A Case Against Talent

Posted June 30 2016

I hate the word talent. It invokes all the myths that we have to fight to become good artists. That you either have it or you don’t. That practice won’t help you if you don’t have some innate predisposition to art. It’s one of the first lies we encounter when we’re trying to decide whether or not to start down the path of an artistic life.


Even with such passion, I catch myself defaulting to the term. I’ll pass a gallery window and see a painting that speaks to me and I’ll say to whoever is nearby,” Wow, she’s really talented.”

What I mean though is skilled. That’s where we can use the wonder of language to say the thing we really mean. Skill connotates work. Some basic level of skill may be naturally attained but mostly we associate skill with practice. Just like good art. It also signals to those around us who aren’t artists that art takes skill. When we use the word talent we aren’t just minimizing all the long hours this artist put into her work, we’re playing into the myths that non artists have about art making as well.

So I’m going to try to banish talent from my vocabulary (unless it really is the word I mean) and start instead using the word skill. “Wow, she is really skilled.” Exactly.

What do you think? It is important to distinguish between talent and skill when we talk about art?


Kelly Anne Powers is an artist working on her own skills over at her blog.