A word for when an artist builds up their ability to paint, but over time their art starts regressing. Or perhaps a child, once magnificent at playing the guitar, begins to pluck the wrong string and slur the notes, eventually becoming mediocre.

  • 5
    Surely, if a person is really talented their abilities would only start to decline through old age or illness? Jul 22, 2023 at 8:02
  • 2
    Loss of talent? There are limits to talent. Guitarists promising in their youth, to use your example, may eventually reach a plateau and not be able to play like Paco De Lucia, John McLaughlin, or Al Di Meola. Their mistakes are the result of the difficulty of the piece they're playing, not a loss of talent.
    – TimR
    Jul 22, 2023 at 12:55
  • 9
    The five stages of an actor's life: 1. Who's Janie Jones? 2. Get me Janie Jones. 3. Get me someone like Janie Jones. 4. Get me a young Janie Jones. 5. Who's Janie Jones?
    – Robusto
    Jul 22, 2023 at 12:58
  • 4
    @roganjosh Because people with talents don't just "stop being talented" Someone who excels doesn't "become mediocre" except through some accident, illness, physical debilitation or personal issue.
    – TimR
    Jul 22, 2023 at 13:10
  • 3
    You could say their talent is atrophying or that it atrophied.. Jul 22, 2023 at 14:01

14 Answers 14


They're washed up:

(of a person) no longer effective or successful.
"a washed-up actress"


no longer successful, skillful, popular, or needed
"washed-up athletes"
"a washed-up actor


It's often used of actors, but can also be used for other professions:

  • 1
    In casual speech nowadays, "washed" is said on it's own, which is nice because that satisfies the OP's single-word requirement. "Yeah no, I'm washed." Jul 22, 2023 at 17:08
  • 11
    @AdamBarnes I have never heard that phrase and we're only 20 miles apart, at best!
    – roganjosh
    Jul 22, 2023 at 17:15
  • @roganjosh spooky that you're stalkin' me but you do you. It's likely we don't share the same interests - watch NiceWigg whiff an entire magazine on someone in APEX Legends and you'll hear him say it. Jul 22, 2023 at 17:16
  • @AdamBarnes I mean, it's a simple case of just clicking your name once and seeing that you're from Bury on your profile... stalking is a pretty strong term for that.
    – roganjosh
    Jul 22, 2023 at 17:18
  • Weird, I wonder when I wrote that, it's been incorrect for a long time. Regardless, hope you're having a good time up North! Jul 22, 2023 at 17:21

You could say that the person lost their edge. Here is the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms:

"lose your edge" - to no longer have the determination or skills that made you successful in the past. "Long ago, Foster figured out you could act like a gentleman and still not lose your edge."

You can switch out the possessive pronoun as you need to - lose his edge, lost our edge:

DeAndre Hopkins: Assessing Patriots' fit - has star receiver lost his edge? (A to Z Sports article)

  • Similarly, "lost your mojo", though this seems to be a sillier variant. The comedy "Austin Powers" centres around this expression, and is perhaps why it seems a bit more silly to me. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/lose+your+mojo
    – sat0ri
    Jul 23, 2023 at 18:47

Has-been - Cambridge Dictionary

a person who in the past was famous, important, admired, or good at something, but is no longer any of these

You could say:

That person is a has-been artist.

This is a bit tricky because it could imply that the times simply moved on; their skill hasn't diminished, but it becomes outdated in the current era. At the same time, it can imply that the person just lost their talent either through lack of practice or, sometimes, going astray i.e. alcoholism or something.


This is an expression rather than a single word, but it's very commonly used. Using the 'up = good' metaphor, for someone who is past their best (this is obviously time- but also almost always age-related) in one or more areas, they are often said to be over the hill.

over the hill [phrase of hill] [informal]:

old and past one's best.

  • a once famous ballerina, now over the hill

[Oxford Languages, courtesy of Google]

Another common expression involves semi-referential (not overtly specified, but a logical referent easily retrieved) 'it':

lose it ... 2. To lose an ability, skill, or quality that one previously had.

  • I used to be so much better at the guitar, but I feel like I'm losing it.
  • She used to turn heads wherever she went, but I think she's lost it a little as she's aged.

[Farlex Dictionary of Idioms]

Obviously, context is needed to force this sense of 'lose it'.

  • 8
    Slightly different version past their prime Jul 22, 2023 at 12:16
  • 1
    In American English, this more commonly means someone is over the age of 40.
    – Davislor
    Jul 22, 2023 at 21:21
  • Someone struggles up the hill gaining talent, experience and fans, they reach their summit and then pass out of sight as they begin the passage down the hill. You know that when at the grocery checkout a tabloid headline is "whatever happened to ...".
    – civitas
    Jul 23, 2023 at 0:40

Lose one's touch is another idiom that fits. Note that, it differs from the idiom lose touch.

To no longer be skilled in doing something. In this usage, a possessive pronoun is used between "lose" and "touch."

