How to Succeed When You Have No Talent

Talent is overrated

Man, you’re so talented. I could never do that!

I’ve received variations of this kind of comment ever since I launched my art business. Every piece of art, due to my talent with zero skill building involved.

If you’re an artist, you’ve probably received this kind of thing too. It’s a load of crap.

I’m going to break this statement down to show you why it’s crap.

  1. You’re so talented. This removes your time, practice and effort from the equation. Clearly you were born with a paintbrush in hand and had no say in whether you honed your skills or not. Mona Lisa’s poured out of you when most people were making stick figures.
    Now, if that’s the case, enjoy your talent, but you know as well as I do that you can have butt loads of talent and go nowhere with it. Talent is just a head start, and maybe motivation, it doesn’t dictate success.
  2. I could never do that! This one removes their agency. The commentator’s desire is maybe present, they want the feeling of making cool art, but it’s impossible because they are missing the elusive talent gene. So they can want but it’s fine to never try because they don’t have what it takes.

Maybe you, as an artist looking up to someone who’s farther along than you has thought the same thing. They’re so talented, it’s why they have success. I’ll never get there.

This kind of thinking is lazy, it removes your agency and responsibility and ignores why people have success in the first place. They have success because they show up, do the work and then share it.

Do you know what made me launch my art career? I went to school for art. Studied fine art, illustration and graphic design. Graduated and went into interactive programming (my hobby and other love).

For years, I looked around at other artists and thought the same damn thing about them (talent) and worse about me (not good enough). It didn’t help that my ex also made sure I kept thinking shit about me (not good enough or skilled enough to put my work up for sale). I mention this only because the people around you do absolutely play a role in your mindset.

I have three diplomas in art and all the training you could want but I was most excellent at removing my own agency. In fact, I didn’t launch my art business until 2015 which was twenty years after I finished school!

And why did I launch it? Because I started going to local shows and galleries and seeing the artists who were building successful careers and their work wasn’t all that great. I know that sounds elitist but the reality is, even if you make ok art but show up and sell it relentlessly, you will have a career.

I got mad at myself. I realized that the only thing holding me back was my damn mindset. That I alone was responsible for my success, or lack of it. That my talent was languishing because I wasn’t practising and honing my skills. Yes, I was painting, but not with purpose. And so I changed everything.

If you find yourself thinking and saying things about people’s talent, or worse yet, about your own talent, I want you to remember that talent is nothing but a head start. A way to smooth the path. In the end, it’s mindset and practise that matters.

What levelled me up professionally, once I made the decision to be professional and fuck everyone’s ideas about me and my work, was practise. I made a painting almost every day for a year. At the end of the first month, my art was where I wanted it to be. At the end of the first year, my art was being shown internationally and I felt that I had caught up to those artists I admired and wished I could be like.

Mindset. Practise. Showing up. Being relentless. None of those things require talent.

I want you to remember that, while talent helps, it isn’t necessary. And all the talent in the world isn’t going to make your career if you don’t practise and show up relentlessly.

I could tell you stories about amazing artists who are sabotaging their careers because their mindsets are still fucked up and wrapped around talent (they have it but don’t see it in themselves).

I could tell you a story about this couple I used to know, total douches to work with, but then they shared their single with me and it turns out they could sing! Like seriously, amazingly well. But they couldn’t get their heads in the game to release it outside of their circle of contacts. All that talent and the world doesn’t know what it is missing because this music will never see the light of day.

In so many cases, I think talent gets in the way. If something comes easy, it’s hard to price it right. Or hard to value it. It feels like anyone can do it (anyone can, but will they?).

Even if you think you have no talent, if you have your mind in the game and you really want the prize, do the work. Practise. Show up. Share. Market the hell out of yourself. Rinse, wash, repeat.

This is a marathon and to have success in the end, talent doesn’t matter. It’s all in your head.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

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