You hear it often — prospective parents, when asked what child they’d like to have, boy or girl, usually say they just wish for the child to be normal. In some ways I wonder if this isn’t a silent wish not to have a child that’s too talented. Because a lot of parents will attest to the fact that a highly talented — hyper skilled — child presents its own challenges in parenting. When so called ‘normal’ parents give birth to a genius, or a child with a high IQ, it can lead to a lot of hand wringing, wondering, stressfully, ‘What do we do with Johnny next?’
Not merely parents, but teachers as well. In fact, it becomes the school’s imperative to help guide such a child — what schools like to term ‘a high flyer’. I know a young artist who could have emerged from the womb with a paint brush in his hands, so skilled is he with the said brush. With a minimum of brush or pencil strokes he can depict something a non-artist like myself would find complex: a cracked window pane, a torn cricket ball, a broken cycle wheel. Just a flourish here, a flourish there, and there you have it, the image itself.
He’s a born cartoonist. He can caricature at will. He has a strong leaning for Australian Aboriginal art and has produced a series of paintings using their themes and techniques, particularly that of ‘dotting’ which may sound easy but can be extremely repetitive and challenging, every dot having to be ‘just so’ in thickness and uniformity. He has in another series artfully combined two cultures — the Aztecs and the Indians.
In short, at 30, he has a body of work that far surpasses his tender years as an artist — one with a college degree in visual arts, to boot! So, what’s the downside to all this, I hear the reader enquire silently. Well, as has been said before, talent gives with one hand and it takes with the other. In other words, what is bestowed lavishly in one, sometimes is given at a price. The price is the downside. Some refer to this ‘price’ as artistic temperament. But that’s a term that covers a wide range of issues.
In this youngster’s case, it’s an inability to recognise his own gift. He still hasn’t come to terms with his skills. Like a lot of artists, he is critical, self-critical of his efforts and with each passing piece — though the urge in him to keep producing goes on like clockwork — the criticism in turn gets stronger and stronger, chipping away at his self-esteem. So much so that he will not hear of exhibiting anywhere. ‘I’m doing it just to entertain myself,’ he’ll say. Numerous offers have been turned down. Connections that may have led to huge job projects have been quietly shunned.
And in the meantime, he puts on a brave face for the world whenever he allows the world to see it. For the most part, he prefers to allow the world outside to tread its merry path without him. His parents, meanwhile, wonder what they may have done differently in the early years so that it may not have arrived at this impasse. They also wonder, with a growing sense of despair, what they might do in the present to help this talent be realised in some way. Which brings me back to how when some parents express a wish for a ‘normal’ child they may be doing so with the subconscious knowledge that hyper talent often has its own deviation away from the norm.
- Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.