Saturday, January 31, 2015

Elements of Talent (Conversation with a Friend)

I was gushing about a writer I admire for his daring plays and fearlessness when the conversation veered into theories.  This was a high evening of theatre at HERE Arts Center, a macrobiotic dinner, and a blistering shock of winter wind that flowed through the West Village. On the way back to the train, I talked to a friend about traits of successful people; particularly this artists, but also artists in general.

My friend just left it all at the feet of talent, but I think it's more than that. Success doesn't equal talent. There are a plenty of talented people who never go anywhere. So then I started thinking about intelligence which I would define as an adaptable, critical-thinking, problem-solving drive that's both conscious and subconscious. Intelligence balances planning and improvisation. But there are many intelligent talents who also can't put something into action. And then I thought about self-will, or the ability to actualize something. I think that forms the triangle of success: talent, intelligence, and self-will. And the three must be in alignment. If one overpowers the other then usually there's a disaster. If self-will becomes too powerful then the conscious mind begins to 'force' things and the nebulous nature of talent suffers. The same is true for intelligence, which has to play nice and balance itself with discipline of self-will. And if talent gets too big, then self-will and rational intelligence suffers.

Talent is the most undefinable element out of the three. What does that even mean? Granted, this is was all walking-to-the-subway hypothesizing (to distract ourselves and keep warm during a freezing winter night) but I began kicking that idea around as I rubbed my hands against the inside of my jacket for heat.

If I had to write a textbook on talent it would start with a simple triangle graph of these three things: actual skill, emotional perception (that I will call 'passion') and then a quantum aspect of timing.
The skill part is easy to define: that's just the ability to externalize some intelligent and dynamic understanding through some instrument or form of communication. Piano, pen, architect's draft board, a dancer's body. The skill is the superficial and mechanical process.

Emotional perception or 'passion' is the drive of the talent. It's the inexplicable, wordless energy that must get out through whatever skill is at hand. This is what drives the mechanical process of talent. It doesn't necessarily mean hot-blooded or a romanticized version of 'passion.' It's just an emotional engine. Passion can be cold, hot, anxiety-riddled, horrific, transcendentally spiritual. But there is just an urgency.

The final thing which popped into place was timing. This is the funniest aspect of talent. It's the ability to move the passion into skill at the appropriate pace to create something. I've experienced passion that's out of whack with skill and it's just a million thoughts running through my head that I can't funnel at the right pace into the mechanics of writing. And I've experienced staring at a blank page with a full outline, and the only thing that's missing is passion or the emotional trigger.

We were lost in tangential thoughts when we arrived at our subway station, warmer and wiser from the conversation.

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