Ask the Art Prof: Is Drawing Considered an Innate Talent or a Craft, Which can Be Learned by Anyone?

Portrait Drawing

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

Personally, I believe that natural talent exists. The reason I believe in natural talent is because 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 Durer:

Self-portrait_at_13_by_Albrecht_Dürer

Self-Portrait at 13 by Durer


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 for himself 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.

Gesture Painting

Natural talent aside, I also believe that if you are passionate enough, and willing to invest in hard labor and intense dedication, you can absolutely acquire the drawing skills you seek. I’ve had a number of students over the years in my Freshman Drawing classes at RISD 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 work-this is what distinguishes an artist from someone who is simply technical adept.


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Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
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9 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: Is Drawing Considered an Innate Talent or a Craft, Which can Be Learned by Anyone?

  1. Thank you very much for replying to my question, Mrs Clara Lieu. I am practicing drawing and painting as basic practices for dealing with illustration and I am not quite confident as far as my drawing skill. So, the answer is passion and love for drawing, devotion and hard work. And I am keeping in mind this importand quote of you: ” In the end, it’s the creativity and ideas that matter”.
    I would like to express my appreciation and respect for your teaching and your work.

    Greetings from Athens, Greece,
    Dimitra F

      • I think I am good at drawing, drawing things are almost effortless though the older I get seems the talent grows with me even if i haven’t picked up a pensil in months or even years.. I am convinced I should do something with it I just don’t know were to begin.

  2. Of course natural talent exists. To say to be an artist you require it is false though. Anything can be practiced and perfected.

  3. this is true. I never meet extremely talented people, but I knew people that believed to be talented (while they weren’t).

    I’m completely talentless, but I practice a lot and now I can draw at least decently. But I want to get better.

  4. I encountered someone with that level of talent, and she happens to be 13 years old. She’s adept at soft-shading, and I believe it came to her naturally–I had to learn it and I’m 10 years older than her. She was able to draw her friend’s face from her cellphone in just about 2 hours at the most. I actually assumed she was around my age, since we were taking the adult classes together. lol

  5. According to recent studies, art is justr 1% hard work. The rest is talent.
    Also according to those studies, people that totally lack of artistic talent (like myself) can’t go anywhere. Lack of talent render your drawings cold and uninteresting, even if you get some drawing skills.

  6. “There was nothing artistic about the way he applied his drawing skills.”
    This is something that I didn’t quite understand. How can we say if a work is artistic?

  7. For many years I taught a course titled “Now Discover Your Strengths.” The premise of this course was that to achieve maximum success in life we must identify our innate talents and add knowledge and skills. By doing this we can produce consistent, near perfect performance. However there is a catch. For a talent to be developed into a usable strength, the activity where you use the talent must give you intrinsic satisfaction. For example, a student may have amazing drawing talent but if they do not enjoy the act of drawing they will not be able to sustain the effort necessary to obtain the knowledge and practice to build the skills to become a peak performer. For more in depth information about the Strengths concept please check out the Gallup Strengths website. This is a great tool for both teachers and students.

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