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I cannot recall how many times people have called me a talented artist. My high school art teacher told me several times that I had little talent; but what I did have was motivation, inspiration, curiosity, and an unquenchable desire to make art, to discover what made things tick. He said that’s all I needed; keep producing! The notion “that talent is a gift randomly built into some people and not into others” (Art & Fear, Bayles & Orland, ch. 1 p. 2) has long been the flagship of the self-proclaimed non-artists of the world who, by their admission state the well-known defense “I can’t draw a straight line!” Well, I use a ruler for that purpose.

I believe we each have certain proclivities toward specific interests and abilities. This is not to say that we may be guided in a different direction, or take a different course, but the seed is there at birth. I am not speaking of talent here, just direction, and interest. I also believe humans have an inbuilt need to create, to make things extraordinary and, we see this from the very beginning of human life. Before the spoken word, before the alphabet and words, before the written language humans were creating images of animals, icons of the female painted and carved most “artfully.” Writer and educator Ellen Dissanayake stated that “Humans are inherently artistic animals, that art (or the arts) is (or are) normal, natural and necessary.”


There was a time, before becoming a teacher when I believed in talent, I knew people who had “the gift.” They could draw anything (or draw one thing very well). They had no formal art education; they just had the skill and sometimes the creative-ness that goes with artmaking.

Many people (including physicians, therapists, and scientists) agree that art has a therapeutic quality that affects both the maker and the observer. For my own work, I find this to be true, and as a teacher, have observed positive results in many students, young, old, or incarcerated.

Art basically involves two things; a skill that can be learned, and creativity (we often call talent) that can be encouraged and nurtured.

Copyright 1994-2023 Joel T. Keener
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