My husband is mentoring a teenage boy who wants to be an artist.  He’s been taking him to exhibitions and listening to his ideas, and the other day I said, “But have you explained to him what being an artist means?”

“Well,” he replied, “not really….you see, it’s quite complicated….”

Hmm. Yes. It is complicated.

It is, or course, partly about technique.  Without technique, paintings look like mud, books are unreadable and pianists play all the wrong notes.  But more important than technique is the stuff you know and care about in a way that no one else does.

I’ve been looking at Grayson Perry’s maps

And reading China Mieville’s The City and The City. In each case, you know exactly who the author is, what he cares about, where his obsessions lie. Both men have peculiar, unusual brains. The way each sees the world emerges in what is usually called A Vision, or A Voice.

Whether it’s writers or musicians or painters or athletes or scientists or chefs or dog trainers, it’s the nature of the voice that separates proficiency from talent.  What is in your head that isn’t in anyone else’s — what’s unspeakable? Dangerous? Crucial?

You begin to find your voice when those things are spoken aloud.