fuels the drive to work hard. I grew up in an artistic family -- everyone had a passion to be creative in different corners of the art world, from culinary to illustrative to performance. But not everyone has that kind of support, and is instead told to focus on something else that feels like less of a “waste of time”.

That’s the issue. When someone immediately decides to discourage something that they aren’t innately “good” at, it kills the spirit and the chance for opportunity. Having doubts about a child’s passion is like saying “they aren’t good at it now, so they never will be”, which is painfully untrue. To me, that’s like clipping the wings of a bird that hasn’t grown its flight feathers in.

an image of an instructor showing a group of three children something on a piece of paper
Eager to learn students from our old art studio!

The support you give individuals with a passion is half the battle towards success. Positive reinforcement, support and assistance are really important to a child’s growth, especially when it comes to budding artists. Successful artists need confidence, which they get from skills training in art classes, lots of practice, and mentorship from professional artists who are just as passionate about creating as they are. Most of all, they need support -- because creativity needs to be nurtured in order for it to grow into a strong sense of artistic skill.

Applying, presenting a portfolio, and being interviewed by the top dogs of the art industry takes a lot of courage. No artist got to that point by just sitting back and letting it happen. It took time, effort, and loads of passion. Teach your child to work hard on their passions, regardless of their skill level, and you’ll find that they’ll have no trouble at all when they leave the nest and fly on their own.

If your child loves to draw but needs some help developing their skills, consider a beginner drawing or beginner cartooning class to see if it brings them joy. Older students who are more practiced may benefit from learning drawing foundations, which focuses on developing skills in the core fundamentals of art. Students who are creatively independent and prefer self-directed projects are ready for Art Mentorship, where they can get personal feedback and guidance from a professional artist who shares their passion.

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