Career Counseling for the Creatively Talented Student

12 Jul

Charles Sutton
Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Level 7 Learning

As an art and design teacher, it is important for me to consider what aspect of guidance and counseling for gifted and talented students applies most directly to my own classroom and students. While the social, emotional, and academic well-being of the students is a primary concern, career counseling may top them in that one of the important goals of—and justifications for—art and design education programs relates to career preparation. Further, counseling takes place in the present, but there are also long term goals that must be considered when working with students. Therefore, the topic of this paper is about the importance of counseling gifted and talented students about arts-related careers.

Parents and other adults often recommend that children should move their professional interests away from arts careers because they are concerned about the child being able to earn a proper living wage as an adult. In 2014, Graeme Payton, the Education Editor for The Telegraph newspaper wrote an article stating that, according to Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, “…too many teachers are… [encouraging students to make art and humanities] choices at school that ultimately holds them back for the rest of their life” (Payton, 2014). Instead, Morgan suggested that students should be pushed more toward STEM careers. Two days later, Phelps (2014) responded in an editorial, citing much information about happiness leading to success, careers in the arts, and the percentages of top CEOs with arts and humanities degrees. This has been an ongoing debate for a long time. Is it appropriate to counsel children—even those with relevant, innate talents—to pursue arts education and art-related careers? How should one counsel these creative students in terms of making career choices? This paper will endeavor to answer some of those questions. </p?

First, to address Morgan’s concerns about the need for people in STEM careers, pursuing the arts is hugely helpful toward that goal. Specifically, engineers need to be able to design and innovate, and art and design skills are essential ingredients for good product development. Additionally, the main reason cited that companies hire outside consulting firms has become innovation, which is an offshoot of art and design. “The biggest single trend we’ve observed is the growing acknowledgment of innovation as a centerpiece of corporate strategies and initiatives. What’s more, we’ve noticed that the more senior the executives, the more likely they are to frame their companies’ needs in the context of innovation” (Kelley & Littman, 2001). Do they hire engineer firms or other STEM-related business for coming up with unique ideas? Sometimes, but more often the hire companies like IDEO—which is a design company—to help them think of innovative products and processes to help their companies grow. In the future, many of those innovations will come from within the company, and students with degrees in art and design will fit into those careers naturally.

This is an important concept for gifted and talented education and for those who counsel these students. Gifts and talents are great to have, but if they are not nurtured and practiced, they will not lead to lucrative careers. Arieti (1976) explains about the relationship between genius and talent. He claims that they are not the same, in fact they have an antagonistic relationship. However, the acknowledged genius—one who has superior gifts—also has talents that needs to be developed. Aritei (1976) writes, “But the genius also has talent, and the development of his talent enables him to objectify his creativity and render it permanent” (p. 341).
Similarly, Malcolm Gladwell (2008) discusses innate talent. He acknowledges its existence, but also says that it is not enough. Students with gifts and talents need to nurture and develop them in order to be successful. He cites evidence from a study conducted at Berlin’s Academy of Music that sought to determine what made the difference between talented amateur piano players and professional pianists. Regardless of gifts and talents exhibited early on, only those that put in at least 10 thousand hours of practice time were able to make the leap from sufficient to professional status. He writes

        The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works (Gladwell, 2008, p. 39)

Gladwell’s (2008) book cites examples over and over again from a wide range of professional fields that the difference between innate talent and professional-level skills is approximately 10 thousand hours of practice time utilizing those skills. We have students in gifted and talented programs with high IQs or extreme talents in many fields—including art and design—but if we do not counsel them to practice and perfect those skills, then their gifts may end up being squandered. Furthermore, gifted and talented students may have the task commitment that it takes to put in the 10 thousand hours of practice time, but if we do not specifically counsel them toward a profession in which their talent is useful and desired, then we may not be fully preparing them for college and career.

