The Talent Myth: Why perseverance and passion trump talent

talent myth

by Miriam Schulman

Artist Miriam Schulman painting watercolor in her home studio
Artist Miriam Schulman painting watercolor in her home studio.

As an artist and an art instructor, do you know what I hear over and over again?

“I wish I had your talent!”

Although I’m so grateful to hear that compliment, I truly believe anybody can be an artist. However, you need to develop the right mindset and learn the skills and techniques to get the results you want.


Everyone was born with creativity inside of them

From the very first finger painting, you were an artist. And as a toddler, your artwork wasn’t accompanied with mind chatter that convinced you that you weren’t good enough. You painted because it brought you joy.
Anyone can develop skills to paint… you just need to be shown proper techniques.

There was no doubt that you could do it. Then you started to notice that other children got more praise than you did when they showed off their art. In time, you began to believe that you couldn’t be an artist. You started to believe the “talent myth” that some were born with talent and others weren’t.


But the truth is…

there is something else going on here. And that is you need to have skills to get results. And to have great results you need to practice those skills. So the child who starts off as a clumsy artist can acquire the skills they need and the longer that child is willing to work at it the better they get. It is just like how you learn and acquire any other skill such as tennis, bridge or knitting.

You just need to be shown the proper techniques.


Not everyone is a child prodigy, nor do you need to be


Let’s face it. There are only a handful of child prodigies. The rest of us who achieve fame, marginal acclaim or just make a living or a hobby with painting, dance, music or sports, do ONE thing. We work at it and we don’t give up even when it isn’t easy.


My mother was a professional dance teacher and studied dance in college, but she would be the first to tell you she was always the worst one in the dance studio. How did she make it as a professional dance instructor? The answer is simple, but maybe not obvious. She simply didn’t give up or get discouraged.


My daughter is studying to be a professional musician. Although she showed an early affinity for musical rhythms and music, she didn’t begin her formal lessons in cello until the fifth grade. That is considered really old to begin classical musical training especially when you consider that Yo Yo Ma was already playing at the Kennedy Center at age 7. But she didn’t let not being a child prodigy or getting a late start at cello discourage her, and she’s on the road to realizing her dream as a professional musician.


How is she able to do this?


Because she doesn’t give up even when things aren’t easy. She works incredibly hard and spends her school vacations and summer working on her scales and technique to catch up. Meanwhile the “child prodigies” in our neighborhood…every affluent New York suburb has one…have already gotten bored of their instruments and moved on to other things.

Why consistency of effort counts


My son heads to the gym before school with his father every morning to lift weights so that he can wrestle in college. He also goes to a wrestling club to hone his skills in the off season. Every time he tests his technique during training, he’s practicing. Some days go well, others don’t, but he’s learning and getting better by being shown the proper skills and techniques. To get to the level of a Division 1 athlete he has chosen to train over the summer instead of hanging out with his friends. Any coach or athlete will tell you what makes all the difference is the consistency of effort over the long run.

I wasn’t born with “tennis” talent

I play tennis for fun with the town recreation department. I wouldn’t say I was born with any special talent for it, but lessons certainly helped. And I didn’t just take one lesson..but I take lessons each week during the summer so I am good enough to enjoy the game.
artist Miriam Schulman in her home studio

Imagine if I just shrugged my shoulders and said I couldn’t play tennis because I wasn’t born with “tennis” talent?…or I was too old to start?

But that is exactly what I hear all the time from folks who say they would like to paint but don’t have any artistic talent. Obviously you won’t see me at the US Open or even leading the town tennis team, but that’s because tennis is not my singular passion…art is. However, I am good enough to play for the sheer joy of it.


And I encourage my students to feel the same way about their art. Yeah, maybe their paintings won’t be hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art one day…(and by the way, neither will mine) but is that really the point?


The process of painting made them happy and with a little patience, practice and perseverance their art can make others happy as well.


The power of passion and perseverance

I’m in the midst of reading a marvelous book by Angela Duckworth titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

As much as I would love to plagiarize and quote long passages from this text, I encourage you to unearth these treasures yourself.

In sum, her whole book is about the myth of the genius or the myth of talent. Now this may not be a new concept as Nietzsche was writing about the cult of “genius” since the 19th century. He said, ”For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking.” What he means is that defining others a genius or talented lets us off the hook from working hard, but as Nietzsche and the studies have pointed out, genius and talent are acquired through hard work.


Here are some excerpts from Duckworth’s writings which I’ve been reading out loud to  my children at the kitchen table:

“When it comes to how we fare in the marathon of life, effort counts tremendously… “Grit” as she calls it is ”about doing what you love, but not just falling in love—staying in love. Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

Are you ready to fall in love?

I’ve heard many people say they can’t paint. What they really mean is they expect to paint like they have been painting for as long as I have, without being shown how. When you want to go from zero to proficient without skills acquired by effort and training, that frustration leaves you giving up at the beginning.

Fall in love with watercolor

If you always wanted to paint in watercolor, but have been afraid to start, I have a class at the Inspiration Place that is perfect for you.

Taking an online class is the perfect way to learn at your own pace within the privacy of your home.

In Watercolor Secrets, you will learn techniques through step-by-step instruction, and you can practice at your own pace and develop the skills you need to let your creativity soar.

>>click here for pricing and more information

On Pinterest? I’ve created this pin just for you to share…

In case we haven’t met yet…

Hello! I’m Miriam Schulman and I create mixed media art to tell stories. I also teach other people how to craft their stories with art. I give them the techniques they need to get the results they desire which brings more joy to their lives.

My art has been published by Somerset Studio, Art of Man and the New York Times among others and collected by an international audience. When I’m not working on art in my studio, you’ll find me in a museum spending time with friends or family. Explore my art at or join the fun at

Now I want to hear from you…
Have you ever had a time in your life when you have achieved success through grit and determination?

Anybody can be an artist. Develop the right mindset and learn the skills and techniques to get your creativity flowing →

Leave a Comment



I’m Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration.

I inspire art-lovers to reconnect with their creativity and profit from their art. Whether you paint simply for the joy of it or you’re serious about selling your work, and you’re ready to stop putting yourself on the back burner...You're in the right place. I've done it and I can inspire YOU how to do it too.

Recent Posts

Search this blog


The Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Sustainable Living from Your Creativity

Free artpreneur chapter