I was motivated to write another post on this topic following the comment on the first post:
“What about aptitude? The ability to understand a foreign concept at a faster rate than someone else? Art is a tough one to apply your theory to. I can practice painting every day and become good at painting but a true artist, one that paints a masterpiece that transcends through time – that surely requires talent? Once again, a very interesting topic.”
Firstly, the whole aptitude angle is something I thought of addressing after I’d already written the first article. Aptitude is a word that I’ve also seen substituted for talent. When someone has come into our judo club, they might pick things up faster than other people that begin training with them. Some people begin to talk of them having an aptitude for judo. I’ve seen this in other areas of life as well, and it boils down to a fairly simple explanation – it isn’t some god given gift they have that allows them to pick things up faster, it’s crossover from another pursuit. What this means is that while they may not have “put in the reps” in one specific pursuit, say judo, they may have put in a lot of work in a field that requires similar attributes. A rugby player will pick up judo much faster than someone who has spent their time on less physically active pursuits because they are already strong, have good control of their body and have good proprioception. It has nothing to do with some preordained ability, it is just work in a similar area. Likewise someone with a strong background in mathematics is going to pick up engineering concepts far quicker than someone that has spent all their time in the liberal arts.
On the subject of arts and talent, we have the slight problem of subjectivity – how popular any artist is is defined as how many people like their work. This doesn’t necessarily equate to skill (which I’m sure most people appreciate). Modern/postmodern art have done a lot of damage to a once noble profession, because much of it consists of works that a 4 year old child could do. Silly lines and squiggles etc, and a whole bunch of ridiculous names to classify such things. Go a little further back into history though and look at the real genius’s of art. These people had unmatched skill because they were incredibly prolific and practiced constantly. I recall reading quite some time ago that Rembrandt’s (I could be mistaken on that, it may have been another prominent artist) apprentices spent months, even years mixing his paint before they were allowed to paint a single stroke with their own brush.
While we are on Rembrandt, we can see why he was so good – his collected works comprise (and these are conservative estimates, considering many of them have been lost) over 300 paintings, 300 etchings, and over 2,000 drawings. Clearly it is no accident that he became one of the greatest artists in history. Looking at Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (which I have not yet seen myself), it is the fact that the woman’s eyes in the portrait seem to follow the observer that is seen as the most remarkable feature of the painting. There is also “subtle modeling of forms and the atmospheric illusionism” which were novel qualities contributing to its popularity. All of these aspects speak not simply to divine gift from god, but an incredible skill born from years of practice.
Finally I think the literary world is a good place to touch on when we speak of talent. Many would speak of Stephanie Meyer (of Twilight fame) or E.L. James (of Fifty Shades of Grey fame) as talented authors. After all, they have written book series that have earned them millions of dollars. Surely they are talented, coming up with such a great story? Here is where subjectivity makes things murky. They are very popular. A large group of people love their work. Does this make them talented? Well, no. They may have come up with ideas which pleased many people, enough even to keep them reading for several books. However as writers, their technique and ability stinks. They have problems with even basic skills such as putting commas and periods in the correct places. I remember reading some of Fifty Shades and feeling as though I was hearing nails down a chalkboard because the basic paragraph and sentence structure was horrid.
The difference between Twilight and the Mona Lisa is that to write a book that millions love doesn’t necessarily take skill – it takes an idea at the right time for the right group of people, and the persistence to see it through until the end (which is an admirable achievement in itself, but not part of this discussion). The Mona Lisa is something that required years of practice and understanding, and the unique mental landscape that such practice brings. This is why the Mona Lisa is a once in a millennium achievement, and Twilight is appreciated only be teenagers subject to hormones and bored stay at home mums.