Are Artists & Writers Very Vain?

Does vanity partly explain why I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time preparing these words for you to read or why the band members are playing at your local pub this weekend? Are artists having fun or just doing something because our genes and culture encourage us to persist in these behaviours?

Many people in the arts work countless hours for very little monetary reward. Certainly the behaviour as well as the reasons articulated by many, whether it’s writing, painting, music, acting, film, or crafts, suggest they are often motivated by something other than an expectation of earning a good living!

For those in the arts, self-promotion seems to be part of the game whether it’s a young actors making a name for themselves like one of my sons and his wife or like the other son writing wonderful prose as well as playing the roles of many individuals to bring his music to us on CDs and the Internet, when he is not working on film sets.

It took a great many years to get over some of the culture shock of leaving the UK to come to North America. When I left Britain in the late 60s, I had been enculturated with many of the virtues ascribed to by Marcus Aurelius. Certainly modesty was meant to rule in the family home as well as my schools, Grenham House and Malvern College. However, when I arrived in America, it seemed that tooting your own horn, as I’d have said at the time, was quite accepted in almost all spheres. Self-promotion seemed to have been very much part of the culture at that time and, I think, is even more important today. Even outside of the arts, modesty is not a word that springs to mind when I’d read résumés and CVs that I received when looking for one or two office employees in the past.

While working on an English degree at theUniversity of Alberta, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a lot of American Literature. I found Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography splendid and unexpectedly amusing. Franklin, on a ship voyage, has to wrestle with his principles of being a vegetarian versus the ever-present temptation of delicious and very fresh fish. Also, it seemed full of sensible advice that many Americans must have taken to heart. As a printer in Boston, he stresses the importance of appearing busy and industrious, even if there’s not an order on the books. Franklin knew and wrote about the importance of appearing busy and successful even when the pantry was bare.

If vanity is at one end of a bell curve and extreme modesty at the other end, perhaps the bell curve would be the same for writers as it would be for painters, actors or dentists. Or does the promise of fame both in life and even in death provide part of the attraction for writers? Undoubtedly some writers are far from vain and hold their noses when they promote themselves and their work, since the two become increasing entwined. In any or every event, it is not quite what Yeats had in mind when he wrote:” You can’t tell the dancer from the dance.”

Many have looked to their children for echoes of their own immortality as have proponents of Dawkins notion that our genes behave in a manner that humans might view as selfish. And perhaps an almost cult-like belief in the uniqueness of everyone might have led to a culture that promotes self-promotion and vanity.

If my writing sometimes turns my brain inside out to the world, aren’t I inviting friends from the past to contact me if they want to talk to me again? I know I want people to say pleasant things about my writing and me, preferably meaning what they say unless it’s sensible criticism. HubPages and similar sites encourage forums for writers to exchange ideas, offer encouragement and support, and meet other minds as well as making it easy for writers to find a market for their work.

Is vanity a large motivator – is it enough to simply write “Kilroy was here” or do some of us need to say something less anonymous? Others might argue that many writers spend a great deal of time exploring their psyche and are more objective about their flaws since these often have to be mined for material – whereas others will say, “What a bunch of rubbish – they’re mostly narcissistic bums.”

Thanks, particularly if you participate in the very brief, slightly tongue-in-cheek survey that follows.

Are writers vainer than other artists?

See results without voting

Are artists vainer than the general reader?

See results without voting

P. S. I've just come from viewing I'm looking for a 100 hubs to review and reading through just some of many, many requests by writers - a request of mine is one of the many. I don't envy the reviewers if they plan any degree of honesty since many writers, and other artists too, have rather thin skins. But we're not a unique group.

Learning to accept useful suggestions and criticism of our work should be regarded as helpful rather than the personal attack it is often seen to be. The fact that advice is usually viewed as the former rather than the latter may tell us something about our education system as well as human nature. I've found that many have a difficulty separating themselves from their writing or any work - generally, we all tend to be better at giving rather receiving advice for that reason, I suspect.

In any event, I've read many of our requests to be reviewed with some amusement in light of the question I posed in this article. I am grateful that I've had a Hub accepted. I'll watch how this project develops with great interest as well as anticipation. I suspect that the generous and altruistic offer for this Hub will attract a justified amount of traffic and attention. However, it's not a task I envy the reviewers unless they're going to be kind to us all. But here I am telling everyone who cares to listen all about the project and methinks there's method in its madness!

