The Artist's Ego: Learning Balance

The Artist's Ego: Learning Balance

this episode is sponsored by Squarespace whether you need a domain website or online store make your next move with Squarespace artists are stereotypically known for having big egos we hear stories about axis throwing tantrums on set or musicians and their ridiculous green room demands or the eternal war between the chef and the food critic and these are all well-worn tropes but I think ego isn't good or bad but I do think it's essential for any artist and there's a balance that has to be learned let's start out by defining the word ego because it's one of those words we just used wrong in our everyday language when we say that guy has a big ego we usually mean a bunch of negative traits like he's arrogant or condescending or self-important or conceited it's a descriptive word to describe someone who feels superior to everyone else and how he acts around everybody but the fact is that every single one of us has an ego everyone and if we didn't there be a big problem I'm gonna give you a super basic breakdown of where this idea of ego comes from because I think it's helpful and it dates back to the 1800s and Freud who was starting out psychoanalysis and basically birthing modern psychology and he broke down our drives and our conscious and subconscious into three basic groups we have the it we have the ego and we have the super-ego let's start out with the it'd Freud suggested that our most base drives are just purely there to help us survive in the moment so it's things like aggression fight or flight in the face of things happening to us and it's where our base animalistic drives live like sex and he would suggest that we're all born pure it we're born just with that knee-jerk response to situations that says just survive through this and obviously procreation of species into the future it's not really concerned with future consequences or even the reality of the now it's a knee-jerk reaction it's a drive that's often subconscious that comes out of us but as we grow up we develop other parts of ourselves like the super-ego and that's that part of ourselves that understand that we're not the most important thing sometimes we have to sacrifice in order to make a healthy group or Society I mean parents around the world now are saying something to their kids like you can't run off and watch cartoons right now you have to help us clear the table before you go and we're teaching them and saying you have to delay gratification for the things that you want sometimes so that you can have a healthy group a family that you're a part of an a broader society that you're a part of with teaching them to have a moral conscience and that's where the super-ego lives now Freud suggested that the ego sits in between these two it negotiates between them it takes our base needs in our ear and society's needs and norms and it works out how we as an individual fit in between the two how we have our needs met but also are part of a healthy society and know how to fit in it's the balance as part of the work the ego does it creates a sense of self how we see ourselves how we understand ourselves who we are what our personality is what our drives and needs and wants are and how we fit in to the broader picture and that kind of work isn't good or bad it's just necessary so how does this relate to artists well let's start by talking about what I think the ego is essential I actually think artists need to be self-centered and I don't mean that in the negative way we usually use it in our language I mean we need to know who we are we need to know what we're trying to accomplish with our art and we need to back ourselves when we hit resistance I'll give an example so one of my favorite comedians Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes a few times and I remember watching one of the first probably the first or second time that he hosted and listening to the jokes he told and yes they were quite cutting and they were definitely designed to mock the people in the room but it seemed to go down well watching it people were laughing but as soon as that event ended the press went on the attack and the public started attacking him saying how dare you tell those jokes I'm very offended by what you've said shortly after this whole thing went down he was invited to have an interview with CNN and I remember the interviewer pressing him trying to get him to apologize to tell the public he's sorry he went too far and I was so impressed with how held back and reserved Ricky was he wasn't rude he joked the whole way through he was very happy but he was totally unthreatened and he said you don't understand what comedy is comedy has to be true to some extent for it to be funny and that means that sometimes jokes will cut close to the bone but I back everything I said and if I had to say it again I would whether he was right or wrong really as at the point what impressed me was how he handled the criticism I mean imagine he's sitting there on live television with an interviewer knowing there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who are angry and want an apology an interviewer who's pushing him to recant and he just sits there quietly unashamed and he backs himself at one point he actually said to the interviewer what do you think I do do you think I just go up there on the night and I just look around the room and start teasing people at random making it up off the top of my head he said of course not I'm a professional comedian i sat beforehand and I scripted every joke every single word of every joke making sure that I could back everything that I've said so when the reaction comes in positive from some negative from others it doesn't matter because the words that I wrote were what I wanted to say and I back myself for having said them and he actually said if you do what you want to do in any art form the way you want to do it for you alone you're bulletproof now that could just be read as arrogance especially by those who were offended but I didn't feel that was the tone at all I felt like he was saying if you're gonna put work out there if you're gonna produce any sort of art decide beforehand exactly what you want to say then show the world then stand next to that piece of art and say I did that no matter what the responses and I really respect that I recently went out for a drink with a friend of mine who's writing a book and he was talking about the fact that he was struggling to know where to point the book he could ride it in a particular direction that would meet those people over there but then he'd lose these people but then if he wrote it for those people these people wouldn't be interested so he didn't know quite how to to tone the book where directed with the language that he was using and I said to him what I'm saying to you here I think as an artist you have to write it for yourself you have to write the book that you would want to read and that takes a healthy ego so paint the painting you want to see write the book you want to write shoot the movie you want to shoot I mean it's how I approach this YouTube channel I don't try copy other channels or fit into the YouTube world I try shoot videos that I would like to watch sitting down at the end of the day that would inspire me I mean take my street photography for example other street photographers tell me you can't call what you do street photography it doesn't really fit in that cat and my answer is always the same I don't mind what label you put on it I'm shooting the images that I want to see that I enjoy taking and I'm gonna back whatever I shoot no matter what label you want to put on it I think a healthy ego is actually the best way to give you a work proper focus if you're always trying to please everybody or reach the widest possible audience you can no matter what then you're actually going to reach no one properly and effectively I often thought that the worst thing that could happen would be that everything