7 Things We Call Talent / by Simeon Smith


I believe in pure, raw, unrestrained talent. I do. 

I didn’t, and then at uni I met a 17-year-old who with no musical training picked up a guitar and in 3 months was playing Satriani pieces flawlessly. 

We all have talents, perhaps not to that extent, and perhaps in the areas we’d like them, but we do. 

That said, there’s a lot of things that people call talent, but is easy to replicate. Here are 7 examples. 

  1. Patience - The other night I waited with my camera on a tripod for a shot. For 50 minutes. Now, okay, that’s not a long time, but it is a long time for one shot, for me. Hopefully people will see the shot (it’ll be published in November), and be inspired by it, but it didn’t take talent. It took standing around on a cold autumn evening for 50 minutes freezing my balls off. I’ve a few photos with birds flying over in just the right place, and people say “Lucky shot!”, but the reality is that usually if you see a bird fly on a certain path, it’ll generally do it again a few minutes later. Birds are repetitive like that. Capturing them to film doesn’t take talent. It takes patience. 
  2. Restlessness - Okay, so I feel I’m pretty prolific. I have a job and a family, and a blog, and I write music, and most years I manage to release a couple of EPs or albums, play in a few different bands, I got a book out this year, I write for magazines, I produce for other people... I get around. But this isn’t accidental, and it’s not just me busying myself with a lot of different projects. It’s cross-pollination. Widening the gene pool. Scenius. The more people I work with on different projects the more inspired I am in other projects, the more I learn and the more I want to create different things. The more different things I’m focussing on, the easier all the other things seem. 
  3. Resilience - For most of us, the first time you do something, it’ll be pretty rubbish. The first song I wrote? Rubbish (it was called "backside exercise” and was an angsty rant about how my family just vegged in front of the TV, I was 13, okay?!) . The first roll of film I shot? Rubbish (I took photos of lego men. LEGO MEN). The trick to learning is doing things a lot of times. And each time, you’ll get better. Resilience isn’t the same as saying “Practice makes perfect”, because that’s a kind of planned activity. It’s saying, "Occasionally, I’ll fail badly. But that won’t stop me”.
  4. Privilege - As a straight-ish, white man in my thirties I feel this list wouldn’t be complete without recognising my privilege. There are people out there that will do better than you because they’ve had a foot-up in life. And that’s okay. Just don’t look at them and say “Oh, they’re so talented!!”… they may be, but they may also have had every opportunity in life to succeed. Check your own privilege, and also check the privilege of people who’s “talent” you envy. You may find yourself more thankful for your own talents. 
  5. Obsession - Recently my friend Andy went on a photography course with Alun Wallace. We chatted about it in the pub, and the thing that surprised me the most was that Alun has his shots lined up months and months in advance. He knows what the night sky is going to look like on particular dates in particular scenic spots, and plans his life accordingly. There’s no denying the guy has talent, but he also has an obsession that drives him to perfection. Everyone’s obsessed about something, and chances are there’s a subject you could answer Mastermind questions about (mine? Fender’s Golden Era). 
  6. Money - This links back to point 4 I suppose, but I see so many people with a decent income that won’t spend a penny on their art. Good gear, a good website, good printing, good mixing and mastering, good production… it all costs money. If you don’t have the cash, then there are plenty of ways of getting good results on a shoestring, and investing time can make up for a lack of cash. But if you do have cash, but don’t want to spend it on your art, don’t be surprised if the people who do spend money on their art have better results than you. 
  7. Experience - Think of the thing you wish you had more talent in. For me it’s playing the double bass. Think about the person who’s talents in this area you envy. For me it’s Christian McBride. How long have I be doing the thing? 2 and a half years. How long has Christian McBride been doing the thing? Well, he’s been recording for 35 years, and probably played for another decade before that. Sometimes, we compare the best of someone’s entire career, with the thing we’re working on right now. “My photos aren’t as good as Robert Capa’s Falling Soldier!” well, duh! You’ve picked one of the best photos from the entire life of one of the greats. Shoot for 25 years, pick your best 5 photos as a retrospective, and guaranteed you’ll find something to be proud of.