Talent versus skill in creativity

The reality is more complex than either/or. Imagination and inventiveness aren’t only for artists, film-makers and writers; creativity is innate to all humans, even those who think they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies. We all use our creative muscles every day in problem-solving, in humour, coming up with meal plans, writing essays and so on. But if you want to get good at a specific creative endeavour, like drawing or painting, writing or film-making, it requires the honing of skills through effort and practice. Few people, if any, pick up a video camera and make an award-winning cinematic experience without first studying the craft. Likewise no one can pick up pencil and know immediately how to draw a realistic portrait of a tree. Artists need developed observation skills, curiosity and determination as much as the ability to create a collection of nice looking lines. But creativity also needs fuel.

My (almost) 10 year old daughter has a bedazzling imagination and can create full and magical scenes on paper without breaking a sweat. Her imagination is one of her superpowers. But I don’t think she is more “naturally gifted” than any of her friends. For starters she comes from a creative family – my grandmother wrote poetry, my aunty is an artist, my mother is skilled with knitting needles, crochet hooks and macrame and is always pottering with some project, and my sister is a master of many things, including being innovative, with an eye for pleasing designs. We are all, always creating; it’s like breathing. I write, draw, paint and invent worlds and my husband is a really good bedtime story-teller, inventing them on the fly when our daughter can’t sleep. This creative universe is all my daughter has ever known – it’s her fuel. She lives in a house with too many pencils and markers, overflowing with paper and sketchbooks and encouragement. It probably helps having parents who were thrilled when she drew murals of spirals and spiders on the wall under the dining room table, which we only discovered once we’d moved the table away from the wall. She was two and we were so proud we kept them. At two my husband and I enrolled her in a ballet class to see if she’d like to dance. I had no agenda other than to help her explore the possibilities and maybe have a bit of fun. Much to the chagrin of the ballet teacher, my little one only wanted to frolic and dance to her own song. After a month of this the teacher took me aside and told me my spirited little one would be “better suited to something less . . . disciplined”. My little one “has got something”, they said, but it’s not this. Let her frolic, they said. Far from being offended, I was thrilled. That gave me so much insight in to who this little person was. At four years old, and not for the last time, her teacher wanted me to know how amazing her paintings were and that I really need to encourage this, because “she’s got something”. That something they struggled to define isn’t talent or genius, it’s just the imaginative mind of a kid that wants to frolic. So we let her frolic. She writes stories all the time and has since filled several sketchbooks of her own with sketches and illustrated stories. She knows her way around the iPad drawing app, Procreate, writes her own music on the flute and likes to teach other people how to draw. She is skilled and talented because she’s an explorer, she works hard, she practices, she’s curious and she has a desire to be an artist, and apparently a “youtuber” (don’t they all).

Creativity is innate and we’re all explorers. We just need someone to believe in us and the space to frolic and develop.

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