It is imperative that school counselors and content area teachers perform the role of career counselors as well. Mayes and Hines (2014) conducted a study about the importance of career counseling for African American girls who are identified as gifted and talented. They wrote, “…school counselors must facilitate college and career development activities and disseminate information to prepare gifted African American girls for postsecondary education” (p. 35). Their focus is specifically on African American girls because they are an underrepresented subgroup in gifted and talented programs and often ill prepared to succeed once they are selected based on biases built into the system. However, the point in their paper about counseling applies not only to the students in their study, but also to all gifted and talented students in general who need career goals in order to develop their talents into professional-level skills. The study continues about how children should be counseled to foster career development. Career assessment tools can be used to “…help students match their personalities with potential jobs, careers, college majors, etc.” (p. 37). This may be a key to understanding that aside from the few students who have overall giftedness, most students have talents in specific areas. Those who are talented in the arts and design should be identified and encouraged toward careers in that direction.

Similarly, Elijah (2011) writes about the main functions of a school counselor for gifted and talented students saying counselors should, “…monitor student academic progress and provide guidance with appropriate course selection, career planning, post-secondary educational options, and special programs and enrichment opportunities” (p. 5). Wood (2009) suggests that that career counseling may be even more important for students who are multitalented or overall gifted. These students have a richness of possibilities from which to choose. They may be drowning in career choices, and this multiplicity of choice may cause them to freeze due to the “Fear of making the ‘wrong’ decisions, not finding the ‘right’ college, fear of disappointing others, or failure to find the ‘perfect’ career [which] may create procrastination of the college and career search or the choice of a ‘safe’ college major” (p. 8). However, if Gladwell (2008) is correct, then the students need to make an early choice to get that professional level of practice and talent development. Therefore, they need to be counseled toward one of the many possible gifts and talents in order to meet their potential. There simply is not enough time to develop multiple talents to professional level, and trying may make it that none of the students gifts are adequately strengthened through practice. Alternatively, making a safe career choice in the case of gifted students is a form of underachievement; so, school professionals need to help the student understand that they have potential for much higher than making safe decisions. However, students also need to know that they may only be able to achieve professional-levels of talent if they are prepared to put in the work at an early age and to continue developing skills through college. For student’s whose strongest talents are in the arts, counselors and teachers should not shy away from making the development of those skills the focus of career training.

Gladwell (2008) concludes, “We are caught in the myths of the best and brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth” (p. 268). He cautions that although there is innate giftedness and talent, that if we do not recognize the need to nurture it, then it will never amount to more than it is. Success for gifted and talented students means that one needs to identify talents and potential early, and to provide means for putting in the hard work that is required to make that inborn-talent reach professional levels for the students to reach their potential. Even though many gifted students have the ability for great task commitment, they may become lost in the multiplicity of talents, or they may not see the benefits for developing talents in the creative arts. That is where school counselors and teachers can help these children realize that they need to foster and practice their talents, whatever those gifts are, if they want to become successful, professional adults.


Arieti, S. (1976). Creativity: The magic synthesis. New York: Basic Books Inc., Publishers.

Elijah, K. (2011). Meeting the guidance and counseling needs of gifted students in school settings. Journal of

      School Counseling, 9(14), 1–19.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York: Back Bay Books; Little, Brown and Company.

Kelley, T., & Littman, J. (2001). The art of innovation: Lessons in creativity from IDEO, America’s leading

      design firm. New York: Doubleday.

Mayes, R. D., & Hines, E. M. (2014). College and career readiness for gifted African American girls: A call to

      school counselors. Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 4(1), 31–42.

Payton, G. (2014, November 10). Nicki Morgan: Pupils ‘held back’ by overemphasis on the arts. Retrieved from

Phelps, J. (2014, November 12). Young people should pursue what they enjoy. Retrieved from The Telegraph:

Wood, S. (2009). Counseling concerns of gifted and talented adolescents: Implications for school counselors. Journal of School Counseling , 7(1), 1–47.

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Posted by on July 12, 2016 in art, Education, Gifted learning


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