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Are creative people self-centred?

Someone sent me this question on ask.fm:

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It’s interesting that Amanda Palmer is the kind of person of whom people ask this question. There’s a certain loadedness to it: you wouldn’t say “what do you think about Nelson Mandela?” or “what do you think about people who distribute food to the homeless?” Amanda Palmer demands the question because the way she behaves divides people.

I won’t leave you hanging: I think a lot of what Palmer puts out there is pretty self-centred. She speaks widely about the importance of making connections, of being philanthropic with art and of being an art community and everything that is good and fair. This is a nice idea. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all spend our time making art that we shared for free, and the people who consumed it gave us what they thought it was worth, and we lived on a farm and rode chickens and to our tree-bound studios and … oh right, communism. If no one is paying for the art, there’s no art. It’s easy to make these suggestions if you’re Amanda Palmer or Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails. It’s easy to be the person who promotes “the art of asking” when you’re the one who is always answered. Do you know what happens if I go on Twitter and say “I need a guitar pickup, a balloon shaped like the Andromeda galaxy, four pygmy sheep and a place to live for three months”? Exactly. Nothing. I live on the street and write my art on the back of my shoe.

(I also have an issue with being willing to accept the charity of others when you don’t need it instead of contributing to an economy and supporting the people who do need it, but maybe this is because I love consumerism.)

So, fine. I am not in the same spectrum of art as Amanda “Fucking” Palmer. I am a suburban artist who wears sandals and drives an SUV. These are thoughts based entirely on her public persona, and having no idea whatsoever of the kind of person she is when she’s at home talking to Neil Gaiman about dark woods and time, which is something I think I would frankly enjoy very much. (I don’t “not like her” because I don’t know her and that is an absurd thing to say.)

But this isn’t a post about Amanda Palmer. I shared the question on Twitter: what do I think about Amanda Palmer? I shared that I think she comes across as being self-centred. I shared that the reviews I’ve read of her book reinforce the things I tend to think already. And here’s a tweet I got in reply:

@annaspargoryan I think all creative people are self-centred to an extent, including you and I! :)

(emphasis mine)

If I can channel Carrie Bradshaw for a moment, I got to thinking: are all creative people self-centred?

Writing is, for the most part, a pretty self-centric activity. For me, it’s something I do alone, preferably in a dark room or a library with headphones in, or maybe even in a cave in a mountain and even then, still with headphones in.

It requires, of course, a degree of self-focus in that some of the ideas come from the self. A writer is required to think deeply (or not deeply, but at least think) about the way they perceive the world and the people in it and the things that happen in it and what the truths about those things might be. But solitary is not the same as self-centred. Neither is taking your art seriously the same as self-centred.

Some creative people are self-centred, of course. I mean, Twitter is packed with them. People who are self-serving, who promote their own agenda, product, book, website without giving back to their wider creative community. That’s not because they’re creative. Being creative is the reason they have the product in the first place, not the cause of their poor self-awareness. They are a subset of a wider community wherein some people are self-centred and some people are not.

Most days, I go out (or stay in) and earn money so that I can buy art. Because I’m a writer and I like writing, I buy a lot of books to support Australian publishing. I promote writing so that other people will hopefully also buy it, and maybe when I have some to sell, there might be some money left in the kitty for me. Not because I’m better than you, because you are excellent and this is a blog and not a competition, but because creativity begets other creativity. Being a self-centred creative person is — unless you are Papa and can write whatever and someone will always suck your dick — akin to taking your own books and putting them in the $2 bin.

“Being creative” is not a special club for assholes. There is nothing I like less than people who use creativity (and the tortured artist) as an excuse for their poor behaviour. I’m a creative person, and I’m depressed, and I can be a bit of a dick. These are not co-morbidities. Creative people often act in contrast to self-centricity: creating work for expression, for social reform, for change. We need only look at the atrocity that is happening today in Paris to realise that for many people, being creative is actually their way of giving back to their community and to society at large, and that if anything, they have the ability to do so in a way that’s meaningful and unique and therefore visible. And so maybe the self-centred creative people are actually at odds with creativity.

That’s what I think about Amanda Palmer.

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I’m Anna, a digital strategist and writer who likes to drink 'Ice Tea' but doesn't understand why it's not called 'Iced Tea'. By night and occasionally morning, I eat things, write things, berate my children, walk my dogs and hug my chocolate.

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