Artistry and Ego

In my opinion, artists (this encompasses all the arts), walk hand-in-hand with Self-doubt, Self-critic and Ego. They’re numbers one, two, and three on your friends list and they NEVER go away.

Artists, in truth, are solitary creatures. The writer/poet who spends much of their time with a computer or notebook. The artist that works hours Writing_girlon end with brush, hands, camera, etc. The dancer who works alone incessantly in the studio. The actor who studies and memorizes their lines behind closed doors.  The composer/musician with just an instrument and paper. The designer that works solo at drafting table, cutting table, the darkened theatre, a computer. Some may have a team, or troupe, or ensemble, or critique group, but the bottom line is, those of us who strive to express ourselves through artistry, are ultimately alone with our craft.

With the exception of our three friends.

actorThere is always that niggling Self-doubt. What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like my story/poem, song, painting, design, performance, etc? What if I never realize my dream?

Or, the nasty Self-critic. It tells  you you’re not good enough. It tells you your story/poem, song painting, design, performance, etc. sucks! It tells you you’ll never realize your dream.

Then there’s Ego, and it can go many ways. Ego can be your detriment:dancer

I’m good enough, there’s no way they won’t like my (fill in the blank). This (fill in the blank) is awesome! It’ll become the next greatest (fill in the blank).

Pride goeth before the fall. You get bad reviews, or your work doesn’t sell, your performance was flat, or others in your craft are disparaging and you get sucked down into a black pit of despair at which time Self-doubt and Self-critic become your BFFs.

Or, Ego can be your savior:

designSomeone liked my (fill in the blank)! If I reach, touch, inspire, entertain someone, even one person with my (fill in the blank), it’s all worth it. I think this (fill in the blank) is awesome, I hope others will too.

Not setting yourself up for the fall, you get mixed reviews, or your work doesn’t sell as well as expected, but does sell, your performance mediocre, but acceptable, or others in your craft are disparaging, but not harsh, and you don’t let it get you down even though Self-doubt and Self-critic are still on your friends list.

Or, Ego let’s you get silly or obnoxious:composer

I’m on top of the world! Take that nay sayers, I did it! Yippee!! My (fill in the blank) is awesome! My (fill in the blank) rocked! OMG, I hope this lasts. What (fill in the blank) do I do next? Can I top that? Can I at least maintain my artistry?

Feeling good and still on your feet. You get rave reviews, your work sells, you get standing ovations, you’re written up in articles, etc., others in your craft are encouraging/supportive/disparaging depending on their own egos, and YES, Self-doubt and Self-critic are still your friends.

artBecause, they are ALWAYS there for the artist.

For me, I’ve gone through all of it. Most of the time privately, because that’s the way I am. However, I can only go so long before it boils over or oozes out. I have a voice that smacks my friend Ego every time it gets out of hand, but that’s another topic. I’m not sure it’s a good or bad thing, because that same voice doesn’t throw down with Self-doubt and Self-critic and maybe it should. I’ve been sharing company with the two of them a little too much lately.

How about you? Do you have ways of reigning in these things or do you let them run rampant? Are these miscreants on your friends list?



  1. lisafender said,

    August 20, 2013 at 07:02

    I think I deal with these on a daily basis lol! Sometimes I have to give myself a pep-talk. Good post Robin!

    • RGCalkins said,

      August 20, 2013 at 07:45

      Thanks, Lisa. Most of the time a pep talk will work. Unfortunately, I’ve had to go a few rounds with these guys lately and poor Ego is pretty bruised.

  2. Ryan said,

    August 20, 2013 at 10:12

    You mention Ego and I immediately think of Sigmund Freud. Of course, for Freud, the Ego was a mediator between the primitive drives of the Id (“I’m the best and I want it now”) and the reality of society and the environment. Then of course, there’s the Super-Ego, which internalizes culture, mores, and norms. But I digress.

    I think the most dangerous of these three frenemies are the ugly bastard twins, self-doubt and self-criticism. While I would caution against thinking that we rock and are comprised of pure awesomeness, it’s equally if not more dangerous to think we’re not good enough and that everything we do sucks. Because if we think that all the time, we’ll never get anything accomplished as a result of fear.

    As humans, we can find fault in anything. All we have to do is look for it. And because we know our work as well as we do, we find it even easier to find fault with it. We try to objectively evaluate our work, which makes us even more critical than necessary (we’re trying to be objective, right? That means we can’t say that paragraph is pure brilliance, but we can consider that slightly awkward phrase a reason to toss the whole manuscript because it’s crap).

    The consequence is that we typically view our work in very poor light. I know I do. I’m always second-guessing my work, but I’ve learned to trust my author voice. I know that almost invariably, what I write first—from the heart/gut/creative brain—is going to be better than what I think I should have written instead when i review it.

    There’s a story I’ve been writing for 9 years now in one form or another. I haven’t committed it to any consistent form and I have not published any part of it (though I have published something AFTER it, the Shadows series, and will soon be publishing yet another thing that follows it, Shadows of a Distant Past). But I haven’t published it because I just haven’t quite figured out the whole story.

    There have been several major versions of this story. I shared its many forms with a friend of mine in Baltimore. When I decided the version I was working on was crap (didn’t take long, a mere 20,000 words), I tossed it and started anew. I shared this new version with my friend because I was really proud of it. And you know what she told me? “I preferred the original. It had more soul.”

    Those last four words … that’s why I think fear, and its ugly cousins, self-doubt and self-criticism, are dangerous bastards.

    And they haunt us all.

    • RGCalkins said,

      August 20, 2013 at 10:50

      So true and exactly what I intended. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment, even the digression. It’s my first manuscript that has the insidious twins dogging my steps and I vacillate between listening to them and wanting to take them to the woodshed.

      I’ve all but stopped work on that story and have begun another, which may see publication before it. We’ll see. I’m pretty stubborn and the twins know it. They also underestimate my inner masochist and no matter how much they beat me up (or I because of them) it tends to make me rebel and fight harder. I figure I win either way. I do have a few published short stories and poems and eventually I’ll have novel published it just remains to be seen which one first.

  3. Jody Romero said,

    August 23, 2013 at 12:14

    Interesting observations on the ego. What works best for me is to observe my emotions, ego, actions from outside myself like someone just people watching. It calms me and helps me find the truth in the moment without losing precious energy. That is if I remember to do it. 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone

    • RGCalkins said,

      August 23, 2013 at 13:06

      Yes, and I think if you truly know yourself (and many of us don’t or don’t want to) it’s easier to do.

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