Is there such a thing as talent? Yes. Can it be cultivated through certain practices? Yes. Then what exactly is talent, and are people who aren’t born with it doomed forever? The answer to this is more complex, so let’s dig deeper.
Today, The Stage has published an interesting article about apprenticeships for actors in the UK. Proposals made by the author of this piece, Susan Elkin, has been met with some interesting responses on Facebook.
“Brilliant idea,” said Angelina. “This is what I have been asking for!!” James added.
These were then followed up with:
“Acting is a talent and skill that cannot be taught – only nurtured and developed,” noted Fiona. “Some actors will always be crap, no matter how much training they get,” said Andrew.
This brings to mind an interesting question: Is it really that acting talent cannot be taught? Yes and no; and this is what I’m going to talk about today.
What science says about “talent”
Oxford dictionary defines talent as “Natural aptitude or skill,” meaning that it’s one’s inborn ability to be good at something, whether it’s the left part of the brain, or the right. In terms of the left side, it has already been confirmed that some people are naturally better at math-related skills than others (you’re welcome, kids!) The Huffington Post even wrote a very interesting article about it.
In terms of the right side – one’s colorful, artistic, creative skills – the question of nature vs nurture will keep most of us awake at nights still, regardless of all the scientific proof we see. But just to make ourselves at least seem more intelligent, here’s what we have so far.
Back in 2009, a neurology study came out proving that certain factors can impact the level of creativity in artistic people. Due to artists having a smaller corpus callosum, a part of the brain which Wikipedia can explain better than me (I guess I’m artistic), their brains overcompensate for it with a creative mind.
“Decreased callosal connectivity enhances hemispheric specialization, which benefits the incubation of ideas that are critical for the divergent-thinking component of creativity,” the study concluded.
Last year, PLoS One published another study where people’s musical abilities were assessed. They found that a particular set of genes influenced the level of creativity in study participants, which means that DNA plays a big role in this. Concluding this study, The Guardian said: “The team also observed increased creativity in participants with duplicate DNA strands containing a gene that affects the processing of a key neurotransmitter called serotonin.”
Further to that, a third study published earlier this year concluded that elevating serotonin levels will increase connectivity in the brain’s area called posterior cingulate. This means that people with duplicate DNA strands, containing the gene from the study number #2, who elevate their serotonin levels, will be more creative.
That is how scientists came to the conclusion of why so many creative people – Jobs, Hemingway, Beethoven among many others – had a bipolar disorder, which is highly affected by the happiness neurotransmitter serotonin.
So is this the quintessential be all end all conclusion?
Will only people who are born with a certain set of genes and having smaller corpus callosum become the great actors of the century, while others will go back to doing math homework for the rest of our lives? Not quite so.
As you have probably expected, a person’s environment, upbringing and other similar factors will also play a role in how creative they will become as adults.
“We found that many individuals with artistic creativity suffered from severe traumas in life, whether it be psychological or physical abuse, neglect, hostility or rejection. At the biological level, we and several other researchers documented that trauma is associated with functional alteration of the brain, and it also affects the expression of genes that have an impact on brain structure, maybe in the same large-scale networks that participate in creativity,” said Professor of Physiology in Budapest Szabolcs Keri.
So what’s the actual conclusion then?
The truth is that – based on current findings – some individuals really are born more creative than others. The rest of us will have to continue nurturing our creative minds in hopes that we’ll get to the level of those gifted people. But hey, we’re artists nonetheless and it will be hard to push any artist, “talented” or not, into trusting science over passion.
For now, a lot more research has to be done on creativity to be certain in this. So let’s just take a rain check on deliberately traumatizing ourselves or finding ways how to cause psychological abuse to each other before that important role.
And here’s a nice picture that I found to conclude this post: