“My personal creative process has always been very torturous, because I try to be a perfectionist. That’s the way the ego works.”
Director Alejandro González Iñarritu, who goes on to say about ego:
“It’s extraordinarily demanding; it’s a dictator; and it can push you to bring out the best in yourself.
“But at the same time it’s relentless and never will be satisfied and always will find ways to crack you.”
One of the themes of his outstanding movie ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’ is the impact of social “validation” and “relevance” on creative people – especially in media-inflected arenas so many creators have to work in, and establish fame and power to get projects and funding.
“I think every human being can relate to seeking out validation.”
The movie stars Michael Keaton as actor Riggan Thomson, famed as the star of the fictional superhero franchise series ‘Birdman’ and now acting in a Broadway play he wrote and directs, to regain his creative mojo.
In a number of scenes Riggan is tormented – or encouraged – by an inner voice of his former Birdman character.
One example of the voice:
“You tower over these other theater douchebags. You’re a movie star…. You are a god.”
[Photo and quote from review article Birdman: A Giddy Fantasia of Broadway (and Superheroes), by Christopher Orr, The Atlantic.]
Michael Keaton comments about his character in the movie:
“He enters a world of celebrity … what I call ‘taking the pill.’
“He bought the whole thing. You know, the whole thing of: People will love me, I’ll be famous, I’ll be rich, I’ll have a few big houses, I’ll have women, I’m important, what I say is important, what I talk about means something, I’m cool-looking, I’m deep, I’m all these things.
“Because people start to tell you that, or you start to tell yourself that, or you read something about yourself, and actually believe it.”
[From Michael Keaton: As An Actor, You Must Lock In And Let Go by NPR Staff.]
Here is a trailer:
Are performers raging narcissists? – Comments by authors, psychologists and actors including Kristen Bell, Ben Affleck, Sarah Silverman and others.
Insecurity is an issue for many of us as creative people – one of my articles:
Talented, But Insecure [an excerpt from my main book]
Nurturing Our Self-Esteem – Comparing ourselves to others may erode how we appreciate our own qualities. Do you talk about yourself to others, and privately in your mind, in ways that discount your abilities and positive qualities? I certainly do. — This article includes videos, quotes and other material such as an online program, to deal with fraud or impostor feelings – another form of unhealthy self-esteem that impacts many talented people.
Identity and Being Creative – Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman comments: “Creative expression equals self-expression… So anything we can do to firm up our identity, figure out who we are, separate from others, and what it is we really want to express – that influences our information processing of everything in the world.”
~ ~ ~
Ryan Holiday notes “The artist Marina Abramović has said that the moment we begin to believe in our own greatness, that we kill our ability to be truly creative.” —
“While the history books are filled with tales of obsessive visionary geniuses who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force, I’ve found that history is also made by individuals who fought their egos at every turn, who eschewed the spotlight, and who put their higher goals above their desire for recognition.”
From the prologue of his book: Ego Is the Enemy.
~ ~ ~
Movie on founding Facebook
There is a scene in “The Social Network” in which Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is being deposed, as part of the legal process of being sued over the founding of his company.
He has an air of disdain and impatience with the proceedings, and comments to an attorney:
“You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount.
“The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. [pauses]
“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”
It was thrilling. Maybe because of my less than desirable levels of self-confidence and assertiveness.
(By the way, the movie is – according to a number of commenters and critics – mostly a work of fiction, as is the source book. And the real Zuckerberg has been described by co-workers and interviewers as shy and introverted, and caring about people he knows.)
How much do qualities such as confidence, self-assurance, or even arrogance, plus others often associated with a “big ego” relate to being creative?
In his paper The Abnormal Psychology of Creativity, Steven James Bartlett says, “artists, writers, and creative people in general score higher on a wide variety of measures of psychopathology – and are psychologically healthier (for example, they show quite elevated scores on measures of self-confidence and ego strength). (Kay Redfield Jamison, 1993, p. 97).
[From my post Creativity and madness: The Abnormal Psychology of Creativity.]
Many creators are renowned for their “narcissism” or egocentrism – like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, James Cameron, Martha Stewart and others.
And like many driven and high achieving creative leaders, they may also be somewhat hypomanic – which might be related to “ego.”
Another aspect, related to narcissism, may be the need for recognition and validation, as explored in ‘Birdman’ – and many writers, singers, actors and others do seem to thrive on media attention.
But many don’t.
One of my favorite actors, Hilary Swank (whom I admire for both the quality of her acting, and her spirit) doesn’t seem to have an ego-related need for acclaim.
In an interview, she comments about winning her first Academy Award:
“You just have to get back in touch with why you’re telling stories. And it’s not to win awards, although that’s an incredible feeling.”
(The Actor’s Craft: Hilary Swank was born to play real-life roles, by Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times Oct 10, 2010.)
[Read more about her and see a video interview clip in my post Hilary Swank and Emotional Excitability.]
~ ~ ~
Ego – in the sense of distorted self-regard – can interfere with creative expression.
Responding to a magazine question: “What kills creativity?” actor Gillian Anderson replied succinctly, “Ego.”
But creativity teacher and writer Julia Cameron cautioned,
“We tend to think, or at least fear, that creative dreams are egotistical… This thinking must be undone.”
From my article Ego and Creativity – which covers all this in more depth.