Mind your ego


Dear Artist,

A subscriber wrote, “I fear I lack what’s required to be a great artist. My work seems to blend in with the work of others, I have trouble putting myself forward and I’m plagued with self-doubt. Am I just lacking the ego to do it properly?”


“Sara in Contraluz, Hornby Island, BC”
acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 inches
by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

Thanks. You’re not lacking ego — everyone has one. You may have merely misplaced your ego’s good stuff while mistaking its darker qualities for the absence of one. Barbra Streisand said, “My ego is responsible for my doing what I do — bad or good.” Not ego, but ego-management propels sustained, quality work. And sustained, quality work breeds what you fear you lack: a signature style, the courage to advocate for your work and the understanding that your doubts can be squashed with creative triumphs. If mismanaged, the ego becomes a block: a prison of fear or an enfant terrible of attention-seeking mediocrity. If understood and harnessed, the ego bolsters the creative soul by allowing it to take the risks necessary to share your unique and personal offerings.


“Sea Stack Pattern — Dare Beach on the West Coast Trail”
acrylic on canvas, 30 x 34 inches
by Robert Genn

The tricky thing about ego is that it’s in perpetual training. An undeveloped one doesn’t want to be vulnerable, projecting a false competence and fizzling under inevitable pressure. As artists, this is a kiss of death and breeds impersonal, if not meaningless, work — or no work. As artists, a harnessed ego grits through the loneliness of new ideas and the belief that they’re worth realizing. Think of this workmanlike practice as “positive ego force.” Ego force is the energy of your self-belief propelling ambitious projects, making mistakes, quieting negative thinking, bolstering meaning, diminishing comparisons and releasing only your best. Painters need to be believers in their own purpose when no one is applauding. It also helps to be a gusher of enthusiasm when it’s time to share. The fierce chant of your ego force, if even a temporary battle cry summoned through repeated practice, keeps her real and on the field.


“Linares de la Sierra 2000”
acrylic on canvas, 30 x 34 inches
by Robert Genn



PS: “Ego force propels the worker to improve. Ego force brings the worker back and back again to his work. Ego force is the spark plug of artistic vision. Ego force is also key to one of the artist’s greatest needs: the art of letting go.” (Robert Genn)

Esoterica: My dad used to tell me that my work should be recognizable from across a room, supported with quality at nose-distance and confirmed with my signature in the lower right-hand corner. My ego force is the whispering cheerleader in my day-to-day creative strivings who reassures me that this feat is possible. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it,” said Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. How to propagate less “ego” and more “ego force?” The answer is work. Work begets skills. Skills beget belief. Belief begets more work.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)



  1. Sara,
    Great job putting into words this complicated subject…the ego… that appears in so many aspects of our lives and relationships.
    I really enjoy reading your letters. Thank you for doing what you do!

  2. Thank you Sara. I think I lack a good dose of that “workmanlike practice”. I tend to wimp out on my more difficult ideas in fear I will fail. I’ll be more mindful of this shortcoming.
    The portrait of you by your father is just stunning.

  3. Wow~ Words cannot describe “Sara in Contraluz”!

    and thank you for your clear and honestly relatable writing.


  4. Thanks Sara. Advocating for my work seems to be absent these days but I am quietly striving to protect my vision and ego force and like the quiet of my space to create – absent the world. My art critic is keeping me on the straight and narrow [ http://www.robintimms.com/art critic]….. It might bring you a smile or two ..

  5. I really love this blog. Sara, you are doing a great job at continuing your father’s work and contributing your own insights. Slowly it will all become yours. Thank you so much for taking us and it seriously enough to do it. It is a real bonus to my day when I get to read it.

  6. Thank You Sara & Robert!!!!!
    At times it is impossible to validate all the bad work which has been revered because of the responsible artist’s personal ego being so grand it forced itself upon the collective psyche as a grand accomplishment….how many times the word genius is casually bantered about….how many sponsors are acolytes?, critics?, rich uncles?…but of course this is just my own personal ego being jealous! I needed this kick in the buhuncous telling me to stop whining and start working!!
    Thanks again…..

  7. John Francis on

    ‘Painters need to be believers in their own purpose when no one is applauding.’ I couldn’t agree more. The ego is, essentially, a ‘silent partner’. With a voice only heard by oneself. Actors learn, from techniques developed by Stanislavski, to develop a character’s ‘inner monologue’. What goes through your mind when you are *not* speaking. Your ‘silent partner’ can be an ally, but can also be a foe. For an actor, that brings depth to a character. But it is scripted. What goes through your mind as you paint, however, is rarely ‘scripted’. For some painters (Jackson Pollock), the act of painting is literally a performance for an audience of one. The painter themself. My own initial works took a huge leap forward in craft, execution, objectivity and enthusiasm for the results when I began being more selective in what Music I’m listening to as my eyes and hands are engaged. It’s not just a background, though. It also provides a handy ‘focal point’ for those constant and frequent moments when you pause, step back from what sits in front of you. Radio is a brilliant source in that you don’t know what will be played next. I favour Music without Vocals or Drums. They’re ‘interesting’ to the point of being a constant distraction. Classical compositions are like having a companion on a quiet walk in the country. That ‘inner voice’ of the ego is effectively silenced by the Music.

  8. Sara,
    Your response put me to tears. It is not because of sadness, but because of joy! Your words spoke the ultimate truth!
    I came here from a different culture and often lamented about different purpose and values of art here. I felt misunderstood and along . But not today! You remind me again that we are all humans and our humanistic values are the same across the world. As artists we are bound to share and promote this unity.
    I’m so happy that I found your blog!!! Very tearful thank you!

  9. Tom also said in that movie…..”Ther’s no crying in basebal.” Also I good thing for artists to remember. Move on and ‘do better’ with what comes next!

  10. Wonderful advice . If you don’t toot your horn a little , no one will hear you , or take your art seriously . I used to think that my art would speak for itself , but sometimes a shout out doesn’t hurt . What you do , is who you are . Be proud

  11. Sara, I really liked your latest post about the ego and particularly about the importance of keeping a strong voice even though at the moment nobody hears or sees.. or words to that effect. Lovely to see such a loving picture of you by your obviously very dear father and not surprisingly you reflect this back . Good to see Robert’s painting of a scene in a Spanish /Mexican village (?) v different from rocky mountains firs and lakes..lighter. You write with great intelligence Sara and trust us to get it .. and we do. Keep Looking, seeing and only repeat when the heart is aching or joyful in its’ response no laziness team ! Ann Froshaug

  12. So helpful in many ways, mixing music and art is a wonderful means of producing your best, unknown to one at the time, results speak a thousand words for me. many thanks for these grea t guides to personal production of whatever it may be. Thankyou.

  13. Sandip Mandal on

    Great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “if the dark night brings a storm at the door – then let the lightening ignite the light in you alone to shine on the path; if no one heeds your call – then walk alone”.

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