The Illusion of Prodigy

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Before he painted whores, Picasso started with horses.

This piece, The Picador, is what we have on record as the artist’s earliest work. He did this at age nine. Nine!

And to this day, that is how we see Picasso — an genius who sprung from the womb with a paintbrush, infinite ability, and unquenchable talent.


Except his father was an art teacher, who had supplies aplenty for Toddler Pablo to experiment with.

Except he was terrible in school and nobody made him keep trying, so he kept painting.

Except he watched his sister die before she was a teen, thus absolving him of a promise he made to quit painting if God saved her.

Except he had to burn sketches and poetry for warmth to stay alive as a young adult when nobody cared about him.

Believing creativity is a binary switch is one of the more toxic myths — especially in an era where creativity is no longer an option, but a mandate. The more we tell stories of brilliant artists who were touched by the hand of God, the more impotent we feel. With each retelling, these stories move further toward fairy tale status, removing all the less-than-sexy details like those of young Picasso faced.

Was Picasso a prodigy? Possibly.

But that only cements his legend, not his legacy.

The latter was created by a truckload of work.

“Actual prodigies are so rare. Our misconception about them is a creation of book and Hollywood writers who toiled for years learning their craft and then invented unrealistic teen characters with impossible genius and made the rest of us think such a thing is possible.”

Matt Richtel

Written by

An optimist who writes.

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