What Came First, the Art or the Narcissism?

creativesIn the life of an artist, the first time you show a piece of work to someone — be it a painting, a song, an essay or poem – most often you are flooded with the paralyzing insecurity and self doubt associated with that nagging question every creative person faces: What if this actually sucks? It takes a lot to put yourself out there in the world, totally raw and weird and on display. Wouldn’t it be safer then to keep it to yourself? To create your art for you and you alone?

As it turns out, narcissism might have something to do with the fact your favorite painter or writer or band is out there in the world. (Say it ain’t so, Arcade Fire!) According to a recent study published in Thinking Skills and Creativity, narcissism had a strong correlation with doing creative things and, more specifically, an even stronger correlation with “self-reported creativity.” I surmise that “self-reported creativity” means that narcissists are pretty game to lay on the praise when it comes to their own work. But perhaps this arrogant self-assuredness and confidence in one’s “art” as Art allows for creatives to push forward from obscurity in the first place. I’m sure Jackson Pollack didn’t stand above his work and think to himself that all he did was splatter paint on a canvas.

If creativity is tied to narcissism, it is surely also tied to doubt, torture, and fear.

The goal of most creative people, at least the ones I know, is to be recognized as being, in fact, creative. More important still is to be seen as exceptional in your field, to be a legitimate creative talent. In our world, a person is not validated as an artist until the marketplace decrees it: You are not a writer until you’ve been published, not a musician until you’ve performed a gig, so on and so forth. This is society’s threshold for acknowledgement, a way to separate the good from the bad. Just as not everyone was born to be a neuroscientist, not everyone was born to be an artist. Sorry, Picasso.

So what’s the only way to have the marketplace determine if your work is good or bad? You’ve got to put it out there. Personally, I do not think it is satisfying enough to create work and hide it away, not because it demands to be seen, but my insecurity in its value demands it be vanquished by the validation of my peers. If creativity is tied to narcissism, it is surely also tied to doubt, torture, and fear.

Henry Miller is quoted as saying, “An artist is always alone – if he is an artist… what the artist needs is loneliness.” This vacuum of solitude inherent in creation makes putting the work out there for other people to see of the utmost importance. To keep all creative endeavors — daydream doodles, short stories, stacks of amateur photographs — for yourself and still consider it to be artistic without allowing for someone else’s input to the contrary actually seems more narcissistic. Though it takes confidence to display your work for others, you do so knowing full well the world may come along and slay all of your efforts – ensuring a possibility for groveling humility to counter any unchecked narcissism if ever there were one.

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