THE MYTH OF THE HUMBLE ARTIST


I recently had dinner with my cousin who is an extremely talented professional art photographer with a gorgeous book coming out soon. We are able to talk about the book profession and publishers and art truthfully without any of the artifice we employ when talking to readers, book store employees or our editor. By this I mean we can admit to each other that we have huge egos. And boy was it a relief to tell her that I honestly I think I'm on par with the authors I admire so much. And she can tell me the same thing- and I am sure she's right.
In me this is matched by a crippling insecurity from time to time. In her, I'm not so sure. But even when I disparage my own work, deep down I still think it's pretty good in comparison with whatever else is out there. The plot may need work but I'm pleased with the characters, or vice versa; or it might contain just enough of a spark of something creative and different that makes it worth pursuing. Where I am hardest on myself is when I compare it to what I have written before, what I hope to write in the future, the best work I feel I am capable of. So basically when I say my work sucks, I'm still saying (deep, deep down inside) that it's pretty good actually for where I'm at in my profession. I'm just saying I can do better. Much, much better.
So what is this weird sort of false humility? And why am I so surprised to see it in myself?
If you've read the blog, you know I worked in the music industry for almost twenty years. I was head of sales for a distributor, head of marketing for a few labels, head of a&r for few more labels, and I went to countless conventions (until they got over-run by a different kind of working girl) and shmoozed with the stars and drank a lot of cosmopolitans. And I met a lot of musical artists: Donny Osmond (when he was making his come-back) and Lou Reed (when it was just him and his guitar), George Clinton of Parliament (he sure was funky!) and Tupac (first when he was just a dancer and many times after he re-invented himself) and Ice-Tee and Ice Cube and Sweet Tee and Hi-C; pretty much every rapper out there. And they were all very nice and HUMBLE. At first. But then they'd start to want things: you know special m and ms, or carbonated spring water from a small spring in the Himalayas, or non-carbonated spring water, or a better shelf-position, or whatever. I even met a couple of artists who referred to themselves in the third person- always a dead giveaway!
I think that if you have the desire to write or draw or sing or rap, you have to have enough of an ego to do it, otherwise you'd just stay curled up in a little ball in the corner of your room beset by the demons of creativity, and whimper your life away. So you have to be able to think to yourself- "Hey I am going to do this. And not only that but I am going to get it out there." And that's just dandy but after that it gets worse because egos get fed and then they grow. So say you're fortunate enough to get published for instance, well then of course you come to expect it to happen again, and you see the other celebrity authors out there getting flown everywhere and wined and dined and having their every whim catered to (I know, there's what? Like two of those people in the whole world?) and you start thinking that one of them should be you. I mean, don't we all want our own posse of sycophants?
So in a very short while after getting published you've gone from the quiet, grateful sort of author who cannot believe her good luck and just smiles shyly when someone compliments her work to someone who demands worship and accolades and I don't know what.
I think the ego is good, confidence is good, as long as you do the work and don't get swept up by all the other stuff cause then how will you know if you're still reaching as high and pushing yourself as far as you should be? How will you know if your work is getting better and better and you become more accomplished at your craft? How does Michael Jackson know what's good or bad anymore?
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