HOW TO BE A COMPASSIONATE ASSHOLE
Art, as in most everything else in life, can be something that is overlooked or glazed over by social media. Follower count, image likes, and trend following can hinder the beautiful raw simplicity of why art should/needs to be created. It becomes a numbers game and loses it’s soul. When you are able to strip away the numbers and focus on the artwork itself you begin to allow yourself to see past the distractions and gauge the work on a more real and genuine level. When you do that however, you are now faced with the question of ego. Whether its one you pose to yourself or others ask of you, its important to assess where your relationship with your ego is.
Self-portrait work is something that I personally have struggled with for a number of years. I have experimented ever since I picked up a camera even though in those days it was more about “making a cool photo” and it always felt hollow. Part of what was such a challenge was the EGO associated with self-portrait work. And the larger question of where does ego fit into art and its creation…
I was raised in a home where ego was seen as something to avoid. When you are young sometimes you see things very black and white. Right vs wrong. Something is either good or bad for you with no in between. As I have lived, lossed, loved, and grown I have been able to see the beautiful open grey spaces that truly make up the world.
Ego by definition is: a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
Even the definition allows for both positive (self esteem) and negative (self importance ) interpretations. I always thought that someone with an ego was someone who was arrogant, prideful, and full of themselves. That is certainly what can happen when you allow your own idea of your self importance to consume you.
So how does this play into art and its creation. The world of art has played stage to some of the biggest egos in history. Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Freddie mercury, Frank Loyld Wright, to name a few. These individuals had prodigious skill and talent and whether for good or bad made it very well known. They used their mediums of mixed media, photography, music, and architecture as platforms to express themselves. This would indicate that ego is required for success. Right?
From that first time I picked up a camera through the present it’s been a journey of answering the question “why do I create?” That is an essential question for every artist to answer. Answering it says just as much about you as a person as it does about your work.
Due in part to my upbringing as well as experiences I went through I was a “yes man” for a large chunk of my life. I would do everything I could to make those around me happy. To ensure that what I did did not rock the boat or did not stray from boundaries that were expected of me. A great deal of these boundaries were placed upon myself by myself. I was seen as someone who was helpful, compassionate, humble, and reliable. All of those are wonderful attributes but I was also very hallow. I would say yes so often and put my own needs and self-love second. My exhaustion would result in being sick or burnt out.
It was a hard battle to figure out where the line was in my need to connect and help others and the real application of self love and self care. I felt so utterly selfish if I ever was to put my own needs or self care above someone else. And only after experiencing emotional and relational abuse and gaslighting did I finally begin to find that line and build those boundaries.
I have grown to love myself in a way that was very very hard to accept and now consider myself to no longer be a “Yes man” and have evolved into a “Compassionate Asshole”. That title alone would get a frown from my mother but it is a self given title that I am embracing. I have always had a need and desire to help others and to show love and compassion to those around me. This was an idea that my parents and upbringing fed constantly. They are incredible examples of this that I am very grateful for.
The asshole component is more of a realization that I cannot help others truly and properly unless I am making my mental, physical, spiritual, relational, and emotional health priorities. That can mean removing myself from situations and people who want to take rather than give, allowing peoples words to not dictate my actions or perception of myself, and ultimately being able to say no without guilt.
Though the title of “Compassionate Asshole” may sound intense it really is just a depiction that in order to be whole I need to balance my self worth with my equally important need to be humble and available to help others which at time will be seen by others as being selfish or mean. Even writing this post I can hear conversations I have had with loved ones who hate that title because its a jarring duality.
So how does all of this revolve and interact with the concept of ego and its relationship with art. The images you see here are from a shoot I did when I was feeling overwhelmed and had a strong desire to express and put a visual face to these emotions.
Every time I photograph myself it’s something new and often daunting. I love being vulnerable and allowing myself to be open to try new ways of pushing my own boundaries and how I perceive myself artistically, even though it can be scary. Self portraiture by nature seems at the surface to be a very egotistical thing to do. When in reality it can be one of the more humbling acts an artist does. I have so much respect for fellow artists who turn their medium on themselves no matter what the outcome.
“I've never met a strong person with an easy past.” -Atticus
My initial foray into photography and art started out as an escape of sorts and something that I could obsess over and use as my visual journaling or excuse to get away. But over the years it has turned into something much more significant and much more vital to who I am. I always try to approach each shoot, project, or client with the same sense of being open to learn and/or share with the person I am creating or working with.
I genuinely desire to be able to provide a space to allow them to be themselves and express however they wish. When you provide that space for someone to be themselves its a responsibility as well as a gift. This is where I feel having the confidence in yourself and the process as an artist is key. It is not about inflating your head or ego because the images would not be possible without a subject. It is important to provide those who are in front of my camera with the confidence (ego) and self assured manner that will help allow them to relax and the anxiety of being vulnerable. That line is sometimes tricky and I am sure I walk it very imperfectly. For anyone who has spoken with me about my work they will know compliments can be hard to receive because for so long I associated the love of compliments with a negative self importance but I have grown to see it as someones way of supporting and loving me as an artist. As one person said in a recent poll I asked on social media “…Art is love” and just as in Love there needs to be a beautiful balance of self worth and confidence (ego) as well as compassion and a willingness to grow and learn.
This series “Alabaster Ego” was my exploration of expressing emotion and cathartically working through how to show myself without showing myself. How to remove some of who I am without loosing sight of myself. I used white body paint and white backdrop to draw the eye to the more minute detail of my body and face and any use of color was meant to be dramatic and bring a sense of focus. I had a great deal of fun with this shoot and as always use music to inform and work with when I create. Especially when I do my self portrait work music is a must. The song I played during this shoot is a beautiful piece called “On the nature of Daylight” by Max Richter.
I posed the question of “Why do you create” to those who support and follow my work. I will be honest and admit that I expected to receive answers that were superficial and basic and was ready to respond by calling people to a better way of thinking or viewing their journey with art. This is a wonderful example of me letting my ego get the better of me and thinking that within this moment MY self importance was higher or better than others. Their answers humbled and made me reflect:
There is a wonderful and incredible resposibity that comes with creating. No matter what your medium is or your audience. Even an audience of one. Surrender yourself to the process and allow yourself to create knowing that it will be a journey like any other with its incredible highs and epic lows. No matter what stay humble, carry love for others in your heart, and grow in confidence of your abilities to bring your own unique and worthy voice to the world stage.
For the complete self portrait series please visit my Patreon and support my journey. Thank you to each and every soul reading this and taking the time to care.