Creative Talent and Sweat


Cherries and Peonies by Georgiana Romanovna

Whenever I look at the work of the creative people who follow my blog –and I do often–I marvel.  I think, “There are so many talented people—she there in Australia and she in England are talented and he in Ireland is talented. Just look at that French woman’s work; it’s beautiful. That Russian woman is so accomplished; everything about her work is just right; it was created by a tremendously talented human being.”

But I know that the finished products that I admire so are far from the whole story because no outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without a lot of effort on the part of the creator, however much natural talent he or she possesses. Hesiod, a poet who lived several hundred years before Plato, showing great insight into the creative life, wrote, “Before the gates of excellence the gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease though grievously hard in the winning.”

Sweat becomes part of the successful creator’s everyday life before that ease Hesiod talks about (that effortlessness that really does happen only after some years of learning and application) is reached. One day painting becomes automatic, writing becomes automatic, performing becomes automatic.

The existence of some creative people is organized completely around their work—they think about it all the time, even when they are not working. Even,

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Genesis by Georgiana Romanovna

research shows, when they are asleep. And their ability to produce it is staggering. But many prodigiously gifted artists, writers, dancers, and actors don’t end up where they belong–in the upper echelons of their field—for the sole reason that they don’t sweat enough.

They are not willing to travel the long, rough, steep, grievously hard road to high expertise. After Michelangelo died someone found a paper on which he’d written in his old age to his apprentice, “Draw, Antonio, draw, draw Antonio and do not waste time.” Without sweating sufficiently you won’t go far. In every field, experts work harder, not less hard than non-experts.

A common notion among laymen is that the main cause of creative success is natural talent one is born with, and that a major cause of failure is the lack of talent. But the most eminent people in any field, including creative work, generally attribute their success to high ability and high effort and attribute failure to lack of effort, saying that a person’s success comes mainly from ability combined with hard work over a long period of time.

If they fail, the goal of excellence they’re pursuing becomes even more attractive to them. They get hungrier to succeed. If things don’t turn out well they don’t believe it’s because they aren’t capable. It’s because they didn’t sweat enough. They apply themselves; they work harder; they sweat more. That brings them hope. Optimism is kept high, for effort is a virtually limitless resource. You can always work harder.

Less successful creator’s thinking is “Either you have talent or you don’t.” Talent is not something they feel they can improve, so they don’t attempt to, even though they may have the potential to develop their talent to a very high level. It’s as though they are not aware that one’s level of talent is not fixed forever at some point and unchangeable. As your talent increases, as it will through conscientious education, training, experience, and practice, the probability that you’ll successfully reach your creative goals increases—paintings in galleries, books published, roles gotten– and your ability to perform more ambitious and difficult creative tasks also increases.

Most of the time the creators around you will have one of these attributes, either talent or sweat, but not both. If you do have both you have a tremendous advantage.

Springtime Ornamental

Springtime Ornamental by Georgiana Romanaovna

The effective way to develop your talent is not to blindly put in more hours working on this and that, but to take time to identify the small number of main skills most related to success in your field and practice them over and over and over until they become your main strengths, hopefully under the guidance of a knowledgeable person.  For example, a characteristic of successful writers is often a rich and varied vocabulary. To improve your writing you might wish to develop your talent along those lines. So important is an appealing writing style to a writer that J.A. Spender said, ”If you are getting the worst of it in an argument with a literary man, always attack his style. That’ll touch him if nothing else will.” The same is true of painters and performers.  Strive to refine your style or styles so they are recognized as yours. Some artists, such as Georgiana Romanovna, featured in this post, have multiple styles, but their work is always recognizable as theirs.

Most people in the world—whatever their field– can be divided psychologically into two broad groups. There is the minority who are willing to work hard to achieve something. Some creators are capable of producing ten, fifteen, twenty-five times more than others. And then there are the majority who don’t work hard. If you work hard, at the bare minimum you’ll be good at whatever you do.

Creators who love to work, enjoy sweating, and are confident they have what it takes to attain success are rare. If you are one you have a major advantage over other painters, writers, performers, etc. who believe high talent is an unreachable dream for them and that sweating is unpleasant.


© 2017 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artistic Perfection, Artists, Creativity, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, High Achievement, Motivation, Preparation, Stamina, Writers

20 responses to “Creative Talent and Sweat

  1. angelanoelauthor

    Perfectly timed post for me! I’m facing some grueling editing and wanting to find the kernel of awesome within the work. Your post inspired me to keep at it, love the sweat, and get to it!


  2. Austin L. Wiggins

    I really like your posts on creativity. I hope to run into some more in the future.


  3. Sweat, yes. And scheduling (if it’s not on my list of things to do, I don’t do it). Thanks for this post. I find your work taps a certain area not always explored by creatives, and that is the vital practice of grit!


