Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Comes First: Talent Or Success?

The Creative Life

An article, by Meg Wolitzer, in the Financial Times says that talent does not necessarily lead to success, and it might be that only the successful are considered talented. In other words, the understood order of success following talent has now been reversed.

Wolitzer gives the example of a famous violinist who played unnoticed in a Washington subway station.
When Joshua Bell, one of the world’s pre-eminent violinists, stood playing in the subway in Washington DC in 2007 as part of a now-famous social experiment in perception, most commuters hurried past, unaware of who he was or how much better – freakishly better – his offering was than the usual busker fare. Without that red arrow of success, Joshua Bell’s talent could easily be overlooked, rushed past, drowned out by the pressing thought: must … get … to ... work.
Experiencing something unusual and especially great can remind you of the absurdity of the often-floated idea that virtually anyone can just become creatively brilliant. Of course practice is essential; and, arguably, certain aspects of artistic achievement can be taught. But when you come upon a rare and indisputable talent, you hear and see and feel things that were previously unimaginable. People say “That’s the real thing”, as though implicitly making a comparison with everything else out there that’s been revealed as a distraction, thin or false.
Of course it’s better to be talented and successful than talented and obscure. Not only is life far easier, and not only does the money allow you the opportunity to keep doing what you love, but finding an appreciative audience – whether listeners, readers or whoever else – can be a relief to someone used to working in a vacuum, or a hovel. But more than ever now, talent and success are confused or spoken of as interchangeable. We profess to love talent, and yet what we sometimes love more is the anointing that follows the revelation of talent.
This is not to say that there aren't some talented individuals who become successful; a few are and deserve the accolades and money they receive and gain. But most are already successful people, in other fields, who capitalize on their popularity and known name to become successful as, say, writers. I have written about this effect in a previous post, “Sucess Breeds (More) Success.”

The best modern example are the many politicians who write their memoirs after leaving office; since few have the writing abilities of Churchill, they turn to ghost-writers to complete the book. Even so, most are boring and hard to read, filled with  facts of meetings with other world leaders—such is my view after having read a few such memoirs. Hardly memorable, yet financially successful.

You can read the rest of the article at [FT].

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