Yesterday and today, I did a bit of one-on-one mentoring. Reactions from those I mentored ranged from bristling to passive acceptance. Even though I tried my best to be diplomatic and gentle, egos were vulnerable. To quote Frederic Nietzsche, “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego.’ ”
The last time I used the word ‘dog’ there were a few emails protesting my slur on canines. Here in the studio, Emily didn’t go for it either. Nietzsche’s remark was meant to be negative — as in “capitalists and their running dogs.” I think differently. Ego’s a useful pooch — as well as a mean cur to hang out with.
Both in one puppy. Here’s how: “Ego strength” is the power that keeps artists focussed, tuned in, and running on a positive track. Ego may be at the very root of sustained creativity. It protects us from petty remarks and rebuffs over which there is little control. Ego guards against our natural feelings of inferiority. Otherwise we’d all be permanently poxed with a complex.
There is, however, a darker side to ego. “An egotist is a person of low taste — more interested in himself than in me,” said Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary. The trouble with being interested only in yourself is that it becomes difficult to learn anything from others. Ego blocks input. Can you imagine the amount of information and inspiration that has been forever lost by the interference of ego? It would fill all the libraries.
Both mentors and mentees learn to mind their egos. While vital to the creative soul, egos must still be kept under control and forever in training. Some egos are slow learners. Furthermore, old ego habits come more easily than new ones. Here’s a time-honoured system for ego management: Hitch yourself to a greater ego — however you may have come to understand it. Your own ego will be put more into perspective. “Our real nature is not our imaginary, limited ego. Our true nature is vast, all-comprehensive, and as intangible as empty space. (Lama Govinda)
PS: “Self love seems so often unrequited.” (Anthony Powell)
Esoterica: “I really didn’t want to hear that,” said one artist as she left. “It’s just an opinion,” I countered. An opinion, I think, is one of the less expensive commodities. I was doing the job for free. Another artist confided to me that she was “inadequate.” I wanted to say “Buck up,” but I knew that buck up is one of the worst things anyone ever said. After a few seconds her ego took care of the matter. “I can do it,” she said. Emily gave us both a pleasing little bark.
No more fear
by Gena LaCoste
My ego would have me living with a thin river of misery — When I’m in my own mind I’m behind enemy lines! So it’s the part that guards us against feelings of inferiority? Mine is merciless in its constant criticism — I totally believe that it blocks input. So now I intend daily to be open to what my true nature wants me to know. I’ve learned to recognize the ego’s strident yammering by the simple fact that everything it has to say engenders fear. I don’t choose fear any more, but Love, instead.
by Angelika Ouellette, Calgary, AB, Canada
I look for ways to use the limitations of matter to create a view of the layers I perceive between matter, that which is invisible — it makes me look deep within myself to explore my relationship with what I perceive as outside of self. The ego, that piece of the universe that recognizes itself as separate, is always evolving. As it recognizes new distinctions of its relationship with its source it is able to manifest from the invisible into the visible. I believe the ego/personality is a tool used to explore Earth consciousness. The only time my ego becomes a liability is when I believe ‘I am’ is unconnected to that empty space.
Egos just mildly sensed
by David Louis, Coventry, UK
An ego can be a dynamic force especially for a creative person, but it has to be measured, compartmentalized and channeled correctly. I have met some deluded people that have not taken the time out to do this and as a result that dynamic force then only incites the sympathy of their peers. I feel an ego should be like a warm breeze, never seen, just mildly sensed.
Ego a three-letter word
by Lida Van Bers
Ego, just a three-letter word and yet so interesting. If we did not have an ego, we would be lost. Feeding it too much we would also be lost. Ego should be the word ‘humble,’ so the sentence should be, “I (ego) have been given this gift (humble) to work on this project the way I see it (positive thinking) and I am starting right now (will-power) and it does not matter if it sells — I am doing it because I have to do what is inside me, which is the true me (courage).
by Russ Williams, Austin, Texas, USA
Gerald M. Weinberg’s classic 1971 book, The Psychology of Computer Programming, introduced the concept he called “egoless programming.” He observed that ego can cause creators to identify too closely with their creation, and thus resist useful outside feedback and objective analysis of the work (as they misperceive critique of the work as critique of themselves). There is a balance needed between humility and assertiveness to be creatively effective.
by Kathy Arnason, Willow Island, Manitoba, Canada
To work from our hearts we must by-pass ego altogether. It is through the shear passion to grow that the energy of our creative spirit surpasses the ego. Though the darkest work may come from the saddest heart it will be the ego that imprisons its spirit.
