As a creator, is "talented" a compliment?

If someone called you "talented" because of your work, would you feel praised or offended?

Blue Period is a coming-of-age manga by Yamaguchi Tsubasa (now made into an anime recently) about a high school boy’s journey into the world of art. He was aimless in life until he was inspired and enamoured by his senior's amazing artwork.

Is the name a reference to Picasso’s Blue Period? Perhaps.

In one instance, the main character (Yaguchi Yatora) was envious of his senior’s (Mori Maru) painting and also told her how talented she is.

Very simply, she responded:

“I’m not talented at all. It’s just that I spend more time thinking about art than others. Also thank you for your kind words, but art still requires you to study various techniques and such. So when you simply call it talent like that, it makes it sound like I haven’t done anything.

He meant it as praise, but he apologised after.

I felt what Maru was feeling when she said “it’s like they’re telling me I haven’t done anything”, especially now that I’m starting to draw and write more.

I believe a lot of us would feel the same way about artists. They are talented if they create amazing works of art. They were born to make art. It’s easy to say that to someone whose area of work is unfamiliar to us. But what we don’t see is hundreds, if not thousands, of their works that go on behind the scenes to get to what we call “talented” artists.

Pablo Picasso was famous for some of his works, but what we don’t know is that he created over 20,000 paintings, drawings, and other works over the course of his career. Twenty. Thousand. He lived and breathed art.

Vincent van Gogh had also created a large number of paintings (900 paintings in one decade), yet only a handful of his works became well-known and well-received after his death.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of “talent” is:

Talent
noun
UK /ˈtæl.ənt/ US /ˈtæl.ənt/
(someone who has) a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught:

- Her talent for music showed at an early age.

I’m a believer that no one is truly talented.

Sure, every now and then, you might come across a prodigy who’s truly talented in a particular field.

But most of the creators I know and see online, or even well-known creators in the past, work hard and smart. They build and create every day, and show up since day one. They were probably no better than beginners when they first started in a new field, but they persisted and worked their way up to become the person they aspire to be. That’s why I have so much respect for these people. It’s not an easy journey. It can be hard to tell because we only mostly see the best sides of them online.

I, too, have been showing up every day for the past year to practise, improve, and learn how I can better myself each time. It’s hard work, but the volume of work makes the quality of work overtime.

With this mindset, anyone can be a creator too as long as they’re willing to show up every day and do the work. You put in hours of work, then stretch some more through deliberate practice.

I think my frustration lies when some people think creation or doing a certain thing is reserved for '“talented” people so they don’t bother trying at all. So I want to debunk that myth and tell them — no you don’t need to be “talented” to try. As long as you’re willing to learn, you can create too.

I’d prefer and welcome compliments a bit better that are more subjective like “awesome” or “brilliant”, but when we talk about “talent” or “talented”, it feels like they’re undermining my work. It’s through practice that I am “talented” today.

I know my friends and others are trying to be nice when they compliment me and my work. Even so, the other side of me feels a bit differently.

  • I feel praised because yes I did put in the effort, thank you for the compliment. I deserve it.

  • I feel offended (almost hurtful) because they make it sound like I didn’t put in the effort to produce the work they see today.


How would I respond to them? I’d say thank you for the kind words too.

But I don’t know how to muster up the courage to tell them how I feel yet. Maybe I’ll share this newsletter issue with them instead. 🤔

How would you respond? Does it make a difference to you?

Also, if you’re someone who has given me that compliment before and just so happen to be reading this, hi! I don’t mean any harm. I just thought you should know.


That’s it for the first issue.

There are a lot more lessons I’ve learned from Blue Period (I’m up-to-date with the manga), but I’ll slowly add them separately into their own issue when I see them animated on screen.

I’m not sure if I should make this a weekly or every other week thing, so let’s see how my time is being spent or if I have the inspiration to write the next one soon.

💛 If you enjoyed it, sign up for more and/or share it with your friends.

✏️ I’d love to also hear any feedback if there is any so that I can continue to improve my writing. Let me know what you like or what you don’t - just reply to this email or comment below if you’re on Substack.

Warmest regards,
Yihui