I produce would just be ignored and I would be rejected but I've changed my mind on that that stuff I can't control the worst thing that could happen would be that I were put out middle-of-the-road ineffectual blandness that would reach no one effectively because I was afraid of offending somebody because if that happened I would only have myself to blame we can take the risk of yelling something we really believe with our art or we can retreat to a corner whispering something because we don't actually want anyone to hear because we know criticism will come and I really want to err on the side of volume rather than caution and I know that that will require a healthy ego but we also know that our ego can hold us back I'm gonna be honest with you I struggle with the negative side of ego I have an ego that can get toxic and destructive I like to have people impressed by what I do is the truth I want people to think I'm successful and being very honest with you I'm not actually a successful photographer I have no big clients I don't have work just flowing in all the time and I can feel when my ego wants me to start showing off about something or gets very defensive when criticism comes towards me truth be told I battle that stuff all the time and I know if I listen to my ego when it starts spewing that toxic stuff and if I follow it down the road it's going to ultimately destroy me some of you been very kind in the comments sections on this channel saying that you really appreciate the honesty and the vulnerability here but let me say that that's not a natural impulse for me I have to do that deliberately and consciously and against what I would prefer to be doing which is probably showing off like all of us but if I do that when I choose to tell you about my failings and my shortcomings it's my real-world willful denial of my egos worst impulses because I don't want to be that person you've heard me mentioned on this channel before but one of my favorite authors is a Franciscan friar named Richard Rohr and he's gained some notoriety over the years he's put out a lot of books and speaks around a lot and he talks very honestly about his egos impulses and how he can feel that the negative side of that wants to take that edge elation and believe he's better than everybody else he's the same as we all are but what he does to counteract that is he gets down on his knees every morning and he prays and he asks God he says for one good humiliation a day he's not some kind of masochist he does this deliberately as a practice he makes sure that that side of his ego is in check that he's not taking that praise and letting it put him on some pedestal he doesn't deserve to be on in the same way that the good side of your ego can help you battle criticism when it comes to stand by what you're doing the negative side of your ego needs to be balanced out with a sober view of yourself and sometimes little humiliations every day can help remind you who you really are ancient Rome used to have this great tradition where a general will go off and fight a war and win great victories he would come back to Rome and sometimes the Senate would allow him a triumph which was just a parade through the streets of ancient Rome and the general would stand on a chariot which was drawn by four horses there would be troops going through and slaves and a bunch of the treasure that they captured and on the back of the chariot would stand a slave and the slave would hold the laurel wreath which was a symbol of victory over the generals head as they passed through crowds and crowds of people screaming and shouting praise to this general and the slave had a very particular job that slave would whisper in the ear of the general you are only a man you are only a man when our ego is playing games that's its best trick is to convince us that we're separate and superior to everybody else around us if we want to be healthy artists we have to learn how to put that negative side of our ego in place how to remind ourselves of who we are not think better of ourselves than we should because it'll drag us down a dark path if we do and we'll lose our way here's the trick and you have to do it in the moment remember that you are not your ego and your ego wants you to think it is but you're able to see the games your ego plays so ask yourself who's watching and if you could separate yourself off for it like that then you can start to take control and make decisions for yourself and not just be dragged along I listen to a podcast I really enjoy by a guy named Pete Holmes called you made it weird and he's a stand-up comedian he's had a lot of success he said talk shows very successful stand-up specials he had a an HBO series called crashing I mean all of that stuff gets into your head I'm a success and he talks about his own ego very honestly on his podcast and says that he had one day where he was sitting in first class on a flight and he knew that there was a fellow comedian sitting back in Economy and he thought to himself I deserve to be here because I'm separate and superior to that guy who's sitting there in the back and he caught himself doing in the moment he caught that ugliness and he says what he does as he talks to his ego as if it's another person almost and just that little exercise helps him to think about it and he just says to his ego thanks buddy thanks for helping me in this moment I know you're trying to protect me I know you're trying to define my sense of personhood but you've done what you need to do and you can relax now and he almost quietens down within himself the shriek of the ego that needs to be heard in that moment and puts it back to bed so he can carry on with his day and I love that kind of self-awareness because it reminds us that we're all bigger than the negative games our egos might try and play so we all have an ego we all need an ego the trick is just to balance it out on the one side it reminds us of who we are what we think is important what we're trying to say with our art it's going to help us to stand by what we do in the face of criticism and people trying to pull us off that path it's going to give us the strength to keep going until we reach our goal and on the other side we have to be careful of those ego games that convinces that we're separate and superior to everybody else that because we're producing art of any sort that we're better than everybody else we're still only human and even when that praise and that adulation comes in put it in the right box in your head don't let it take you off track and start making the wrong things important and get back to producing work you're proud of it's a well-worn path that a lot of artists make their greatest work when no one really knows who they are and then that work gets recognized for what really is and these artists get put on a pedestal and then they're never seen to be able to get back to that greatness it's a slow spiral down from there and I wonder if it's because when they reach that climax that point and get all that adulation if after that the wrong things start to become important and they lose the focus of what they were doing don't let self-importance distract you from making beautiful things if we can learn this ego dance and use the good parts of it to give us focus remind us who we are and what we have to say all the while warding off that part of our ego that would like us to just chase fame and fortune using our ego as a guide and not letting it become a distraction I think it will make us healthy artists thanks again to Squarespace for sponsoring this video if you need a new website or a domain there a fantastic option I've used them myself for years now and if you're a visual artist of any sort a painter a photographer graphic designer film maker and you want to post your work on a website and have your work look really good without the website distracting Squarespace have a 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26 thoughts on “The Artist's Ego: Learning Balance”

