Do you guys believe in the word "talent"?

I believe in the word talent, but not when it’s applied to anything related to reality television, most especially American Idol.

There is also the opposite, a complete lack of talent.

When I taught horseback riding I would say about 98% fell in the “averagely talented” range. Their success depended on their dedication and desire to improve. One percent possessed astounding natural talent. They had an intuitive grasp of what to do and all I had to do was channel it.

The final 1% was shockingly bad at riding horses. I had one student for whom it took a year to learn something the others learned in 1-2 months (the ultratalented kid learned in a day). She tried VERY hard, paid attention, never missed a lesson, was not fearful – in fact she seemed to absolutely love the activity. She was not mentally or physically handicapped in any way. I figured as a long as she kept showing up with a good attitude I would keep trying anyway I could to help her master this basic technique (posting at the trot for the interested). It was honestly a bizarre teaching experience.

I think the problem is you have heard “talented” over used. In that situation, talent becomes a back handed compliment to a dedicated person. I often hear “oh, well, you’re just talented” used as a way to dismiss the work someone has put into a persuit. It’s insulting and completely wrong. Somone who sounds or looks talented is also practiced.

However, talent exists. If it didn’t, every street b-ball player in the US would qualify for the NBA.

I am not sure what country you live in but the term “Gifted” is common in American public schools. It means almost entirely a student that scores above a certain level on a traditional IQ test administered by school psychologists. This will allow the student to go into a special part-time “Gifted” program or sometimes it is called “Gifted and Talented”. These programs typically meet a few times a week and the student gets excused from regular classes during that time.

Agreed. Practice–and dedication to practice–distinguishes the talented from the merely able.

I’m recalling a friend of mine who used to play his guitar in pubs and bars. He was good–hell, he was more than good; and when I went to his gigs, I’d often hear people saying how talented he was. But all they saw was a guy with a guitar, who could play their favourites while they drank beer. And when he took a break, he’d have a beer and watch the game on the bar’s TV. He made it look easy.

What they didn’t see was that he also played piano, pipe organ, and violin; did session work at a nearby recording studio when called upon to, and was a choirmaster and organist at a local church as well. He may have got all his work based on his talent, but it was his practice–usually, about eight hours a day, seven days a week–that kept him qualified to get jobs. I knew him well enough to know that pretty much his only “downtime” was the breaks he took in the pubs and bars; though I will say that he would make time to spend with his buddies if we had something planned.

Still, I haven’t known very many people in my life that have been so dedicated to their art that they would practice as much as he did. If he was what one might call “talented,” it was only the result of dedication to practice.

Watching him, and listening to him–play Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” on piano–is a true treat. If that’s the last thing I ever hear…

Your OP confuses the ever living crap out of me even though I have heard similar sentiments several times before.

  1. Could the 4’9" girl with a perpetually bum ankle ever be good at basketball as Michael Jordan?

  2. Could a kid with Down Syndrome rival Einstein one day in new physics theories?

  3. Could an asthmatic blind kid grow up to be a great fighter pilot?

Your world view is so different than mine that I am having a hard time relating. I have heard statements like this before and it seems to take on a mystical flair that breaks apart mind, body, and spirit. I absolutely do not do that. Every person comes as a cohesive package that allows them to be good at some things and less good in others. There are plenty of people that will never be truly good at anything if we are looking at skills plotted on a normal curve.

Are you saying that everyone could become more proficient at lots of things if they worked at it? That makes sense. If you are saying that anyone could become an NBA basketball player if they tried enough then that is just FUBAR spiralling out of control. It is also a spit in the face to anyone who almost had the necessary skills, killed themselves practicing and failed to make it into the NFL, NBA, Olympics, or even American Idol. You basically just claimed that they could have just made it if they wanted it more and gave it a real effort. That is an incredibly offensive thing to say.

Australia is where I live.

That’s part of the problem, associating the word “gifted” with “talent” as though they are the same. But one is implying it is more than natural, but important and something that ought to be utilised in some special way.

I say bollocks to that. Do with your talents and skills as you will. Don’t try to suggest they’re anything more than a natural affinity to grasp an ability.

What about singers? If you have a bad voice, you can practice ALL day long for YEARS and study untill you are blue in the face and the voice will not get better. It is something that is blessed upon some folks. Caruso and Pavoratti and the like didn’t work on the voice. They work on the ear. To HEAR the notes as they sing.

That MIGHT be a learned trait but I doubt it.

Some folks just have a natural inclination to pick up things faster and excell in certain areas than others do.

That is what I would define as a talent.

Besides some of the most talented drummers I ever knew were also the goofiest!

Drummers just aint right!!

I’ve been thinking about talent all day today, and I have a theory. I know from my developmental psychology class that children have a high level of neuroplasticity, and as MLS pointed out, some skills like language must be learned during a certain period of childhood or they will never be developed properly. To paraphrase my professor, a baby’s mind is like a bunch of legos scattered on the floor – most of the neurons are already there, but they aren’t connected in a meaningful way yet. As the child experiences life, the brain begins to solidify in a form that’s partially a response to the child’s environment. You can bet there are certain “language circuits” that must be created during this time in order for a person to become a fluent speaker – if the child is not exposed to language, the brain never forms these structures and he or she will always have an unusual amount of difficulty communicating.

Wouldn’t it follow that language may not be the only ability that can be partially hardwired during childhood? Maybe a small child who spends a lot of time messing around with a piano will develop some special music processing centers that are missing in most non-musical brains. Once these kids get older it would appear that they have some inborn x-factor that makes it easier for them to learn an instrument than their peers. Maybe this is “talent” – not exactly a genetic predisposition, but still partially biological in nature.

I have some artistic “talent”. I’m not quite convinced that it’s hardwired, but I certainly spent a lot of time drawing when I was a little kid, so it’s possible that my adult brain is a little more focused on art skills (spacial skills, color recognition, visual acuity) than it would’ve been had I spent that time playing the trumpet. It’s also true that I become more skilled with practice, and if I stop drawing for an extended period, I become “rusty”.

You make good points, and I think that you are at least partially right. But babies come with talents and personalities; if you hang out with little kids enough, it’s really really obvious. If you put 5 little kids in a room and make materials equally available to them, one little girl will be climbing all over the furniture before age 2 and will turn out to be good at gymnastics–her playmate wouldn’t dream of climbing a thing, but will pick up crayons and be drawing detailed pictures of people when her friend of the same age is scribbling enthusiastically but solving puzzles meant for 5-year-olds. (My daughter, now 7, is the drawing one, and she will happily spend all day drawing and cutting out and taping elaborate projects.)

I think that nurture definitely plays a part–my daughter is currently enrolled in a group music class that tries to teach music as a language, and I’m stunned at the stuff those little kids can do. Although I doubt that my daughter is particularly innately musical, I would not be surprised to see her do better than I did, simply because she is receiving such good instruction as a child, (and for several years). But she still won’t be a Mozart. Not gonna happen.