Thursday, July 8, 2021

T&T Thursday!

Paka 2021

Thoughts on Talent

By Alex Zonis

Many times, as I am sitting sketching in a park or a cafe, someone would stop by, look over my shoulder, and then say with a wistful air "I wish I had your talent… I'd like to draw too…"

I usually hesitate to tell them, but I will tell you: I have no talent.

What I have is an incessant desire to make images. I have persistence and tenacity. I gave up on instant gratification and the need to look good right away. I bought in on an idea of 10,000 hours. But talent… no, definitely not. But let's examine the situation with more attention.

For decades I did not draw or paint or make art, because I was convinced that I had no "talent". Fairly late in life I came up with a rebellious idea that I don't actually need this thing "talent" to draw or paint. Ha! What a liberation it was! I took a pencil and did an exercise from a drawing book, the year was 2009:

I did more exercises from books, and interestingly enough my drawings got better.

Then I came across a book by Malcolm Gladwell "Outliers: The Story of Success" and read about 10,000 hours concept. 

The idea is that you need about 10,000 hours of practice to get good at whatever you want to get good at. I did the math: working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, gives 2,000 hours of practice in one year. In 2010 I'd barely scratched the surface… I realized that I needed 5 years of dedicated practice. I also realized that I don't need "talent", I need skill. That was doable, and I got to work.

These are some examples. 






I have done my 5 years - 10,000 hours and much more! I have moved from being afraid of putting a pencil to paper to being a professional artist and a painting instructor. 

Here's one more thing to keep in mind. In the beginning of your 10,000 hours quantity is more important than quality. 
There once was an experiment in a pottery class of an art school. For one semester a class was divided in 2 halves. Students in the first group were asked to make one single pot each during the time of that semester, but it should be the best pot they ever made. The grade would be given based on the quality of that single pot. The second group was asked to make as many pots as they possibly can, quality and beauty not important. These students would get their grades based on the number of pots they made, the more the better. As you probably guessed, by the end of the semester pots produced by the "quantity" group  were better and more beautiful than single pots made by the "quality" group. 

This example comes from a book "Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking" by David Bayles and Ted Orland. You can get this book from Amazon for under $4.00 used. It is a little book - 120 pages, small format - with a lot of wisdom. This will be the best art book you ever bought.

A practical and observable shift in quality of work occurs through practice and work. "Talent" is not even a part of this equation.

During my years of practice and self-study I arrived to several conclusions that I want to share with you:
  • If you can write a grocery list - you can draw too. You have all visual and motor skills that you need.
  • There is no such thing as talent. Talent is a man-made construct that is not really helpful.
  • Drawing can be taught. Why do you think there are so many art schools and art teachers. Find the right one. Teaching yourself works too.
  • Practice and time on task is all there is. Don't just trust me, try for yourself. Then come back in 6 months and thank me :).

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    1. This is very inspiring! And I didn't know how similar we are! I didn't start drawing until 2011, and in much the same way as you... I heard about the 10,000 hours, and I got going! Still at it, even though I'm no longer counting! ;-)

    2. Fantastic post and message!
      Thanks Alex! I needed that!!

    3. Thanks for the informative post. I agree with the 10,000 hours to proficiency theory. But the trick is how to keep up one's interest to keep at it. That's where groups like Urban Sketchers come in. It adds some external structure and a social component to make it more likely one will stick to it.


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