I'm obviously dealing with people who know a lot more about traffic, etc., than I do and it's really why I'm going for advice - purely pure motives, you all will understand. But my wife wants to know why the authors of the 100 reviews didn't tidy up the oval scan before putting it into a rectangular box for their logo. She's the artist in the family and I thought it a clever and useful observation that might be helpful; she suggested that I mention the origin of the thought so as not to incur a lion rampant's wrath. In truth, anything that is deserving of praise in any of my Hubs is often because of her help whether it's been because of an argument, discussion or merely understanding enough to live with less conversation than usual since I've been writing like a fiend. Anything in my writing that is not praise-worthy are mainly my responsibility, needless to say. Perhaps she's encouraging my writing for a reason?


Comments 21 comments

SunSeven profile image

SunSeven 5 years ago from Singapore / India

I do not think all writers are vain!

Best Regards


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

George Orwell would not have agreed with you. He said: “All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” (I have just finished rereading 1984; it has stimulated an article that I’m working on.) However, I agree with you that there are many examples of writers who are not primarily motivated by vanity. Thanks for your comment. Cheers.


SunSeven profile image

SunSeven 5 years ago from Singapore / India

Here is an article that may interest you bu thecounterpunch

http://hubpages.com/education/Why_I_never_read_198

Best Regards


Ken Thibado profile image

Ken Thibado 5 years ago from Utica

There is no doubt vanity flows through me, all while bullshit flows from me. (It's the perfect combination.)

I do believe I will be taking some of Benjamin Franklin's advice however...

Self promotion doesn't come naturally to those who expect everybody to find them adorable automatically.


arthurchappell profile image

arthurchappell 5 years ago from Manchester, England

I think we are a vain lot - I write from compulsion but there is an arrogance in thinking anything I say might be read with appreciation and it certainly massages the ego when anyone says anything I write is OK. It tends to make me write more. Hope you write much more too


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

I agree 100% - as far as I'm concerned, I know that positive feedback is a powerful motivator. Part of being human does mean wanting a certain amount of acceptance and support from those around us whether we're in our homes or posting blogs online. HubPages does seem to encourage a nurturing environment but, as you say in one of your Hubs, we do benefit from objective criticism too. It's tricky finding the right balance particularly since genuine learning can take place when ideas and blogs are challenged and thoughts exchanged. But I'm still feeling my way through the various Hubs, etc., and recognize I'm still at the beginning of the learning curve. Thanks for your thoughts and it's true - positive comments are great motivators because they do make me feel there are not only real people reading some of what I write but paying a great compliment by taking the time and trouble to make a comment or exchange thoughts. Thanks.


arthurchappell profile image

arthurchappell 5 years ago from Manchester, England

You're welcome Sembj, creativity is one of the greatest gifts we have - we should exploit it to the max


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa

I have no doubt that for most writers and for most artists in any medium vanity plays a role. We are generally fairly sensitive people with a need to share which I think is Orwell's "demon". I think the ancient Greeks recognised the role of the "daemon" in all creative work. In Camus's terms artists are rebels who both create and destroy. Vanity and envy are both drivers and distractions for artists. We want the positive feedback and we crave being seen as better than others.

Of course, I am not referring to myself here at all! I mean it really is all those other, inferior artists - I'm above all that! Yeah, right!

Thanks for a super Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Tony, I'd like to comment on your comment: Rarely have I enjoyed something so much, you've managed to combine a great deal of humor and insight in a very few words.

Truly, my laughter is only now dying to an occasional chuckle. Thanks, Sem


Jamie1Baker 5 years ago

We are completely vain. And by we, I mean me, but it lessens the sting if I drag all of you down with me. I've spent hours tweaking and modifying my words until they are suitable for bringing attention to my ever-starving psyche. There's nothing more intoxicating that gaining someone's approval for the words that have been penned. It just so happens that my words are typically non-serious, borderline ridiculous and well into the category of flim-flam. Oh, well... I don't care as long as they are posting comments.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Hi Jamie1Baker, perhaps that so few writers elect to write anonymously says more about humans in general rather than writers in particular. However the antics of those on reality TV have set a whole new high when it comes to setting the bar for attention. But there are many articles on HubPages telling us all how to get more traffic, etc., but no really spectacular suggestions on using personality other than pretending you're an attractive young woman. Next best, I guess, is an attractive young man. (I pretend neither to hide my secret fetish of pretending to be a rather unkempt, bearded older man and hiding my real, beauty, gender and age from the world. Something totally different to the young Henry in Henry IV part 1 except in a peripheral way but I like to put pretentious literary references in whenever I get a chance.) A lot of advice is about advertising and dollars for some and all about the writing for others and a balance of the two for the rest. It does seem to be like a very interesting experience in the making and it's fun to be part of it. I suspect that someone who is able to be amusing and funny is always in short supply and I'll be interested in following your work, particularly as you figure out how things work. I look forward to your work.

