Absolute Narcissism and Crippling Self Doubt / by Chris Hall

Sometimes it might seem to outsiders that artists can be egotistic and narcissistic creatures.   Sure, artists must be selfish with their time, and many artists require a strong, singular vision in order to produce work, and pride often comes with that, but egotism and narcissism?  Well, that serves a purpose, too.  The egotism and narcissism is a self-protection measure, a constructed shield to buffer against the inevitable criticism of the artist’s work, and by extension, the artist’s life, which is often intrinsically connected to the work by their personal philosophy and world view.   It is good for an artist to have thick skin.  Often, though, this constructed shield hides a more sensitive soul that needs protection, and this sensitive soul is necessary if one is to produce good art.  

Although some would argue that the very act of producing artwork is a generous act, that someone who would share themselves with the world shares a gift, I do not think this is always true.  The artist creates for many reasons, many not so generous.  This is why it is important to remember that no good art can be created out of egotism and narcissism.  The result would be decadent, ungenerous, and selfish.  The trick is to present a bit of an ego to the world, project confidence, while remaining humble in the studio.  Good art can only be made in that blurry zone between egotism and self doubt.

Sometimes, however, the protective shield breaks down to a point where there is crippling self doubt, and this happens more often to artists than you would think.  In this state no art can be made, no true art, anyways.  Sylvia Plath would write in her journal, "The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt."  She is deadly accurate.  Inspirational writer Melissa Ng tells us, “Self-doubt is greedy. When it’s loose, it devours your confidence, strips logic and reason from your mind, and steals happiness from your heart. In return, it leaves you with only fear and insecurity.”   Self-doubt can persuade us to stop creating or keep us from sending our work out into the world.  It can effect the creative process, too, as an artist must always be confident and self-assured in their vision if they are to capture inspiration along the way.  But how does an artist recover from crippling self doubt?  

There are many self doubts and fears that can prevent an artist from working.  One fear that haunts me is the question, “what if I’m not good enough?” Other self doubts include “my work isn’t as good as I had imagined it to be,” or “people will steal my work and ideas.”  Toss in “people won’t take me seriously as an artist,” or “I’m not original enough” for good measure, too.  

“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” Honore de Balzac

Some people will give you the pat answer to just think positive.  This, sadly, is often not enough.  If you want to get past self-doubt, then you need to get back into the studio and work it out.  There is no other solution.  Getting back into the studio can be hard, though. Thankfully there are some tools you can use to get back into the studio and defeat self doubt.

1.  Remind yourself of what you want to do and why you want to do it.  Perhaps there is some inner longing in you that needs to be addressed, or maybe a sense of mission. 
2.  Find ways to value the creative process as much as the end product.  When you value the creative process, you inevitably spend more time making art, and the more time you spend making art, the better you will become at it, and the better the art product will be, too.
3.  Spend sometime around the work that inspires and motivates you.  Look over the work of your heroes and reignite the passion to create again.
4.  Spend sometime talking with someone you trust.  Having an objective, sympathetic, and understanding mind to look over your block can help get you out of a rut.
5.  Make use of your inspirational tools, maybe it is writing, or perhaps a particular song.  Do whatever it takes to get back into an environment where creativity and inspiration can thrive.

Once you are back into the studio, just start working again.  Take small steps if you have to.  You will find that one mark will inevitably lead to another and inspiration will begin to multiply exponentially.  It is good to remember Van Gogh’s words, “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”