by Eva Kosinski, Louisville, CO, USA
The ego that brought the Impressionists together to show their work, in spite of the fact that the establishment didn’t want what they had to offer, does not appear to exist to the same degree in our times. The kind of ego we are missing is the kind that says, “Art has something to tell you, and we are going to tell you whether or not you want to hear it.”
by Paul Kane
Recently, I read a passage in a book about prayer in which a participant in a retreat happened to pass by the room of one of the retreat leaders, someone she regarded as a spiritual giant, early in the morning. She couldn’t help but notice that he was praying and she stopped briefly to listen, hoping for some extraordinary insight. To her shock, he was praying in a very selfish way: “God, please help me” sort of stuff. At first, she was taken aback. Then she realized that it made sense for him to start by acknowledging the more selfish aspects of his ego. We always hope that as we mature, the less admirable parts of us will fall away. I think that they never do.
by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada
As far as egos are concerned, I believe they are only the wrappings which prevent us from merging our individual identities with the cosmic or universal identity that we all share. We all come to it from our own path and are reluctant to let go of the identifying markings we have collected along the way. We can get attached to those egos and those quirks that we think make us unique, even when we should be moving beyond them. Not that I would have us all paint the same way, God forbid, but I believe that when we make contact with the unbounded which lies at the deepest level of our consciousness, we re-emerge into our individual identities or egos with strengthened individuality.
Place of insecurity
by J. Baldini, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Most of us are looking for acceptance and approval and most of us don’t separate ourselves from our art. Those of us who don’t fit in the mainstream would like to think on some level that we fit in somewhere. When we ask for critique of our work, we ask from this place of insecurity and it’s easier for some of us than others to lose our footing.
by Torrie Groening, San Francisco, California, USA
Regarding your mention of an effective computer program for artists in the last responses, I have now been using Gallerysoft for a couple months and wanted to send along my positive feedback. I researched several programs made for artists and dealers and chose this one based on cost and ease of setup. Another very important benefit for me has been the friendly and helpful support. (Someone answers the phone!) You can try it out for a free month and then keep all your work entered if you decide to purchase the program.
Essence of the mind
by Carolynn Doan
Webster Universal Dictionary definition of ego: That part of the individual which thinks consciously. Egoism: Concentration of the mind on one’s own interests and advantage. Doctrine that self-interest is the spring and motive of human action. The quote from Lama Govinda is very beautiful but would you consider that his remarks are not of ego but rather the true essence of the mind. Ego is always present. For those on ‘the path’ it is that which we work on the most. In my opinion that which limits the ‘creative juices’ the most. Ego is responsible for clouding the mind on the conscious level. It is far more difficult to access that part of oneself where the creative thought begins when one is attached to a certain outcome, a certain standard. I personally find ego very limiting and the ego-energy often intoxicating. If we, as artists, were able to create each image, each form without the presence of ego, out of the shear love of doing, because we need to…. the mind can only imagine! I am saying that I see ego as only a limiting force but one that is always with us.
Ochres from Roussillon
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, Ontario, Canada
Regarding Heather Smith’s query about using ochres from Roussillon: Ralph Mayer’s Book, The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques has a section on formulas for mixing, another on grinding pigments for watercolour. I used Roussillon oxides in egg tempera painting decades ago, re-grinding with mortar and pestle, then using the traditional egg/water/drop vinegar mix as binder. Gum Arabic, glycerine are good too — and makes you appreciate what artists went through before the lead tube was invented.
Ego only real enemy
by Alar Jurma, Montreal, Canada
It’s probably more to do with semantics than with what actually is, but to me “ego” is our one and only real enemy and that must be fought hard every inch of the way or it will eventually usurp all that we value and hold dear to us. And the fighting part of course is really not “fighting” at all, but about “recognizing” our mistakes and just letting go of our wrong understanding. Pogo, the comic strip character, once remarked many years ago: “I have found the enemy and it is us.” Ego is the root cause of some pretty serious human suffering like war, crime, violence, government and business waste, a ridiculously high cost of living, addictive behavior, all sorts of disagreements, estrangements, divorce, and myriad forms of deception and selfish behavior. It exacts a very heavy cost on all of us.
Grayson Fullerton Gibbs
oil painting on linen by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Glenn Morgan who writes, “Somewhere inside of me a voice will say, ‘You can do as well as that.’ Ego?”
And Charles Corbett who asks, “Surely art, any form of creative art, is an expression of ego?”
And John Ferrie who says, “I often wonder why artists bother to put their work up on the wall if they don’t want to hear anything critical. I think they must have had their work on the fridge their whole lives and had nothing but praise.”
And Mark Lovett of Maryland, USA who wrote, “Sometimes I feel like an ego-maniac with an insecurity complex.”