As someone who writes books as well as entertains with music I am fascinated by how artists choose the medium in which they work. Why does one artist decide to communicate their experience in the world by carving a fifteen foot block of marble whereas another artist expresses herself by lifting a pen and writing a Haiku? What draws us to one medium rather than another?

In an interview a painter was asked what had originally compelled him to paint. The artist became very thoughtful and said, “When I was small I always liked the smell of paint.”

This was very telling to me. So I asked myself the same question, why do I do what I do? The answer was simple, I’ve always liked to sing; I knew dozens of songs at a very young age and would lie awake at night singing to myself, often causing my mother to stop outside my bedroom door to say, “Stop singing and go to sleep now.”
You could say that my ukulele career is a symptom of that greater desire to sing. You might take away my ukes forever but you’ll never stop me from singing.

It seems to me that the special skill developed by an artist is the result of an interplay of three factors: Desire, Talent and Drive.

Desire is that visceral thing that makes us feel good to just experience it; such as the smell of paint, hearing the sound of laughter or liking the look of polished wood.

Talent is that which comes easy to us. Most of us have skill at some ability that sets us apart from everyone we know. The irony with talent is that, because it comes so easily, the person with the talent is often very dismissive and unaware of their own unusual ability.

Drive is the will to keep getting better. It’s the force, the fire in the belly, the sheer love of it, that makes you want to perfect your skill by spending countless hours working to improve.

In order to excel at what you do all three of these factors must be present:

Without desire any talent you have will seem humdrum and ordinary to you and you won’t have the drive to work on it. You need to feel that inner fire of excitement to do something with it.

But desire alone is not enough, for without talent you can work long and hard and still achieve very little progress. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lots of people enjoy doing things they are not good at. Maybe your talent in such a case would be the ability to savour life without needing the trappings of success. I would actually call that a worthy talent indeed.

Having desire and talent but no drive appears the saddest of all. We wonder how someone who has all that potential doesn’t make use of it. Only they can know for sure. And in the big scheme of life it probably doesn’t matter. But still the rest of us wonder…why, why did they let that gift go to waste?!

If there are areas of your playing and performance that come easier to you than others I suggest you try and notice those and develop them. The things you find easiest to do are your natural talents. Noticing and appreciating your own talents is not always easy. You may even have to ask someone close to you for help with that. If you can find out what they are, and if it excites you to develop them to a higher level, then that is what will make your artistry stand out and set it apart from others.

© Ralph Shaw 2016