Art, Life

Sundials in the shade


“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” ~Benjamin Franklin

I have a very dear friend who has made it his mission to make me blush. This is a gallant stance for him to take as it is not something I do very much as a rule. Few things have the power to throw me anymore and I take most of life’s little quirks in my stride. My friend, however, succeeds almost daily.

How does he succeed when almost all else fails? I hear you ask. Very simply. He writes me the most beautiful emails and shares lovely things that touch my heart with their insight and honesty, and then pays me compliments. They make me blush. I’m not used to it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share, and have learned, over the years, to accept gratefully that what I see in the mirror of my own fragilities may not be what others see. The eyes of others may see beyond the insecurities that keep us blind to ourselves. But this is different. These compliments go beyond what I have learned to accept and touch on talent. That’s a tricky one.

I know many hugely talented people. They are writers and artists, musicians and singers. There are innovators and dreamers who create change and beauty, taking the vision in their mind and making it real enough to share with the world. To a man (or woman!) they have my respect. Because it is not an easy thing to do, to open little bits of the soul and put them on display for the world to see and appreciate, or misinterpret and criticise.

They tend to fall into two broad categories, though there are always exceptions to any rule. There are those who recognise their talent and accept it as the gift it is, pursuing their vision to the best of their ability with apparent confidence. Then there are those who see the vision and doubt their talent and ability to translate it from mind to matter. Sometimes much can be said about the nurturing of talent in the child, the planting of seeds of confidence and possibility in the growing mind. Sometimes the doubts and insecurities go deeper and touch the depths of self.

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” ~ Erica Jong

Even the apparently confident may have these doubts and insecurities, touched by an underlying knowledge of the gap between vision and actuality. The vision may be a melding of the surrealism of Dali, the colour and energy of Van Gogh and the skill of Michelangelo. Let’s face it… how many have that combination of genius in their fingertips? I think the majority of artists will recognise that yearning to capture what the mind, heart and soul can see. The greatest talents, it seems, always pursue that elusive something they have seen with inner eyes.

Observers, however, see only the finished work, they cannot see the inner vision, see where the hands may have fallen short or lacked the skill. But they may see its shadow and divine its beauty. If the work speaks to them and moves them to seek their own vision perhaps that is all an artist of any type may ask. Those with talent of their own, no matter how small they think it to be, will be the first to feel an echo of that vision.

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius.” ~Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

That very failure can fuel the quest to try again, to perhaps get one step nearer to the realisation of the vision, that one work that is indefinably right. From a purely personal point of view it grieves me to lack such skill, but it won’t stop me trying. Yet sometimes the imbalance between the two can become the very cage that holds us back. We can become hemmed in by the knowledge of our current abilities, setting them unconsciously as the boundary beyond which we cannot go. It is not true. There is no boundary unless we stop trying.


“It takes little talent to see clearly what lies under one’s nose, a good deal of it to know in which direction to point that organ.”~W. H. Auden

I think one thing that is common to all who create, seeing it through their personal lens as simply ‘normal’, is the inability to see that their gift lies in seeing what others do not. This, to me at least, is the foundation of talent. Not everyone can look at a lump of clay and see a figure, a blank page or a keyboard and hear a song, or a canvas and people it with forms. Fractal images are a good illustration of this. The artist does not create them… they find them, with the ability to see beyond the simple form generated by mathematics. Perhaps it takes that gift of seeing to find the one tiny fragment of a huge picture that can speak to the soul.

My friend pays me compliments I do not feel my talents deserve. I do the same to the talented folk I know. Yet I understand how far short of their personal vision their skill may seem to fall. I understand how precious that compliment, as well as how fragile it can make one feel. As though it is not deserved. Yet who are we to judge how another’s heart is moved by what we do?

All of us, I think, have talents, be they in the accepted areas of the arts or with wood and electric drills, engines or ovens, or just simply a talent for life, which is the greatest gift of them all.

I just hope that one day I can echo the words of Erma Bombeck : “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me.”

Posted Feb 2013

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