He used to be one of the league's elite shooters, but it seems like he's lost his touch.

lose one's touch. (n.d.) Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. (2015). Retrieved July 22 2023 from https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/lose+one%27s+touch


The point in time would be generally identified as "burnout".

Most other answers seem to be addressing the post-burnout state, hence "past their prime" etc.

  • 2
    Isn't burnout often a temporary state, so that after a period of rest and rejuvenation, the artist can return to greatness? I understood the question to be looking for a more permanent loss.
    – gidds
    Jul 23, 2023 at 10:40
  • Maybe, maybe not. "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long- and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy." Jul 23, 2023 at 11:02
  • This may imply that the individual no longer enjoys the activity, rather than that they're no longer good at it. Many talented actors/musicians have burned out due to the pressures of fame and stepped away from their craft, but that doesn't mean they are no longer talented. It means they can't bring themselves to apply their talent like they once did. You won't see the talent of a burned out individual, but that's often because they choose not to exercise it, not because they don't have it anymore. Jul 24, 2023 at 15:28
  • It's also worth clarifying that burnout is a very modern understanding of what's actually going on. It's less a figure of speech like the others and more of a diagnosis. Not a flaw but worth keeping in mind.
    – davolfman
    Jul 24, 2023 at 22:53

This artist or guitarist is spent, an expression that covers a variety of contexts.

From Merriam-Webster:

1a : used up : CONSUMED
b : exhausted of active or required components or qualities often for a particular purpose: spent nuclear fuel
2 : drained of energy or effectiveness : EXHAUSTED
3 : exhausted of spawn or sperm: spent fishes

  • 1
    This was going to be my suggestion as well. "Spent" is the best single word answer in my opinion.
    – Deepak
    Jul 24, 2023 at 0:30

A term that started with golf and has spread to other endeavors involving motor control is "having the yips". This is specific to motor skills like golf or playing the guitar, and it implies that the loss of skill is sudden and hoped to be temporary. So it may not be a good fit. But it might match the case of the guitarist.


Someone who seems very promising at first, but turns out to be less than expected and a disappointment, can be called just a flash in the pan.


I don't know a word that describes the person who stops being talented but an artist sometimes develops an artist's block. He or she still has the innate talent but, for whatever reason, does not feel inspired to continue his or her art, or at least not at the same level as before.

  • 1
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    – Community Bot
    Jul 22, 2023 at 19:30

The word that describes this phenomenon is "regression." Regression refers to a decline or return to a less developed or less skilled state. In the context of an artist or a child's abilities, it means that they once reached a higher level of skill or proficiency but have now started to decline or lose some of their previous abilities, resulting in a lower standard of performance or output.

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
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    Jul 24, 2023 at 7:55

A phrase that has become more current in the last few decades with food labelling is to be past your sell-by date.

A date printed on a product such as food after which it should not be sold
Cambridge Dictionary.

Also use by, or best before.

Thanks to Edwin Ashworth for finding these more relevant metaphorical uses in Collins Dictionary

past your sell-by date

no longer useful, successful, or relevant

This type of TV programme is well past its sell-by date.

So, if you're feeling past your sell-by date, remember: 60 is the age of reinvention, and here is how you do it.
Times, Sunday Times (2007)

Having something new and worthwhile to turn to makes it much easier to avoid clinging to a job past your sell-by date.
Times, Sunday Times (2013)

  • I've never heard this describing people. It would be helpful to have examples of it in use.
    – Laurel
    Jul 23, 2023 at 15:46
  • Collins gives the broadened (metaphorical) usage for both say ideas, and people. Jul 24, 2023 at 18:50

"He's lost his edge" can be used in that context (Free Dictionary). "Past it" is a phrase that can be used for someone who has become too old to still pursue their profession as it requires youthful vigor or flexibility, such as a ballet dancer or athlete (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

A person has "peaked" if they reached the apex of their abilities and are starting to go downhill. (I was unable to find a source for this but it's common parlance.) "They've gone downhill" can work in the context of your question (Cambridge Dictionary), as can "past her/his/their prime" in the context of singing, athletics, rather than beauty or age (Cambridge Dictionary).

I agree with Neil_UK who indicated that "past your sell-by date" is a contemporary rough equivalent to "past your prime" (Collins Dictionary). "Flash in the pan" can refer to someone who briefly exhibited talent but was unable to sustain their ability (Cambridge Dictionary).

  • Do note that phrases like "the person above" should be avoided because the order of answers changes. Right now you're above the person you're talking about.
    – Laurel
    Jul 23, 2023 at 21:32

Referring to their playing, you could say it has Jumped the shark referring to "a pejorative that is used to argue that a creative work or entity has reached a point in which it has exhausted its core intent and is introducing new ideas that are discordant with, or an over-exaggeration of, its original purpose." (Wikipedia)

Since your example mentioned a child, you could say they have peaked early, since the remainder of their playing career will be a long decline.

  • "Jumped the shark" tends to be applied to the creative work (especially TV shows) rather than the creators. Jul 25, 2023 at 12:01

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