Victor Pross's picture
Submitted by Victor Pross on Thu, 2006-06-15 03:30


If human beings are born tabula Rasa, what is to account for talent? Or does this term mean only in regards to knowledge and ideas? Still, why is that some people are born with the ability to draw? It’s an ability that can be noted early in childhood and that is clearly well advanced from that of other children. They go onto be artists, while others can’t draw to save their lives. The same goes for playing a musical instrument.

[edit to expand on my question: we all learn how to ride a bike, speak a language, tie a boot lace, spell, etc, etc--why not drawing--and well--among the list of all those other things we learn, and to the point were it seems like 'a given'?? Hell, drawing is pegged a 'God-given' talent. Wow. Forget the mystical thing here, what is being noted here something unique and rare. It's this subject that greatly interests me, and I have never come to any solid conclusions on it.]

Why? Any views on this?

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Victor Pross's picture

For sure, there may be a lot of things we have a natural aptitude for, but with out a sufficient interest, it all just remains dormant.
Me? I have a mania for art and drawing.

I've had a talent for

Brian English's picture

I've had a talent for drawing from an early age. I'm convinced theres nothing innate about it. It's 100% driven by values. I loved drawing so I spent all my spare time drawing. I'd constantly look at things in terms of how you would go about drawing them. And I'd be fascinated by any new techniques I could learn that would help me draw better.

I don't believe drawing was any easier for me than it would be for anyone else as regards the ammount of mental effort required to learn to draw something. Everyone has to go through the stages of learning to draw rudimentary stick figures all the way up through accurate portraits.
It was easier for me to draw because I loved doing it and learning all these stages was a pleasurable experience whereas for someone who wasn't thoroughly fascinated by the subject it would be boring tedium.

"I've been told many times

Penelope's picture

"I've been told many times about the kid who picked up the guitar at 2:00 PM one afternoon and played like Stevie Ray Vaughn at 2:05 but I've never seen him."

I've heard the same story only it was Kurt Cobain rather than Stevie Ray Vaughn. I wasn't quite as impressed.

"I've been told many times

Ross Elliot's picture

"I've been told many times about the kid who picked up the guitar at 2:00 PM one afternoon and played like Stevie Ray Vaughn at 2:05 but I've never seen him."

Kenny Wayne Sheppard? Smiling

I'm with Marnee.

Lanza Morio's picture

I'm with Marnee. Almost anyone can develop high level skills at drawing or playing a musical instrument. I've worked with hundreds of guitar and bass players in the last fifteen years and only 2 stand out to me as especially talented when they started out. I've been told many times about the kid who picked up the guitar at 2:00 PM one afternoon and played like Stevie Ray Vaughn at 2:05 but I've never seen him. The people who learn to play at a high level always work their tails off. They obsess about it for 4 to 10 hours a day.

Some people do have a better ear for it and others have a little better physiology but most success comes from a great attitude.

I have no idea if the capacities are manifest at conception, at birth, or if they are developed/damaged further along.

Talent as I understand it is metaphysical and therefore, beyond our control. Attitude, on the other hand, is something we can and must control if we want to get anywhere.

Ability isn't just about

Ross Elliot's picture

Ability isn't just about learned skills or natural predilections. What someone ends up being good at has many inputs: environment, a kind word of encouragement, a pat on the back, etc. And, as Montessori demonstrated, being taught certain skills at the appropriate age makes the world of difference. What makes me, me, or you, you, can be controlled to a certain extent but those ineffable inputs are what makes us true individuals.


Victor Pross's picture


If curious, here is a link to some very old work of mine. I like to think that I'm much more skilled and crafted now than these primitive paintings. Take a look.


Victor Pross's picture

Re-reading, I believe I might have misunderstood you. Yes, Picasso is a sorry thing indeed.

What Victor? I dont

Marnee's picture

What Victor? I dont understand. I was saying that someone who can master a complex skill at an early age or shows ability at an early age is a genius. Yet average people can learn to master complex skills, quickly even, and can create wonderful things at older ages through good old practice and hard work. This is plain fact.

And then there are geniuses who waste their talent. Picasso is a great example. He could draw like the old masters yet what did he do?


Prima Donna's picture

For me the analogy is that of raw materials being honed when one consciously decides to become a craftsman of said materials.

