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  • Sabine Dietzler

Busting the myth of "Talent"

I come across two sentences over and over and over again:


1. "You have such a talent!"

2. "I have zero talent for sewing!"


I'll tell you a secret now. “Talent” - and I'm deliberately putting it in quotation marks here - is a myth. Sure, there are exceptional geniuses like Da Vinci or Mozart who are already noticed in childhood with their great ability. But there are only a handful of those per century, so we can neglect them. But most of the arts and crafts produced in our times are the result of many hours of hard work. There is a joke, you may know it:


A tourist in New York on 57th Street sees a musician getting out of a taxi and asks him: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” (Note: Carnegie Hall is a venerable concert venue for jazz and classical concerts in Manhattan ) Without a moment's hesitation, the artist answers slightly absent-mindedly: "Practice!"


Well, of course, I don't know whether this encounter really happened, but one thing becomes clear. If you want to be good at something, you have to deal with the matter. Or to put it in a nutshell with the appropriate German proverb: No master has fallen from heaven! The trick is simply not to stop, but keep going back to it and developing yourself and your skills. I read somewhere that to get really good at something (a trade, playing an instrument or whatever) you have to practice 10,000 hours. I have no idea whether this number has been scientifically proven, but it seems very realistic to me.


I started sewing about 15 years ago and in the beginning no one would tell me that I was talented. I have produced a lot of things that I am not as proud of today as I was then and that I will certainly not show anyone from the inside due to the bumbling or untidy seams. It's only recently since I've been promoting my work more that people think I'm talented. Most of the time, these people say in the same breath that they would love to be able to sew themselves, but they simply have no talent.


Regardless of whether you show “talent” in an discipline at the beginning or not, in the long run you can't tell when you look at two artists whether one of them was particularly talented from the start or whether he has trained his skills through persistent work. The difference blurs with years of practice, failures, time and energy put into something.


There is a wonderful book called “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland, in which we find another wonderful anecdote on the subject of “practicing”. A teacher in a pottery class divides them into two groups. One group is only graded according to how much clay they process, so at 50 pounds there is a one, at 40 a two and so on. The other group just needs to make a single, perfect vase. When it comes to grading, the following scenario arises: The first group “produced” like crazy, made a number of vases, learned from their mistakes and ultimately made wonderful, perfect objects. The other group has spent their time discussing and philosophizing, has a theory of what the perfect job should look like, and a pile of dead clay.


Another sway from my life.

For some reason it was important to me as a child to learn the transvers flute (German flute). A friend of mine was playing and I wanted to too. I got lessons. Now you have to know that a German flute has a lot more keys than the average person has fingers. So there is a certain pattern on which of the keys which finger belongs on and which remain free in the basic position. When I picked up my flute for the first time in my first flute lesson, I amazed my teacher to the utmost, because I intuitively (or by chance?) put my fingers on exactly the right keys. She said at the time that she had never experienced anything like this before. Was there a flute talent slumbering in me? Would I be the next star flutist?

Spoiler alert: No.

Why not? Because I was very lazy and rarely practiced. Fortunately, after a few bad years, I got my dental braces and with it I got a good excuse to end my flute career. (No fun in playing the flute with metal glued to your teeth. At least, I couldn't.)

We see: without practice everything is stupid. If I hadn't put my fingers on the right keys straight away, but had shown ambition while practicing, I would have compensated for the "disadvantage" in no time at all.


That brings us to the unpleasant side of things for everyone who wants to be able to sew, but has perhaps rested a little on the excuse that they just have no “talent”. Because you don't need talent, you just need perseverance and enthusiasm.


But I also have good news. I am of the opinion that no craft, no technique or skill is really "difficult". Most techniques, e.g. complicated lace knitting, filigree crocheting, raised embroidery or small patchwork work, are not "difficult" in themselves. Every craft can be broken down into the smallest of hand movements. E.g. when knitting, laying the thread over the needle or just behind the needle or around the needle. And these hand movements in themselves are not difficult. They may be unfamiliar to the fingers at the beginning, until you can handle the needle properly, or they are very laborious, like sewing many, many small pieces of fabric together into a breathtaking quilt. Or it is difficult not to lose track in a complicated knitting pattern. But they are not really difficult. You just have to know how to do it, what to look for and how to get the result you want. So once it's shown in detail, anything is possible. And yes, the result often depends on perseverance.

So don't let your dreams hold you back and do - or learn - what you want to be able to do.

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