Artist's Quotes: Talent and Creativity

A collection of quotes on the issue of an artist having talent (or not).

Painting by Paul Gauguin of Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers.
Paul Gauguin captures the talent of Vincent van Gogh in his painting of van Gogh painting sunflowers, 1888. Fine Art/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

"The art trade brings with it certain prejudices ... particularly ideas that painting is a gift -— well yes, a gift, but not as they make it appear; one must reach out and take it (and that taking is a difficult thing), not wait until it manifests itself of its own accord... one learns by doing. One becomes a painter by painting. If one wants to become a painter, if one has passion, if one feels what you feel, then one can do it, but this can go hand in hand with difficulty, worries, disappointments, times of melancholy, of powerlessness and all that."
Letter by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, 16 October 1883.

"I am doubtful of any talent, so whatever I choose to be, will be accomplished only by long study and work" – Jackson Pollock, Abstract Expressionist

"I've not been cursed with talent, which could be a great inhibitor." Robert Rauschenberg, American Pop Artist

“What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” – John Ruskin, English art critic

“If you have great talents, industry will improve them. If you have but moderate abilities, industry will supply their deficiency. Nothing is denied to well-directed labor; nothing is ever to be attained without it.” -- Joshua Reynolds, English artist

“I remember Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked. With me, it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can't do.” – Lucian Freud

“Creation is the artist's true function. But it would be a mistake to ascribe creative power to an inborn talent. Creation begins with vision. The artist has to look at everything as though seeing it for the first time." -- Henri Matisse, French Fauvist

"Everyone has talent at 25. The difficulty is to have it at 50.” -- Edgar Degas

"Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do." -- Edgar Degas

"What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way.” -- Winslow Homer, American artist

"Talent is so loaded a word, so full to the brim with meanings, that an artist might be wise to forget about it altogether and just keep on working.” –- Eric Maisel, creativity coach

“Talent is long patience, and originality an effort of will and of intense observation” – Gustav Flaubert, French novelist

"Self-discipline without talent can often achieve astounding results, whereas talent without self-discipline inevitably dooms itself to failure." -- Sydney Harris, American journalist

"Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.” -- James Russell Lowell, American poet and critic

“Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate profits.” –- Edward de Bono, creativity writer

“The misperception that creativity is a natural talent and cannot be taught actually very convenient because it relieves everybody of the need to do anything about fostering creativity.

If it is only available as a natural talent then there is no point in seeking to do anything about creativity.” -- Edward de Bono, creativity writer

”That some people are naturally creative does not mean than such people would not be even more creative with some training and techniques. Nor does it mean than other people can never become creative.” -- Edward de Bono, creativity writer

“Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck -- but, most of all, endurance.” James Baldwin, American novelist

“Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite -- getting something down.” – Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way

Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” -- Pablo Picasso

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." -- Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert cartoons

"Like everything else, some people will be better at it than others. However, doing something creative is a most rewarding activity, and will result in a great sense of satisfaction, no matter how good or bad the artist may be." -- British artist and TV presenter Tony Hart, "Tony Hart Reveals His Drawing Secrets" in The Times newspaper, 30 September 2008.

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”  -- Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, novelist, poet

Updated by Lisa Marder 11/16/16