Artists are often known for having a “big ego.” But is it necessarily a bad thing? In this fantastic video, Sean Tucker discusses what it actually means to have an ego and how it can be essential for us as artists. He talks about ego’s positive and negative sides, and how important it is to balance them.
As he often does, Sean starts the video with a couple of quotes. One of them particularly caught my attention:
“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God almighty” – John Lennon
It reminded me of an illustration I saw somewhere on the internet ages ago that looked like something like this:
I can totally relate to this, both as a photographer and a writer. One part of me loves sharing what I write or shoot with others. But the other part of me feels the crippling self-doubt that turns to equally crippling anxiety when I need to publish my work and share it with the world. These are two sides of the same coin, and this coin is called ego.
What is ego?
When you say “ego,” it has a negative connotation in common language. This is the case in English, but also in my mother tongue (Serbian). However, having an ego is not actually a negative trait. It’s neither a good nor a bad thing. Rather, it’s both at the same time. It’s not just artists who have an ego, everyone has one. However, the ego is essential for artists, and we need to learn how to balance its good and bad sides.
The term “ego” was defined by Freud, who distinguished between the id, ego, and superego. If you’re not familiar with these concepts, you can learn more about them here. Put simply, the ego is what creates a balance between our basic drives (id) and our moral conscience (superego). It’s the realistic part of our psyche which mediates between them.
When the ego is essential for artists
As Sean already noted, the ego is extremely important for artists. We need to be self-centered, but not in a negative way. Instead, we need to know who we are and what we want to create when we make art. As artists, we need to stand for ourselves and to stand behind our artwork. But also, we need to be able to handle criticism, and healthy ego helps us do all of this.
Having a healthy ego means creating something for yourself. In other words, think of a type of art you’d like to see – and make that kind of art. Healthy ego gives you proper focus because you’ll stop trying to reach everyone and please everyone’s taste. And only when you do this, will you really reach the audience that really appreciates and loves your work.
When the ego can hold artists back
Sean admits that he struggles with a negative aspect of his ego. In his words, he likes to impress people and he can get toxic and defensive when it comes to criticism. I believe we all have these moments, but the trick is not to give in when they occur.
As Sean puts it, a little humiliation every day can get you back on track and remind you who you are. I believe it can remind you to stay humble and down to earth. You need to remember that you are not your ego – you’re smarter than it, and you’re the one in control. So, catch your own thoughts when you start thinking of yourself feeling superior to others. Catch that moment, take control of it, and put your negative ego to bed.
In summary, our ego helps us through criticism and it makes us stand behind what we do. On the other hand, we need to be careful about the ego games that will make us feel superior to others. We need to find the fine balance between the positive and the negative aspects of our ego to be successful artists, but also to be happy, healthy and fulfilled human beings.
[The Artist’s Ego: Learning Balance| Sean Tucker]