Entertainment

Artistes’ ego: Why it should be left at the door

I WAS recently added to a WhatsApp group of Zambian artistes for a benevolent cause. The discourse on the platform reminded me of why it is hard to get common actions among artistes. It is not as though we were not all agreed on the cause because we were. It is the raw emotions, the wearing feelings on their sleeves that makes artistes a handful to deal with.
You see art is an emotion and to be able to express those emotions to others, one must be in touch with their own emotions. In essence, artistes have to feel things quickly and with more depth for them to be able to craft those feelings into an expression that can be consumed. By this, I mean they have to express it into a song, a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a play to mention but a few.
So, in practice these raw emotions tend to play themselves out in what appears to be egos. What is an ego? In simple terms it is a person’s sense of selfesteem or self-importance.
To be able to do something that has never been done before one has to believe it can be done and that requires some level of self-belief.
This self-belief can sometimes be misperceived as ukuyumfywa or boasting in English.
As American mixed media artist and workshop instructor Ruth Armitage writes on her website: “Ego is a fragile thing in artists and demands a delicate balance between humility and hubris.
It can be looked at as a negative, as pomposity, and as narcissism. But inner confidence and drive is necessary for success.
“While some artists have stated that ego is fatal to the artistic process, Robert Genn describes ego in its purest state as the part of our identity that deals with our higher vision.
He says: ‘Bravado aside, ego must still prevail:For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’.
“In the creative process, you must believe that you can be successful, in order to persist in the trenches and pursue the next, better, art piece. In this TEDtalk by Elizabeth Gilbert, she talks about distancing herself from the creative mystery, and relying on divine intervention, both as a way to minimise ego and also to minimise the fear of failure.
Let’s face it, failure is always a danger when one is risking truly creative work. This is why we still see artists churning out hackneyed paintings of trite, traditional subject matter. Doing truly creative, different work does not interest them, it frightens them.
“But Gilbert also takes on that mystery that many of us have felt, that sense that the work is coming through you, not from you. She says that asking a creative person to accept responsibility for that mystery is like ‘asking someone to swallow the sun’. She would much rather just let the record show that she did her part by saying “I showed up.
“I believe that both the mystical and the egotistical are necessary. If you are a viewer of my work, please know that your comments, your purchases, your support is what keeps me going as an artist. Not only financially, but emotionally.
I paint to communicate.
Also, absolutely necessary is the determination and higher vision within me to know that I can (sometimes) do this, and to know that showing up to work will improve my chances. Finally, the mystical and divine intervention of a ‘muse’ helps me to remove the burden of success or failure from the equation.”
Yet, the same self-belief when it is too much can actually be extremely damaging to the career of an artiste. Some careers failed to take off because the artiste could not check their ego and failed to work with others. Some careers went up into flames even after some success when they start believing that there are gods. These unchecked egos can lead to self-delusion and mediocre work that can no longer connect with the fans, the fuel of our trade as musicians.
The reality is as talented as any individual can be, they will require to work with others — producers, the press, other artistes — and cooperation demands that one’s ego is checked. Hence the term, “musicians leave your ego at the door”.
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