Go Sketch art teacher asks 'Is talent a myth?'

Emma Shannon from Go Sketch Club teaches art to children and adults and aims to develop young artists into self confident, imaginative and creative thinking adults of tomorrow.  In this guest blog she explores the notion of talent and why many children are unfairly turned off art at a young age.

Is talent a myth?

As a young child, many of us would have easily picked up a crayon and started drawing with a sense of freedom and exploration.

I remember vividly that feeling of excitement when I opened my sketchbook on a long train journey with my family or started painting with a new set of paints. Go Sketch Club logo

When I became a primary school teacher, I enjoyed seeing this same joy when children were given the opportunity to draw or create a clay sculpture in class.

However, for many, this sense of joy and abandon when creating art does not last. As we get older, many adults leave this pastime behind them. Drawing becomes something that children do with ease and adults do with caution.

As an art teacher I have noticed that there is a sense of judgement that starts from about age 8 or 9 and grows into adulthood. Instead of being present in the moment while creating, we start thinking “Is this a good or a bad drawing?”. We look around at our classmates and we start comparing our drawing to others.

As a teacher, I began to wonder what causes this shift in attitude from “I can draw” to “I can’t draw”. Is there anything I can do as a teacher to stop this transition? Around the time I set up Go Sketch Art Classes, I started listening more to what children, parents and other teachers started expressing around art education and one word kept popping up again and again. The word was ‘talent’.

I would hear it in class when children would ask the ‘talented’ child to help them draw something. I would hear it in other teachers who would sometimes openly pick out a child as having talent in front of the other students. I would hear it in some of the art birthday parties I taught, when parents would come up to me and say (in front of the children), “James is the talented one in this group”. I would also hear about people not having this ‘talent’, especially when parents dropped off their children at one of our Go Sketch art classes. They would often say “I’m not creative or talented in art so I don’t know where my child gets it from!”.

So what is this elusive ‘talent’ people keep talking about? Art workshops taking place

Talent is defined as an ‘innate ability in a particular field’. Innate is defined as existing naturally rather than being learned through experience. Talent becomes a magical quality that you are either born with or not. In some ways, this can make the person with the ‘talent’ feel very special and what is the harm in that? It is a great feeling when someone sees something special in you and celebrates it.

I suppose the downside to this belief in ‘talent’ for the ‘talented child’ is that it is lot to live up to and can cause problems if the said ‘talented’ child draws something they don’t like. I have seen this in action, where the ‘talented’ child is incredibly hard on themselves and sometimes stops trying to advance their drawing in the fear that they will draw something ‘not good’ and lose the magical label of ‘talented’.

I believe this idea of talent can also be a factor in the shift from children thinking they can draw to suddenly and heartbreakingly believing that they can’t. If you believe in talent as an innate ability then art is simply a door that is open to the chosen few and the moment you draw something you don’t like, that door is slammed shut as proof that you do not have this magical quality within you.  Drawing and painting becomes a cautious activity that people tiptoe around or avoid altogether. In the same way that someone seeing something special in you feels great, realising that you could be lacking in that special ability can feel horrible.

So do I believe talent is a myth?A drawing of two dinosaurs

In a word, yes, but I feel I need to explain this further.  In my experience of teaching art over the years, to both children and adults, I have noticed a few things. The first thing is that people who are said to possess this ‘talent’ for art are very often the same people who have a deep passion for drawing, painting and creating. It is this passion that drives them to create art most days, filling sketchbooks and studios with their creations. Is it not this drive and hard work that results in artwork that they are proud of rather than an ability they were born with? I would say celebrating their effort and passion for their craft means more than simply saying that they were born with that ability.

Secondly, if you ask any artist if they draw, paint or create something they don’t like sometimes, the answer is always yes! The creative process relies on people being able to experiment, try out new ideas and take risks. Therefore, it makes sense that the results of this exploration will sometimes create artwork the artist is happy with and sometimes create results that they are not happy with. But creating something you don’t like is just the beginning! We need to teach children to think like artists and keep shifting and changing their work until they get to the desired result rather than just stopping in their tracks.

Finally, ‘talent’ relies on the belief that there is a desired standard of art to be reached. That a piece of art is either good or bad. As many children and adults will know, if they come to our art classes online or in person, I start every class with the same message. I remind everyone that I believe that there is no such thing as good art and bad art, there is only art you like and don’t like and guess what? We all like different art! So rather than aiming for a perceived idea of what good art is, you should be exploring your own style and deciding what you actually like yourself.

Can you learn to draw in a way that you like?

Absolutely! I have seen it happen with my own eyes. My advice to you if you would like to improve your drawing skills in a style you like and increase your confidence in your artistic ability is…

  • Get a sketchbook (or make one)
  • Draw in it all the time
  • Get used to drawing things you don’t like (this is an essential part of the creative process)

Let go of the myth of ‘talent’ and open the door to the art world once more!

If you would like your school to develop children’s artistic flare in a confidence building way, check out our inset teacher training workshops on drawing skills for teachers, creative sketchbooks in the classroom, painting in the classroom, teaching clay and even teaching comics!

Find out more at gosketchclub.com or email emma@gosketch.co.uk