Like Adam and Victor, my abilities were apparent at a young age (I'm speaking of linguistics in this case, as I was reading the newspaper at three and was engulfed in books and words shortly thereafter), but it took a conscious choice and concerted effort on my part to make those skills into something more. I found I could also draw, but let that go in pursuit of writing instead. One of my brothers was like Adam in that he could, as a tiny boy, play something by ear after hearing it just once.

To me there is no question that we are born with certain innate abilities, and I've come to understand that Rand was specifically referring to conscious thought with her tabula rasa statement. Of course, it's what we choose to do with those abilities that determines our course.


-- Food Philosophy. Sensuality. Sass.

"It should be noted that any

Victor Pross's picture

"It should be noted that any old average person can learn to draw with great skill."

Huh...that I'm not too sure about. Sure, skill is learned. Yes, anyone can *improve* their drawing skills and graduate at the age of 40 from drawing like a three year old to a nine year-old...but to go on to draw and paint like the masters. The threat of death couldn't make them do it nor the reward of Bill Gate's bank account. Yes, me thinks not! Most certainly not when you introduce the word "genius" in the same post.

It should be noted that any

Marnee's picture

It should be noted that any old average person can learn to draw with great skill. So innate ability just seems like it is innate. Skill is still learned. I suppose its just that some brains just function more efficiently in some capacity than others -- the nature of genius, aye?


Victor Pross's picture

I have a similar story in regards to drawing. I was about three-years-old when I picked up a pencil (whatever) and started to draw what I was watching on TV, and apparently it was at such a level as to cause ‘Ahs’ and ‘oh, my gods’ among my parents and other adults. Clearly, I was told later, I was in a class of my own. I a vague recollection of it course, but it is something that always came to me rather easy.
Now years later, I started to paint (and that’s a separate skill really) and I took to that with great ease and pleasure.

[us artists love to speak about ourselves, huh?]

Innate talent

waterclerk's picture

Just goes to left-side/right side type functionality. Some extra chemicals or proteins -compliments of your particular genes may simply make it easier for one creative cell group or another to function better than others. Thanks Mom and Dad, or maybe your grandparents. Add a little push in the right direction - the right psychological encouragement at the right time, and you may find your talent. Other brain muscles just develop talent by constant repetition and effort. Combine the two factors and you have a real virtuoso.

I think there are plenty of weird things than science only needs enough time to be able to explain.

Point taken, Penelope

Adam Buker's picture

My mom has told me that since infancy, whenever music was being played, no matter what I was doing, I would pay attention. When I was around two years old, my family took me to a wedding of a relative (it was the first wedding I had ever been to). The next day mom hear me playing the wedding march on a little toy keyboard someone bought me as a present. Ability wasn't the right word to use, but my mom and dad have made clear to me that from the beginning I exhibited great sensitivity to music. The ability itself was first noticed at that wedding.


At least not WHILE he was

Victor Pross's picture

At least not WHILE he was suckin' on the boob.

[Okay, serious again...]


Penelope's picture

I've had innate musical ability since birth

How do you know SINCE BIRTH? Isn't feasible that these developed very young? Even Motzart couldn't play piano when he was two weeks old and suckin' on a boob!

This is a hard question for

Adam Buker's picture

This is a hard question for me to answer. I've had innate musical ability since birth, so this is a question that crosses my mind from time to time. In music there is both a cognitive and a physical aspect to music that form a sensitivity to pitch, meter, and rhythm. Such a person like myself can take these senitivities and utilize them to improvise or imitate musical ideas (this is true of trained and untrained musicians alike). The sensitivities themselves are the raw talent. Their utilization is essentially mental capacity. The application of training serves to improve both. I will write more on this later.



Penelope's picture

Hi Victor. That man is born tabula rasa means only that he doesn't have knowledge at birth. Knowledge begins with sense experience. But now talent, there's nothing to say that different capacities can't be innate, at least to some degree. I don't think your example proves that though. Drawing is a skill with various components--knowing how to look at things and see their line and shading components, being able to translate what you see into hand movements that would result in a drawing, etc. All of those could very well depend on acquired knowledge, albeit knowledge acquired at a very very early stage. The music example is a bit better, but even there I think what's innate is probably more mental capacity than talent, but nothing hinges on the question philosophically.

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