Self-loathing, Self-loving & Creativity

 

A photo I accidentally took as I was framing a photograph as part of a a smartphone photo a day project. To me it expressed my concentration in trying to frame and create the "perfect image" and the wonderful world of happy accidents but without a doubt is a visual representation of my narcissism and the creative process.

A photo I accidentally took as I was framing a photograph as part of a a smartphone photo a day project. To me it expressed my concentration in trying to frame and create the “perfect image” and the wonderful world of happy accidents but without a doubt is a visual representation of my narcissism and the creative process.

Some colleagues and I were having a discussion this morning about the idea that many people in the arts and entertainment have tendencies towards the extremes of self-loathing and arrogance. It got me thinking and thanks to the wonders of the internet and some free time waiting for a meeting with my smartphone I started to do some searching and reading on the subject. I came across a salon.com article which explores many issues surrounding the subject, Literary self-loathing: How Jonathan Franzen, Elizabeth Gilbert and more keep it at bay by Michele Filgate.

There is the obvious – which is that self-loathing is an integral part of the artistic process. As Filgate remarks:

Self-loathing is in the writer’s blood. When you’re an artist of any kind, there’s no certainty that what you’re working on won’t be a complete failure. … The answer, of course, is that it’s human nature to struggle with oneself. That icky feeling of discontent we often experience is what sometimes inspires the best art.

She goes on to quote author Elizabeth Gilbert,

“I think the question of self-loathing vs. self-confidence is a false choice when it comes to writing,” Gilbert says. “I don’t think those are the only two possibilities for How To Be as a writer. (Either blustery or withering, in other words. Both of which are just the opposite ends of extreme narcissism.) I think there are writers who take a quieter approach to their work — one that is just about respectfully showing up for your vocation day after day, steadily doing your best, and letting go of the results. Not going to war against anyone else, or against their talents, or against themselves.”

Nice idea (and something I aspire to and wish I could accomplish). Although I do believe it is much more common for people expressing themselves creatively to experience either self-loathing in the process (those, sometimes irrational, feelings of inadequacy and insecurity) or extreme self-love (arrogance where the assumption is that whatever you create is brilliance and should be appreciated by all). Perhaps because narcissism and creativity are also often two sides of the same coin? After all when one is being creative they are often “expressing themselves.” Which works if you make a connection with someone else but otherwise it’s just pure narcissism and comes across as obnoxious and arrogant. One of my colleagues who identified as a self-loather during this morning’s conversation joked that he wanted to be more arrogant which made me think oftentimes the arrogance of the creative process really just masks some form of self-loathing (insecurity with what you are putting out into the world). And really to put something out into the world despite all of the uncertainty you may have surrounding it means that self-doubt must be tinged with some “arrogance.” So the two can perhaps be inextricably linked?

– Jennifer Dean

 

 

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