Creative people get called selfish more than almost anyone else I know. But I have a secret: I believe that a person calls an artist “selfish” because that person is mad that the artist won’t do something that the person wants them to do.
Billy is feeling uncertain and lonely and wants Sally’s attention. Sally’s mind is on other things, like maybe her novel or her gallery opening or her rehearsal. Billy gets a little peeved, and then maybe he gets angry and then he accuses Sally of being selfish. Billy calls Sally “selfish” because Sally is not doing what Billy wants Sally to do.
And in just such a way, artists are muffled.
(Sometimes you’ll hear some condescending theories about why there are so few great female artists in history. I maintain that there have been countless great female artists throughout history, but most of them never got a chance to do their work because the minute someone called them “selfish” they caved.)
So, people might call you selfish when you are not fulfilling their desires. Even if it’s a desire for you; a desire they are having on your behalf. In other words, a parent who’s concerned about their child “wasting” their education on a career in the arts might call that child “selfish.”
I would guess that there is some part of you that really, truly wants to fulfill other people’s desires.
Particularly the desires of your family and loved ones. And fulfilling other people’s desires is a fine activity, especially when you can do so with a full and generous spirit.
And there’s probably some part of you that couldn’t care two figs about what everyone else desires for you. That’s good – let’s cultivate that part a little bit. Not constantly, of course. Constantly putting your own desires ahead of everyone else’s really is selfish. If you’re in the habit of doing that, you should cut it out.
People love to call artists “selfish” because art is self-expression. Art is perhaps the ultimate self-expression. By definition, it has absolutely nothing to do with what other people want.
So by reading this blog, by committing to your art, by trying some of the exercises and opening yourself to some new ways of thinking about the work you love, you are being selfish: in the very best, highest possible meaning of that word.
And if the idea of being selfish freaks you out, think of it this way: time spent on your art makes you a better, happier, more fulfilled, more interesting person. And giving the gift of you as happy, interesting person to your family and friends is the very opposite of selfish.
Plus, we haven’t even gotten to the part about how much the art you create will help the world.
Have you been called “selfish”? Do you worry that you might be perceived as selfish? How do you handle that?