Artist’s Journal: Embracing Self-Interest in Art

Duster by Johnny Beaver

One of the first issues artists meet when they start getting serious about their craft is the matter of understanding themselves, their motivations, influences, and so forth. I’ve always felt that motivation was paramount, as without it one would probably not do anything at all—and for many of us, this includes even getting out of bed. Early on as a creation junkie, I felt compelled to think of my work as being done for the benefit of others, which is still true to a certain extent, but not in the same way. Art was huge, it was mind-blowing, and it transcended a lot of the petty things that everyday life is all about. I instantly wanted to be a part of that.

Unfortunately, my initial mode of rationalizing things was self-important and pretentious. Why? Because I bought into the ideals of artistic romance that are spun by people who don’t know anything about it. I tended to think of the “suffering for the benefit of the world” paradigm as a noble act, rather than a short-sighted one that, when compared to reality, sounds ridiculous. In retrospect it was a necessary step towards a greater understanding of things, but remains pretty embarrassing. Thanks to the heavy stigma and confusion surrounding the idea of self-interest/selfishness, it took a while to wake up and realize that not only was I creating just for myself, but that there was nothing really wrong with that. And neither was it contradictory to my ideals of contributing to the community.

So, I’m selfish. And so are you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So there. It’s part of our nature and an integral part of survival as well as personal growth beyond those basic imperatives. And really, most of its bad rap results from the many, many (many) instances in which people have chosen to put themselves above others out of unadulterated greed.

Speakeasy by Johnny Beaver

To put it simply (and apologies for dredging up this obnoxious topic again so soon), in the same sense of the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” selfishness is a tool for exploration as well as exploitation—you do with it what you will. And I’m absolutely convinced that without this form of inward curiosity, we’d either be making garbage art (as some people do) or no art at all (which is a far worse breed). There’s got to be a bit of self-love involved in the process of gathering your supplies, learning to wield them, doing so, and then sharing it with others. If there wasn’t, I’d suspect that some people might start feeling too silly about the entire masturbatory process to even do it.

All of the possible debate on my conjecture aside, what I want to really instill in people is the desire to open themselves up and indulge. Working for one’s own self, or at least working without any sort of thick guise, will open up a great path toward finding and working within the parts of a person that are truly different from others—the parts that have arguably produced the greatest works of art and science in the whole of human history. And hey, a little honesty and self-actualization never hurt anybody. Actually, it has, but it’s usually worth it.

by Johnny Beaver