  1. Just putting it out there… Is anyone else making a wish for Sean Tucker run community site where members can share their galleries, vote for photo of the month, give feedback, etc… similar to another YouTube channel – minus the not so inclusive ego?

  2. I really love your words of wisdom ❤️ These good tips are not just helpful as an artist or a photographer, but also in life in general. As I’m progressing my career from a man on the floor and into the management and leadership, it is very important not to loose touch with your ground, but be both proud and humble. Balancing your ego in believing in yourself but not being arrogant can sometimes be hard. You are really an inspiring person, and that YOU should be proud of Sean 🙏🏻 I’m not much into football, but look at my fellow countryman Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He went from being a small kid, not particularly good in football at all at his younger years, but made it all the way from a small club called “Kristiansund FC” and all the way to end up as manager for one of the greatest clubs ever in ManU. And all the time he has had his feet firmly planted on the ground, and is mostly a humble person…

  3. I just listened to an interview with Richard by Krista Tippett. He's such a clear transparency for good ideas. Love the video Sean.

  4. Is there an unflexible "definition" for street photography? 😉 I took a picture of a series of beautifully designed urinals in a men's bathroom in Japan. I thought that it would help show the culture and the nice design. In a street photography group, somebody said "is this a joke?" and I was criticized for the picture, although some others apprecited it for what it was.

  5. Very interesting! And it’s funny because as I was enjoying watching this I could feel my ego agreeing and taking note! I very much agree with ego being important to artists. Without mine i wouldn’t have my confidence.. therefore I wouldn’t be able to sell and market myself. Very informative once again Sean. Thank you 😊❤️👍🏻

  6. I am so grateful for your videos. Thank you so much, I have learnt and am learning. I have started journaling and sharing the lessons in life I learn in my photography and I might get less likes on social media but I get so much more out of it than a sale. There's a chap called Wayne Dwyer who you might want to look up his soothing voice and teachings blew my direction in life.

  7. Beautiful video. So different from anything else out there. I have the opposite issue with ego, but destructive all the same, and a lot of the same advice applies.

  8. Sean, what a journey mate…. Stop calling yourself an armchair Philosopher. You're full time, and that's a good thing. Lots of love. Peace be with you brother

  9. Really appreciate that you talk about such topics that are so extremely essential to photography and life, love your videos!

  10. You always manage to provide me with fresh perspective with perfect timing. Really appreciate the work you do, thank you Sean.

  11. Keeping balance is very difficult but when you hit that sweet spot, there's nothing more rewarding.

  12. “An EGO and a SUPEREGO walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘I’m going to need to see some ID.’”

  13. As that famous Australian band from the 70's once sang … "Ego is Not a Dirty Word." Interesting listening to the lyrics after watching your video.

  14. You always say what I want to hear. This is the topmost reason that I always comes to this channel.

  15. Thank you Sean, what you said resonated with me. I to have an ego that can be destructive. You have given me much to think on and ways to work with my own ego.

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