​The Need for Delusion

We have discussed confidence a great deal in this blog. Every creative individual must possess some level of confidence in order to simply put their work out into the world. This is true for writers, performers, musicians, and of course for artists. If we do not value our own work, why would we waste time showing it to anyone else? Certainly if we see no merit the rest of the population will not. So in order to begin we must first have confidence that we have something important to contribute.

But it isn’t that simple.

The creation of art in all its forms requires that we constantly push boundaries and try new things. Clinging to the same old standard never moved anything forward. Some of the greatest artists in history have been ahead of their time, so to speak. That is, their art was not understood until years or sometimes decades after its creation. Many of these artists received acclaim only posthumously. Hard luck for sure, but the common thread they all shared was the confidence to continue in the face of what may have felt like failure. In order to accomplish this it is perhaps necessary to operate under a mild self-delusion.

Let’s unpack what a delusion really means. A delusion, by definition, is a belief that contradicts evidence. Plain and simple. We often hear of delusions within the context of mental illness, but the truth is that we all carry some level of delusion in some aspects of our lives. Simply waking up every morning with a modicum of optimism in a world that is notoriously random and at times quite harsh requires the belief that we can rise above it all and carve out a happy life. For many of us, this turns out to be the case.

For artists, self-delusion means that we believe, despite whatever rejection or contradiction we may run into, that our art and our foundational message have merit. That our work deserves to be seen and will, eventually, impact the world. Perhaps it will not be right away or even next year, it could be years before the zeitgeist catches up with what we have created. This is not a reason to stop. And that is the point.

Thinking this way can lead to fear. For most people there will be moments when we worry that we are operating under some sort of dangerous delusion or at least a foolish one. Our culture at large does not value the work we do and often those closest to us echo this sentiment. Friends and family members may urge us to find a regular job, to give up the dream of being an artist. However well-meaning, these can be powerful blows to self-confidence and can lead us to believe that we are letting our delusion get out of hand.

Perhaps we may be concerned that we will become deluded ego-maniacs. It is easy to worry that, by thinking this way we could become ungrounded and begin to operate entirely in some dreamlike space where there is nothing but our art and if the rest of the world doesn’t get it, well, to hell with them.

These are all normal lines of thinking when it comes to the very delicate subject of self-confidence. Maintaining a sense of balance is important in all things, but perhaps more so in this case. We must counter our need to self-sustain positive thoughts with the risk of letting these thoughts cloud our reality.

The fact of the matter is that, as an artist one cannot expect a steady stream of outside praise. We do not work in a field of merit-based incentive. Ours is a steep and rocky path and many emotional obstacles can stand in our way at any moment. We must be our own biggest fans. Particularly as an independent, self-promoting artist, it is crucial that you believe fully in the value of your own work. Any salesperson who is successful first believes that their product is something that the public not only wants but needs. We all must believe this about our art.

Making bold choices day after day is never an easy way to go about living. Sometimes it feels like it may just be easier to tow the line, take a 9-5 job and turn our backs on the art that drives us forward and yet seems at times to hold us back. Believe in your work, believe in your message. Believe that if you continue to make honest art that truly communicates to the world, perhaps not the whole world, but some part of the world will one day see the value there too. Do not be afraid of the need for self-delusion when it comes to maintaining the confidence necessary to make your living as an artist.

For further thoughts on this topic, here I am talking about this topic in this short video.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for writing this blog……I’m an artist struggling with self belief year in and year out. I would argue that I was born delusional in certain respects….but I also believe that truths become delusional as soon as they are uttered. Whether they are criticisms, beliefs or points of view. For example, I always lose the urge to make my art if I talk about my idea first. Alot of my writing and music and painting is about that feel you get …..a feeling of mysterious excitement that has no name because it is a kind of unclear vision or urge until it has been formed. It is often the act of doing the art which is the most exciting bit too….then it remains up to time as to whether your older work stands up in later years.

    But I digress…..just wanted to say I found your statement encouraging because in truth I am my biggest fan and it sometimes feels merely like a cathartic self obsessive process more than a giving of truth or progress or entertainment for others … I’ve always thought working your way towards a feeling of fulfillment of enlightenment was what art should be about for me. But there does come a point where you need to share otherwise you are liable to feel like you cannot move on and end up making poorer copies of work you may have done before in one form or another. The man in the high tower syndrome is all about being delusional and spiritually festering in stead of growing. But again sometimes you need that space and you should not be ashamed of discovering more about yourself through your self. Just try to share and diversify sometimes as this helps you to grow stronger.

    Anyway thanks again for your insights. In the words of Neil Gaiman (which also inspired me)….make more art.

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