Selfish isn’t a word synonymous with decency, and most people aren’t too enamored with being described that way. When it comes to being successful, fulfilled, and passionate in your creative work, I am continually convinced more and more that despite the negative connotation, being selfish is critical.
Increasingly, it seems the most successful artists I know are hugely “selfish” people. But what do I mean when I say selfish? I’m not really talking about being a self-interested, self-important egomaniac. That’s no fun. What I mean to discuss is the concept of putting YOU front and center in your creative life. Creating for you, making time for you, appreciating you, and being you.
These “selfish,” successful artists I know are always working on their own projects, talking about themselves, promoting artworks, while never feeling a scrap of guilt about the whole process. I’m not a fan of gaudy, boring self-promoters, but I am a fan of artists who believe in their own work enough to keep it bubbling at the surface of their existence while never apologizing for doing so. It’s actually a work ethic and personality trait I admire.
Let’s run through some of the tried and tested “selfish” things that you lovely people can do to make sure you are honoring your creative work.
Being okay with self-promotion and seeing it as an ongoing process, rather than a series of uncomfortable situations is key to progressing creatively. Be selfish when it comes to putting yourself out there in as many different ways that you can and make no apologies for the time you spend doing it.
An illustrator said to me once, “nobody is going to be as interested in your own artwork as you are, so you had better be into talking about it,” and this advice has stuck with me. If you’re not interested in bringing up your work to others, try and remember your own passion for it and use that as a driver to do so. As artists we need to be our own biggest fans, and this starts with understanding that your passion for the art you make is completely (amazingly, beautifully) unique. If we can all come to terms with the fact that nobody digs your art as much as you, it can become liberating to speak about it. When you communicate your passion, you’re talking about something you love, which other people will absolutely pick up on. Everyone loves something, right?
Other ways you can become more comfortable with self-promotion is to try and verbally solve creative problems by talking to other peers about them, or try quietly promoting yourself on social media or in ways that allow you to communicate without being face to face, which can be intimidating.
For more: Check out “4 Ways to Master the Art of Self-Promotion without Hating Your Life” and “How to be the Most Interesting Artist on Twitter“
If you don’t have a routine for making artwork, create one now. Be selfish about giving yourself as much time as you can to dedicate to making new work. They are so valuable to ensure you’re always making and processing what inspires you in your world. Different circumstances may only allow for limited studio hours, some artists I know are caring for elderly parents or young babies, so they might only get ten minutes or half an hour each night to do some sketching. Other artists I know have completely non-creative full time jobs so they are weekender artists. Life is a tricky balancing act and finding hours to allocate to creative work is important to make sure you don’t go weeks or months without making anything. Find some time (even a few minutes, or a few hours a week) and stick to it like glue.
For more: Check out “5 Ways to Keep Your Creative Mind Constantly Working” and “Why Keeping a Daily Routine is Vital to the Creative Process“
If there’s one piece of advice I wish someone had told me years ago, it would be to create with the assumption that you’re allowed to be an artist. I wish someone had said, “it’s okay, you can do this, you can be an artist and nobody’s going to try and take it away from you.”
Be arrogant when it comes to assuming that you’re allowed to make artwork, publish, and contribute creatively to the world. Be selfish and believe that you are allowed to take up exhibition wall space, or that your uploaded artworks have a rightful place to exist online and in the world. This point is especially relevant if you weren’t born a white, cisgendered male — as historically the art and design world make it harder for the artworks and narratives of women, people of color, and minorities to be heard and seen. Affording yourself the right to creativity is one of the best ways to make sure you’re producing artworks often.
For more: Check out “Self-Promotion for Artists: A Beginner’s Guide“
This is an obvious, but so important one — selfishly talk about your work. Mention it to your friends and family, update your artistic peers with your progress and get involved in conversations about making artwork (like in the comments below!) and try not to feel bad about it. By voicing your experience of making art, you’re never diminishing a conversation, only adding to it. You’re not truly being “selfish” if real conversations about art are taking place. Just don’t be a jerk.
For more: Check out “5 Simple Ways to Better Talk about Your Art“