    • davidjrogersftw

      Josephine, I’m so glad you’ve turned up. I’ve been wondering about you. I learned a long time ago that a writer has to take a stance and have a definite point of view, and I see you do have a point of view. I like your idea of the importance of scheduling. It’s something I’ll think more about. Thanks for your comment, and let’s stay in touch.


  4. Sharon M Hart

    This is a must read article for students. Many of them have the mistaken notion that luck or IQ determines the level of academic success they achieve. They have a difficult time believing that perseverance is the key. Thank you for writing this so I can share it with others.


  5. Good morning David….Thank you for another superb post…and also for introducing me to Georgiana’s beautiful work.
    I am not quite sure when it first came to my notice, but at some point I realised that many of the most talented people I know – never actually get out of the gate! By that I mean, their natural talent is there, but they seem unable to string two days together where they work consistently….They might produce wonderful work every six months but for whatever the reason they seem to sabotage themselves…..and then again, many lack the gift of self discipline….and you know I believe deeply that ‘self discipline equals freedom’.
    Plato, of course was right on the money….it does take a lot of sweat and determination to hang in there. It’s easy to produce and have a fertile mind when everything is flowing beautifully, it takes a truly dedicated person to continue striving and working when life is throwing curve balls.
    When I am tutoring, I am often heard saying ‘practise practise practise’ – because it is key.
    I have found that by staying in the moment…focusing on the work at hand, and not projecting in my mind what I might wish to happen or develop works best for me.
    As for ‘style’ – When we can look at an artists work and immediately recognise it as theres – then a style has definitely been developed…and like everything else this does take time.
    I will share your blog because I believe your writings on the creative process help so many…they have certainly helped me.
    Enjoy a day of writing…Janet. 🙂


    • davidjrogersftw

      Janet, thank you, my friend, for reblogging my post. I very much enjoy hearing from your friends.

      What an accurate description of hindered, self-sabotaging creatives you have written–fine job. Staying in the moment, focusing on the work, and not letting the mind wander–isn’t that the secret?

      Just this morning I was thinking about the concept of Pratyahara–getting hold of the mind by sitting quietly and watching thoughts go hither and thither, then focusing on the desired result.

      Best wishes to you, Janet, as always.


  6. Hi David. I was directed to your post via Janet W. Reed’s post — inspirational message, and I look forward to enjoying more.


    • davidjrogersftw

      Jet, I’m happy Janet tipped you off to my blog and gratified that you like my post. I look forward to our staying in touch. I looked again at your blog which I was already following, and thought what an interested life you must lead. and how kind of you it is to share it with your readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent blog post! Georgiana is a true gem…multi-talented, generous of spirit, and hardworking. And also an all-around nice person, which can be somewhat rare to find these days.

    I feel quite well grounded and confident in my abilities to climb the ladder of success but recently I’ve noticed more people than usual really struggling with making a breakthrough in their chosen field. Some have given up trying entirely. What a shame… Here’s a pertinent quote from Ross Perot: “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.”

    It’s a difficult road. Keep learning, keep practicing, and take one step at a time and you’ll get there.


    • davidjrogersftw

      Peggy, I think so highly of Georgiana too. Yes, she’s not only so talented, but a good person too. I’m glad you’re confident. You might know from my posts that I think even a talented, creative person won’t go far without strong, indefatigable confidence.

      It’s so true what you say about people giving up so close to success. It’s hard to explain why. It is sad that so many gifted people quit before reaching their peak performance. Discouragement is so cruel. I like the advice you give and hope people follow it. Thanks for the comment.


      • Yes, unfortunately it’s all too commonplace to find people with extraordinary talents who lack confidence, stamina, or one of the many other ingredients that can lead to success. Sometimes they get lucky and make it anyway but usually it takes more than talent to get anywhere.

        I’m new to your blog but I’m following you now and I look forward to reading what you have to say!


        • davidjrogersftw

          Peggy, this pursuit of excellence, of success, of fulfillment is very demanding, isn’t it? It requires so many qualities that not everyone has.


    • davidjrogersftw

      Peggy, I was unable to sign on to FAA because I don’t fit into any of the categories listed. But I want to thank you for reblogging my post and also want to thank your friends who read it and those who commented on it.


      • David, if you ever plan on buying any artwork on Fine Art America you could sign up as a collector. In any case, you’re welcome! Your blog post happened to come along at the perfect time because one of the very talented artists on FAA just closed his account after being discouraged by lack of sales. He was a big part of the FAA community and we just hated to see him go. I thought your blog post would maybe give others some inspiration to keep plugging away.


        • davidjrogersftw

          Peggy, it would please me considerably if my blog posts inspired your friends. I hope they do.


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