Are creative people self-centred? – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Are creative people self-centred?

Are creative people self-centred?

Someone sent me this question on

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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.

  • John James

    January 8, 2015 at 12:30 pm Reply

    I’d still be interested to hear what you think AFTER you read her book… ;)

    I personally disagree with just about everything you’ve said about Amanda Palmer in the piece, and ironically, I think a lot of the things you say about yourself are things Amanda says about herself in her book… I actually think you’re more like Amanda Palmer than you realise (in some ways, not all)… for example, I think the idea of “creativity begets other creativity” is something you both share….

    I think, for me, the thing I love about AP is the time she takes to connect with her fans – she has always done that, from the early days of Dresden Dolls to now… I think that, at least, is the opposite of self-centred…

    That’s why she can ask for “a guitar pickup, a balloon shaped like the Andromeda galaxy, four pygmy sheep and a place to live for three months” and get them, because she’s built up that relationship with her fans over the years…

    And you know what Anna, you’re exactly the same – you might not be able to get “a guitar pickup, a balloon shaped like the Andromeda galaxy, four pygmy sheep and a place to live for three months”, but I’ve seen you ask for help on social media, and I’ve seen “your fans” come through for you too… because, like Amanda, you take time to make connections with the people who follow you on SM – again, you’re really not that different…

    Re, artists being self-centred – well I still stand by that statement – I think we all need a little bit of self-centredness to be creative – I think that’s because I come from the Skyhoooks school of philosophy – I don’t think Ego is a dirty word, and I think all creative people need a bit of Ego and self-centredness to nurture their creativity – but I agree with you that there are some creative-types who let that part of their personality go too far… but I don’t agree that Amanda Palmer is one of them…

    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one… :)

  • JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    January 8, 2015 at 1:42 pm Reply

    I don’t know a lot about Amanda Palmer, I get her vibe, but I think she twists and misconstrews the truth to create attention. But that is only my initial reaction, as I said, I don’t know a lot about her and haven’t read her memoir.

    I do though agree that creative people are at times, not always, self-centred. It’s not a choice it just is. When I am in a creative headspace I liken it to having blinkers on and ear plugs in. I have one sole focus. To create (write) and the house could be burning down but I wouldn’t have a clue because I have to just write right now. So yes, self-centred in that way.

    Many artists do teeter on the edge of brilliance and insanity, a very fine line to walk and many fall. But many succeed. In that respect I think creatives need (as in require, not a need) a differently functioning brain than others. They think differently, they see the world differently. And it’s not something that can be replicated.

    As for myself, although I may at times be selfish and narrow mindedly focused when it comes to my creativity I don’t think I’m self-centred in the way that I think the world revolves around me? (And that sentence was way too long) No. I believe in creating connection and rapport and finding like-minded souls. Do I believe in asking? No. Giving? Yes. Receiving? Well, I believe if the determination, effort and motion is there, the rest is in the hands of the universe.

    Off tangent? Maybe. x

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      January 8, 2015 at 1:51 pm Reply

      Ah, but I don’t think being in a creative headspace is self-centred. So maybe that is where I’m getting murky in my opining :)

      • John James

        January 8, 2015 at 6:46 pm Reply

        Yep – I think Jodi articulated what I was trying to say much better than I did… :)

  • Rae Hilhorst

    January 8, 2015 at 3:37 pm Reply

    You people have given me so much to reflect on. I didn’t think I was self-centred but maybe I am. Sitting on the fence on this one x

  • Snow

    January 8, 2015 at 7:33 pm Reply

    I don’t like Amanda Palmer and I never have. I have a lot of issues with her. Sorry if I sound mean. I’m not a mean person! She just rubs me up the wrong way. And I haven’t read her book because I have a problem with the notion that she’s written a book, when she’s not a writer, and all it really is self promotion. I’d like a story please. Not some sad/inspiring crap about her life and her life and her life and her life and some more about her life.
    And maybe if I did read it I’d love it and see the evil of my ways and I’m sorry if I should read it because maybe then I could be well informed and my argument would carry some weight but I can’t do it. I don’t like her and I don’t like her art or the way she expresses herself and I’m sorry because now I’m just ranting and no one wants to read a bad rant. Sorry.

    I don’t think creative people are self-centered. Rubbish. People ARE self-centered. Some of these people are creative. Some of these people are not. Some people aren’t kind. Some people are. Etc. Etc.

