What is grit and how does it help artists? Hi, my name is Carrie and I help artists like you refine your skill and develop your unique voice. Today on Artist Strong we dive into the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.



So: what is grit? Duckworth defines it as a kind of determination created by, or made of, a combination of passion and perseverance. Grit means resilient and hardworking. It means a deep knowing about what you want and the “stick-to-it-ness” to get there.

Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who has most of her professional life unpacking grit. Why? Because she believes, as I do, that grit is the source of people’s personal and professional success.

Even better: she thinks we can ALL develop grit.

Her work has earned her the label of “genius” as a MacArthur Fellow. She was nominated and selected for this very prestigious away in 2013. Her passion is to help education. If we can create and cultivate systems that encourage grit, imagine the world we will live in?!

She opens the book with stories and research about grit and offers us a quiz to help us assess our own level of grit. She has a scale you can use, which I’ve linked below this video.

Now, why am I talking about this book to an audience of artists? Because if you want to improve your skill, find your unique artist voice, or are promoting, exhibiting, selling your work… you NEED grit.

Something we all talk about in creative industries is rejection. People are terrified of it. When I was younger it was a measuring stick of my worth. I didn’t realize it was a natural part of life AND  only the first boundary and test of our resolve.

Grit is the part where we get rejected from the first juried art exhibition and get right back up and apply to another.

Do you know of a single artist in history who faced NO rejection in their career? And yet, so many wonder if their art is valuable because of the very rejections we must face if we want to succeed in our art.

Duckworth shares the story of cartoonist Robert Mankoff who was rejected 2,000 times between 1974 and 1977. But he kept on sending his work to The New Yorker. Eventually they hired him to be a contract cartoonist!

Her book is full of research and anecdotes that will get you thinking about your own grit. Here are 3 takeaways for you and your art:

(1) Talent is almost irrelevant.

Like researcher Anders Ericsson and author Daniel Coyle share, Ducksworth argues we place undue focus on talent. In fact, our culture is more comfortable putting people on a pedestal who seem to have “natural” inclinations than those we know who “work hard” for it.

She gave our surveys testing people’s subconscious bias and found we like the story of innate talent more. Why? Because it frees us from wondering if we should do more with our own lives. “Well, if they were born good at art… then how can I ever as good as them?” It gives us permission to stay exactly where we are today.

I hope you instead see this information as freedom to act. YOU CAN change your skill level and develop a unique artist voice. The question is: do you want to do the work to get there?

(2) Grit helps you practice.

People with grit are willing to practice longer. She mentions the work of Anders Ericsson, who coined the term deliberate practice. Specific strategies of practice, like the one I offer in my program Better Drawing Bootcamp, can help you build skill faster than if you practice without a specific strategy and formula in place. It’s not specifically about how long you practice: it’s more important to practice within specific conditions.

Part of practice to develop your grit is to do one thing that makes you uncomfortable every day. What can you do today for your art that will stretch you?

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(3) Find purpose.

Many self-help articles talking about finding purpose in your life and it leaves people feeling like something is missing in their lives when they don’t know what that purpose is. Duckworth’s research has a more pragmatic approach.

You will realize your purpose slowly, over time, through exploring many ideas and pursuits. But when you start to repeatedly return to one idea, one artform, one message… your purpose will be evident from those choices.

Art is my passion, but serving others is my purpose. I feel called to share my knowledge. In doing this, I also have to make and explore my own art. This, for me, gives me permission and direction to create.

The big message here is: don’t see purpose as this magical thing you should innately know about yourself!

I started teaching because it would give me a steady paycheck and healthcare AND allow me to explore art. Over the past 10-15 years I’ve stopped that steady paycheck but I now know I’ll never stop teaching.

If you asked me my purpose when I started teaching at the age of 22 I would have laughed. Be patient but be curious: reflect, learn and grow.

I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth. Please consider supporting my work and buying her book through my affiliate link below this video.

If you want to seek more ways to build your skill and use your grit join me for a free 7 day challenge called Drawing Drills. Click on the button below this video to get started.

Be Creatively Courageous: What is one action you can take today that will help you face a fear around your art and help you build your “grit” muscle? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next week.