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Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

“Is drawing considered an innate talent or a craft, which can be learned by anyone?”

Clara Lieu
Art Prof & Partner

Personally, I believe that natural talent exists. As both a student and teacher, I’ve met too many people who have exhibited truly remarkable drawing abilities to believe otherwise. Many of them can run circles around me in terms of their drawing skills, and they seem to possess an effortless command of drawing that seems to transcend age and/or experience. Take a look for example, at this drawing done by a 13 year old Dürer. (right)

At the same time though, all of the talent in the world won’t get you anywhere if you aren’t willing to work hard, push yourself, and try new approaches. I’ve encountered people who were amazingly talented, but who were lazy. One of my peers in art school was such a scatter brain that he was never able to make a professional career as an artist because he could never keep a continuous thought together.  I’ve had students who had dazzling drawing skills, but who were so enamored with their style of drawing that they never wanted to try anything new.

In the beginning of my career when I was teaching high school, I once had a 15 year old student who demonstrated some of the most extraordinary drawing skills I have ever seen.  Everything he drew was breathtaking, and he was worshiped by the other students for his incredible drawing skills.  However, all of his drawings looked the same, all the time. The drawings he did at the beginning of the semester looked exactly the same as the drawings he did at the end of the semester.   Even though all of his drawings were aesthetically beautiful, his progress was completely static and his work never evolved.  There was nothing artistic about the way he applied his drawing skills.

Albrecht Durer, Self-Portrait at 13, Drawing
Charcoal Drawing by an Art Student

Skye Ray, charcoal on paper, 24″ x 48″

Natural talent aside, I also believe that if you are passionate enough, and willing to invest in hard labor and intense dedication towards your artistic development, you can absolutely acquire the drawing skills you seek. I’ve had a number of students over the years who came into my drawing class with almost no drawing experience at all.  One would think that lack of experience would set them back, and that having previous drawing experience would be an automatic asset.

Actually, many of the students with no experience frequently end up being some of the top students in the class because of their fierce commitment to learning and their ability to experiment and take risks.  Many students have remarked to me that their previous drawing experience was actually a hindrance, and that they wished they could have started from scratch. A good portion of the semester for many of these students is often spent getting rid of bad habits, which in many ways is much tougher than starting with nothing.

Remember though, that even the greatest talent and drawing skills will only take you so far.  In the end, it’s the creativity and ideas that matter.  Artists have to think and make choices in their artwork;  this is what distinguishes an artist from someone who is simply technical adept.

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3 responses on "Is Drawing an Innate Talent?"

  1. Profile photo of Ross Hines

    A meme going around on social media seemed to tie into this article:

    Why athletes with average talent succeed:
    Work hard, coachable, practice hard, do all the little things well, and value their roles

    Why talented athletes fail:
    don’t work hard, uncoachable, listen to and have the wrong people in their circle, and selfish.

    Obviously it’s related to sports and athletes, but I think there are similar principles that pertain to art. There are people out there who just effortlessly draw and create. There are others who struggle and have to work hard to get anything done. I always instruct my students, no matter how good they are, to always work hard, be coachable, practice, don’t cut corners, and always strive to grow and improve. Some listen; some don’t.

    I think extremely talented artists are like extremely talented athletes: They don’t have to try as hard so they only do the bare minimum to practice. They have people telling them how good they are all the time and so they don’t see the need to grow. They don’t see the need to keep working and practicing. I tell my best students to always stay humble and always try to grow and learn. As usual, some listen and some don’t.

    • Profile photo of Deepti Menon

      What an interesting comparison! I definitely agree that having the desire to grow, to learn, and to keep practicing is key to to developing as an artist!

    • Profile photo of Lauryn Welch

      Talent is such a weird, polarizing word, especially in terms of art. With athletes at least talent is defined by how well they can do their particular sport. The thing that gets me is that talent in art is usually associated by how well one can draw (usually realistically).

      But drawing is only one small skill among many needed to survive in the art world. I have a couple friends who have amazing people and communication skills, and this has been the driving factor of their ascent in the art world. And I have some friends who still can’t draw very well, but are amazing at computer and coding programs used for graphic and industrial design.

      So regardless of how well someone can draw, there are -always- other skills that they could be improving. The best part about art is that it never stops.

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