Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A word I never liked

"I don't play accurately--any one can play accurately--but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
   ~Oscar Wilde

I don't really like the word talent. In her post, Jenna, uses a scene from Little Women to illustrate the word, which works well to explain part of my reaction to the word. Talent isn't genius, it isn't even brilliance. Talent is a certain level of skill, lacking either the desire, sensitivity, or some secret understanding to make it brilliant. Talent is generally disappointing. I often feel that "talented" is just another way to classify without any meaning behind it. Saying "she's talented" generally just means she tries hard enough to do well, but without any special aptitude, or else doesn't try at all and has enough natural ability to carry through her indifference. Either is disappointing.

Talent is a word I don't generally use, it's not that I would prevent the 'merely talented' from continuing to pursue their activities, it's just that there are other words, words I like better to describe them. Words that may describe the situation better: Louisa May Alcott is a sweet writer; I am an enthusiastic potter. Using the word talent seems to leave behind description, and thoughtlessly place the subject on some upper level of  mediocrity - far below brilliance, but not bad enough to be unskilled. It's a place to get lost in - too easy to go through life saying "I'm a talented artist" and never attempting more.


  1. "Talent is a certain level of skill, lacking either the desire, sensitivity, or some secret understanding to make it brilliant."

    I don't know; I think this is a pretty idiosyncratic definition of the word "talent." While it's often combined with words like "wasted" or "hidden" and used in the way you describe, I don't think common usage of the word includes the value "lacking something that would make it worthwhile." Like it's fair to say that someone has a talent for painting but never got great at it, and to say that talent alone isn't enough to be a great artist, but I don't think it's quite right to conclude from that that talent is a problem. Or are you just saying that talent alone isn't a finished pot? I can agree with that. (Can we secretly agree?)

    (Wait. Are you talking about me in this post? *shifts eyes from right to left and back again* I'm getting better!)

  2. Don't worry, I'm not talikng about you! These are just the impressions I get when I hear the word talent. I know its not meant to be a negative word, but I never really enjoy hearing it..and we can definitly agree: Talent alone is not a finished pot. :)