Being an artist requires a special degree of selfishness. You have to be willing to put your art first, at least some of the time. You have to want to. It’s like being in love. You have to choose it over other things that people might find more exciting. If you are in a relationship with your art, sometimes you’ll leave a party because you’d rather be with your art. Sometimes you will be mentally checked out of your other (human) relationships, because you want to be with your art.
So the first kind of selfishness is the kind where you say, “I choose the act of creation over other activities.” But I’ve also been mulling over this other kind of selfishness, which is the idea that you have to love your art unconditionally. You have to have faith in it within a bubble where no outside criticism penetrates.
That’s the tricky part, of course. When you’re 9 and you don’t know anything, yeah, maybe you can look objectively at what you’ve done and understand that it’s not as good as something else, but at the same time, if you’re in love with your art, you primarily view it subjectively. You have to be in love with the idea that you have created something that represents a mountain, a dragon, and idea. If you are, then you believe in its righteousness, full stop. Other people’s opinions don’t affect yours. You don’t solicit them, and you don’t really care about them when they’re offered, unless they validate your beliefs in the supremacy of your creation.
Criticism creates doubt and halting timidness in creation. Rather than unleashing ideas, you hold them back, anticipating how other people might cut them down. You can’t generate new realities if you feel that what you have to offer the world isn’t going to measure up to the world’s standards.
The question is, how do you maintain that unwavering, childlike understanding of your own inherent greatness while still improving? Can a person accept feedback, even criticism, and integrate it into their understanding, without losing that perfect faith? Is it possible to selfishly embrace the idea that your art is perfect while remaining open to the possibility that it could be more perfect.
Part of me would return to that vacuum, to the solitary act of creation with no followup. Not needing accolades is refreshing. Another part of me has learned that the act of creation is not complete until others have experienced your creation, though. Unread writing, a film without an audience, a painting in the dark, they don’t yet exist. So we’re still working on this balance. Believe you are worthy of worship at the same time that you believe that you can be even worthier.