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?
Are artists vainer than the general reader?
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?