I first got the idea about two months ago to write a post exploring the relationship between creativity and talent. Following an insightful and thought-provoking conversation with Nitin from There Will Come Soft Rains, I sensed I was close to forming a definitive opinion on the subject, one that, falling line in with more traditional explanations (I’m thinking specifically of C. G. Jung, as well as Rollo May and A. H. Maslow, here.), hinged on marked delineations between our creative impulses and the various abilities that allow us to actualize them. The notion that creativity is an attitude, an orientation, a way of thinking, perceiving, and interacting with the world, while talent is a group of aptitudes, including technical skills, that help us bring the resulting visions and ideas into being. Craft them into something novel, something aesthetically pleasing, even functional, inspiring, beautiful. And that it’s the combination of great talent and high levels of creativity that produces creative genius.
And there’s a lot to be said for these kinds of definitions. They’re logical, operational-type, descriptions, which allow scientists to study the various facets of these and related phenomena, to tease them apart and understand how they function and may (or may not) work together. But the more I tried to write a post explaining how I separate talent from creativity, the more confused I became. The more I began interrogating and exploring the foundations of my own opinion. Until I realized it wasn’t as solid as I’d originally thought. And I wasn’t at all prepared to write the post Nitin and I had talked about.
There was, in fact, a change that was happening inside of me at the time—a shift in my subjective experience of my own creativity. And a challenge to my understanding of my own talents. It was just after I’d made my second foray into the world of collage art. Having spent much of my life honing my abilities as a writer—and (I think this is important to mention)—developing a reasonably high degree of confidence in my talents. And never believing, as I’m not particularly good at, nor interested in, painting or drawing, that I’d come to see myself as a visual artist. That was an aptitude I believed I didn’t possess, and so I never worked at it. Never tried. And didn’t even really feel compelled to try. Until now.
What I started to notice, immediately after completing my first few collages, Planet Sideways, most notably, was that I could not differentiate between my collage art and my poetry. They felt the same. They were born of the same ethos. And the experience of making them—how I think, how I work, how I study and experiment with various styles and techniques—is all exactly the same. And it seemed silly to me, if not downright ill-advised and counterproductive, to want to take them apart. To think of these various forms of creative expression—verbal and visual—as being comprised of entirely different aptitudes. Of different talents or intelligences. (Although they are different. I’d be remiss not to say that. I don’t think they’re identical, but I’m beginning to think their similarities may be of far greater significance.)
To conceive of myself as multi-talented (a topic I’ve been addressing in various forms on this blog since its inception) suddenly seemed fairly ridiculous. All of these things come from the same source. That’s what my intuition told me. That talent isn’t a thing easily divided up into its component parts and not so easily separated from creativity, either. That talent is far more fluid, dynamic, mutable, than I’d initially thought. That our talents can appear at different times in our lives, can and must be developed—that is, they demand to be used—or potentially lost, and in many cases, are interrelated. (I found a very thoughtful article from 2001—a proposed model of talent—in Current Directions in Psychological Science that supports this idea.)
So I began contemplating the following question: are my abilities to create visual art and write poetry governed by a third thing? A kind of overarching aesthetic intelligence? Or is it largely visual? Poetry is very much a visual exercise for me. But, it’s also auditory. Writing is a supremely auditory exercise for me and always has been. Whether poetry or prose, I’m always making, keeping, fine-tuning rhythms, reading and editing aloud. Mumbling to myself. Is it crazy to suggest collage-making also feels musical? Rhythmic, multi-sensory? I don’t think it is. A fascinating study in the Winter 1997 issue of the Journal of Aesthetic Education identifies the multiple nature of visual talent, suggesting our visual talents are mutable and can take a wide variety of artistic expressions.
I was delighted to read that. Because my thoughts on talent are and, probably will be for some time, in process. (My apologies if this post feels inconclusive.) What I’m sure of: I really like the idea of not separating my abilities—or, I should say, of separating them less. Of focusing on their sameness, imagining that as I improve one, I may also improve another. But that, above all, I must work at them. Because sometimes hard work does trump talent. But I also think that, as we learn to really listen to ourselves, we discover that our talents are constantly asking to be used. That they’re an extension of self. And that as we experiment in different forms of creative self-expression, we may grow in ways we hadn’t even conceived of.
Indeed, I feel similarly about my aptitude for psychology, however rudimentary it may be. I never could tease that apart from my ability to make art, either. Sometimes, if I’m to be honest, I feel I’ve missed the proverbial boat on a career. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. And the truth is, I’m not really sure what to make of it. I have an impossible time imagining how I could make a move like that happen, even though I might like it to—and my past experience tells me I may have an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky notion of what could be. That I could not marry my passions in a practicable fashion in that particular field. But maybe I’m wrong. Sometimes I worry that I am wrong. So instead I’ve settled for doing it all here. And that’s been sustaining me. But still, I have to ask myself: am I wasting a talent? I am not sure how to answer that. Or maybe I just did.