Sem


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Hi SunSeven:

I did want you to know I took your advice, followed the link and left a comment there. I signed up as your follower and drop in and read your Hubs from time to time. I did want you to know how seriously I try and follow up the comments that are left. Thank you again for your comment and the interesting link.

Sembj


celebritie profile image

celebritie 5 years ago

As you have mentioned George Orwell he probably was looking into the future, because his words have not been more true than today.

The easy access to develop a website or blog promotes the idea that a writer can be a celebrity online and social media is all about being popular and having the most followers or friends.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Thanks for you thoughtful comment, celebritie, and I think that you are right when you talk about the notion of how people are drawn to anything that they see furthers their popularity and acceptance.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I don't know about vain amigo ... that's a nasty word. The Orwell answer does not work for me; he was playing with words and I do not write books.

I may be an impatient lunatic stuck in my own world, even thoughtless at times but vain I am not.

Cheers!

P.S. I do not write for money or fame. "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." Oscar Wilde


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Mr. Happy - thank you for your thoughts and salutations. I scratched my head and can do no better than quote Oscar Wilde too:

"Nothing makes one so vain as being told one is a sinner. Conscience makes egotists of us all."

I wish I had said that.

Cheers,

Sem


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 5 years ago from Los Angeles

Hello Sem,

Vanity may very well play a role in a writer’s personality and undoubtedly recognition is what most writers would want.

When it comes to reviewing and criticizing, the person doing such endeavor should be equally competent and fair; unfortunately there are mean people out there and I had my share of such unpleasant experience.


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Thanks for your thoughtful response Petra Vlah. When it comes to explaining why some people are mean, whether they're reviewers or not, I am somewhat mystified as well as sad. I don't know whether there is ever any excuse for meanness or why it is so prevalent.

Anyone who has experienced either meanness or unfairness would not want to commit the same offense since they know how much it hurts, one would think. It makes more sense to be kind than unkind but there is little about the behavior of our species that makes sense, and I am sad that you have suffered from not being treated fairly.


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 5 years ago from Los Angeles

Hello again Sem,

It is sad indeed when self proclaimed critics are acting out of vengeance. Should you want to find out more of what has happened, please read “A Hub Page nightmare experience” in which I related the facts.

The support I got from the HP community was unbelievable and more than made up for the mean spirited criticism of just one frustrated individual. Realizing the outrage he has created, the “critic” deleted his hub, but I am reproducing word by word part of his out of place observations as well as my entire comment to his hub.

As we all know, most critics are failed writers, so their cheap revenge is to demolish the efforts of others. In case you did not figure out who am I talking about, contact me directly and I will tell you as I have told others who asked me)


Sembj profile image

Sembj 5 years ago Author

Hi Petra: I am not too sure who you are talking about but have had my ideas routinely mocked or not taken seriously for many years now. It still hurts when criticism is not fair but think I would prefer to just soldier on without having to worry about anything more than I already have to.

It is good that the Hub community seems to rally in such cases and I am relieved to know that in the event of unfair or unjust treatment there are many who care about such things and will lend their support.

Your writing stands as its own best testimony and none should be able to take that from you.

Best wishes and good writing,

Sem


D.Juris Stetser profile image

D.Juris Stetser 3 years ago from South Dakota

How can we generalize when we are all birds of different feathers? Speaking for myself, I can honestly say, I read even the shortest piece over and over...and still am rarely satisfied even after publishing it.. I WISH I could finally feel confident enough in what I do, to even sneak a tiny bite of Vanity! Very interesting piece, and I enjoyed your comparison of modesty as viewed from both sides of the pond. I will only buy hostility with this, but I truly feel we Americans are often cocky, arrogant, and downright abrasive but nonetheless, I love my country...not the politics, not the 'Number 1 fixation, but the country itself. A good dose of humility would make us even better.

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