    Asking for help doesn’t make you self-centered. Needing space doesn’t make you self-centered. Caring for yourself and what you create doesn’t make you self-centered. Wanting to finish that poem/story/painting/drawing/etc etc doesn’t make you self-centered. Basically, what I’m trying to say is: Doing things for yourself is NOT selfish nor self-centered. Obviously it CAN be but it is not inherently. And creating art to share with others is one of the least self-centered things I know of.

    ps. there’s a difference between having confidence and knowing you can do something well and self-centeredness.

    pps. great blog post Anna.

    ppps. sorry again people for my rant.

  • Maxabella

    January 8, 2015 at 10:55 pm Reply

    Okay, so I don’t even know who Amanda Oalmer is and I can tell you that I’ve seen her name written so many times here that it doesn’t even look like a name any more. Amanda Palmer, Amanda Palmer, Amanda Palmer.

    I’m showing my ignorance, I know, but I’ve never cared much for face, so no matter. Are creative people self-centred? It depends on whether you think that people in general are self-centred. Which, of course they are.


  • Onian

    January 9, 2015 at 2:57 am Reply

    Hi Anna,

    You pose a curious question, and I very much enjoyed your exploration of it. I think the answer “all creative people are self-centered” shows the limitations of the twitterverse; it’s a cop out that only works within the space of a conversation in 140 fleeting characters. The statement reads well, but doesn’t stand up to questioning.

    Brian Viglione, formerly the drummer for the Dresden Dolls, the duo that gave Amanda her start, is a perfect counterexample to the person who insists all creative people are necessarily self-centered. Brian is a phenomenally creative person, and drove the music and image of the Dresden Dolls as much or more than Amanda. He’s also personally sweet, generous, and dedicated to his local music community. Importantly to this conversation, Brian is not famous. Instead, he’s spent years since the Dresden Dolls contributing his fantastic musicianship to various bands he finds inspiring. He does it because he loves making music, not for the accolades and the fame. And that underlines the difference between Brian and Amanda.

    Any of us might think that creative people are necessarily self-centered when we observe the shenanigans of our famous creatives, Amanda being one of them. But why is Amanda famous? And Brian is not? They’re both creative, but Amanda is additionally a narcissist. She’s in the creative arena for the attention. That’s always been her motivation. She writes in her book about the constant need to have people watch her, revealing the inner processes of the narcissist. She’s always performing, not only when she gets onstage.

    It’s sad that such people by default become our role models for how to be a creative person. If you’re relying on people in the popular media for role models though, that’s who you’re going to see. The self-centered narcissistic are the ones who make the enormous effort to achieve fame. But my creative friends are way better role models (& people) than Amanda. I’d suggest we all look around in our own lives for our creative role models. Heck, I’m looking at you, Anna!

  • BK

    January 10, 2015 at 9:53 pm Reply

    Amanda Palmer rubs me up the wrong way. Didn’t even know she had written a book because I tend to ignore anything that has her name in it. Except this post of course because I wanted to know what YOU thought about Ms Palmer.

    I dabble with writing but I don’t see myself as a writer. I see myself as a creative person. And I can be self-centred but I don’t know that I am self-centred because I am creative or that I am creative because I am self-centred. I agree with the commenter above who says “People are self-centred”. I think everyone has the potential to be self-centred and I have yet to come across a person who isn’t self-centred at some time, in some manner.

    Do I get into a zone when I am paper cutting? Sure I do. Do I ask my kids to bugger off and leave me alone when I am in that zone? Hell yes. Do I give them the evil eye while wielding my paper cutting scalpel? Well yes I do. If that makes me self-centred then so be it. They are just as self-centred when they play One Direction at full blast at 6:30am or when they fight each other for rights to the TV. We are all out for ourselves in one way or another, at one time or another. It’s the human condition.

  • Deborah

    January 13, 2015 at 10:30 pm Reply

    in response to your comment about Ice Tea in your bio, I can’t remember the linguistic term for it, but it’s something speakers do when there’s a word that ends in a consonant followed by a word that starts with a consonant – one of the consonants disappears, usually the one ending the first word.
    I can’t think of other examples at the moment, just ones where the suffix “-ed” is dropped, e.g. “tin food” instead of “tinned food”, and “box set” instead of “boxed set”. Those don’t avoid the two consonants together, but they do save us a whole syllable. yay!
    similar thing can happen with words ending and beginning with vowels being run together – “y’all”, “j’aime”.

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