Oftentimes, people assume that creativity is all about talent, that only certain people are “creative” or “talented,” and the rest of us just don’t have it in us. I would argue that while people who create often have an internal drive to do so, and a natural inclination to a certain form of expression, I would also argue that “talent” is not the same thing as “skill.”
From 2006 to 2012, I was immersed in all things Middle Eastern dance. This dance, in particular, was one that held my interest, in part, because it’s so multifaceted. Not only does it have cultural roots that require one to learn about the cultures of origin in addition to the dance steps, but traditional Middle Eastern music also is composed of complex musical rhythms that take years of listening and practice to differentiate and learn to express well as a dancer.
During the time I danced, I met a lot of other dancers and musicians, and they taught me something invaluable about the difference between “talent” and “skill.”
The musicians and dancers I met while I danced came from all sorts of different backgrounds, with all levels of skill. Many of these musicians have recorded and released their music, go on to tour, and also teach music. Many of the dancers I know have also worked for years to improve their skill and knowledge.
Through getting to know some of them better, I’ve come to believe that creativity is probably 10% talent and 90% skill. Some people may have a natural affinity for something, but that doesn’t mean natural ability gets them to a master level. The masterful musicians and dancers I’ve met and seen perform over the years got there because they consistently worked hard to improve and to be where they are. They put in countless hours of practice, failed countless times to “nail” a song, worked to sharpen their understanding of their craft, and put in all the work they could in their spare time to improve.
Before I entered the dance world, I assumed that people who were master creators had all been blessed with talent at an early age, and that being so masterful at their art came naturally to them. I always looked at performers from the audience’s perspective, and of course, I never understood how many hours of work it takes to pull off an amazing 30minute or 60-minute show.
When I became a dancer, and put in all those hours of work myself, I began to realize exactly what it takes to refine your talent into remarkable skill, and I started saying, “They are so skilled at what they do” when I talked about the amazing performers I saw.
In our society, we have a tendency to believe that people have always been who we know them to be, and assume their talents and skills have been with them from birth. But no one is born knowing things, they learn them. We learn what we know with practice and through continuing to work hard even through failure.
No one is born a master drummer or a professional dancer or a touring musician. They work toward that for several years before they attain “success.”
So, why then, is the mentality that creative pursuits are meaningless so prevalent?
I don’t have answers to that question, but I wonder what would be different in the world if we acknowledged how hard creative folks have to work to perfect their skill in their chosen artistic endeavor, and how much determination it takes to continue pursuing your talent even though others will tell you it’s pointless to do so.
Creating quality material doesn’t happen automatically and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes many tries of creating not-so-great material. It takes many hours of learning about your craft before you even begin “creating.” It takes hours of thought, preparation, and care.
Creating means you show up, even when you don’t want to. It means you’re there even when “inspiration” doesn’t call. Creating requires us to be persistent, hardworking, mindful, attentive, and studious.