Are You Hiding Behind The Beauty? (Great Art, Part 2):






There’s a lot that comes with being an artist to stoke the ego fires:

  • Admiration
  • The ultimate badge of specialness
  • Cascading down the river of Creativity Flow
  • Rampant self-expression
  • The delight of watching what’s around the corner coming toward you (or you toward it)
  • An unbridled sense of a purpose-driven life
  • Merging with forces that are bigger than the ego (a bit of irony, that one)
  • The ability to create beauty (as in “the eye of the beholder”)

Only, before I continue, a couple of clarifications… 

1. The Ego

I have never been at peace with ego bashing and the popular idea that our ego is a function of The Self that either gets in our way, or presents some hurdle to a more authentic or spiritual self. Or that it’s core essence is narcissistic and infantile.

I experience Ego as a state of being that provides us with essential survival tools for our psyches, even as it allows us to experience pleasure.

It gives us a framework to understand our own personalities. It provides the template for self-reflection. It gives us a sense of wholeness, so the disparate selves we all experience (who are we out with our friends vs. with our mother?) don’t scatter into a pile of disconnected pieces.

And it gives us a framework to understand our own maturation process. Through the Ego we can sense when we are maturing out of an infantile state.

And, yes, some of us settle for narcissism or fail to mature. And some of us use the Ego to bolster neurosis, bore our friends, and batter our colleagues.

But this is not, de facto, the Ego’s fault. The Whole Self has responsibility here. What the ego most clearly gives us, or withholds, is our ability to be confident (earned or not). While it is maturity, not the Ego, which can measure what we’ve rightfully earned (or not).

2. It’s Not All A Bed of Roses

The partial list of artist ego-pleasures above does not discount the raft of challenges you also face—from how to maintain integrity and put food on the table, to how to endure a fund raising event when you’d rather be in the studio.

The Trick Is Recognizing The Siren’s Call

Q: How do we allow our ego fires to be stoked without following the Siren’s call away from shining the light on our true self?

For what great art does not, at some level, do that—shine the light on the true self?

And the strongest Siren’s call, I’ve found, is the call to Beauty.

I am not suggesting that you do not make beautiful art, if that’s what compels you to get up in the morning.

But don’t stop at that destination unless you are 100% sure that your beautiful art is simultaneously shining the light on your true self—all the time, in all kinds of weather.

Far too often I see artists stopping by the lake to admire the seductive reflection of Beauty without diving in to see what treasures may be waiting in the darker, deeper depths.

Far too often I watch artists skillfully ruled by fear (which can go by many names: stubborn, resistant, it’s just who I am, beauty is my soul, it sells so well, people love it… ) as they hide the light of their true self behind the beauty.


Challenge: Give up Beauty for the next two weeks, and then come back here and tell me what happens.

P.S. Did you miss Great Art (Part 1)? Click here to read.


13 Responses to “Are You Hiding Behind The Beauty? (Great Art, Part 2):”

  1. Kathy Chin says:

    But what if you aren’t ruled by fear and your art comes out because it’s how you express the beauty you see. What if you aren’t hiding the light of your true self. Another question would be how would you know if you are hiding it, and who’s the authority that would let you know? As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and a person who shows the darker, deeper, depths hasn’t necessarily ended up there…they could’ve started there. Maybe they need to go to the top of the water to get to the light of their true selves. How does one know?

    • Ariane says:

      Great question, Kathy,
      First, I wasn’t implying that a response to what is beautiful is always about hiding from the True Self. Much art that is great is also a reflection of great beauty, as Leah in the next comment points out.

      I bring this up because I have found over and over again that even good artists can be seduced by what is beautiful and stop asking more or deeper challenges.

      As for the “authority” deciding whether or not you are hiding is you. Just entertaining the question as a possibility will open up new awareness. It’s not a guessing game, it’s a way of challenging the status quo of beauty and how that might be limiting you.

      • Ariane says:

        Had another thought – I asked the question – Are you hiding behind the beauty? – from the perspective of curiosity. It was not a statement. It was a question in the truest sense of the word…

        …an inquiry. A new door to open. A place to Explore with curiosity.

        So, we begin…

  2. Leah Jay says:

    A good point – but I think what you’re referring to is “pretty” or “prettiness” rather than “beauty”. To me, beauty is something achieved by the synthesis of one or more aesthetic principles (balance, rhythm, focus, etc.) and should be the goal of any artist, regardless or subject or mood. Prettiness suggests a lack of emotional depth – a classic example is someone who paints a subject like horses, flowers, landscapes, pet portraits, etc. without scratching the surface and going deeper than the content itself. A truly great portraitist or landscape artist paints more than just the subject – something about their work hints at additional content or meaning. I agree with your challenge – in this context, rather than just painting the pretty, “diving in” is a good recommendation.

    • Ariane says:

      Artistically, Leah, you’re right. However, I’m aiming at a different realm of beauty. It’s the realm that I hear artists reference all the time when I ask why they paint what they paint, they tell me because they want to give the world more beauty.

      A lovely thought, and heaven knows our world can use all the beauty artists can pour into it.

      AND… I’ve seen where artists themselves are so in love with the beauty that they unwittingly fail to expand within their own relationship to that beauty, if that makes sense.

  3. Ariane, I think this is a wonderful challenge. Your discussion of “Beauty” and the repetition of artists “trying to bring more beauty to the world.”

    I wonder if it’s simply because they do not have the words to describe what they are doing and the real fear is not delving into their art and simply scraping the surface, but not having the tools to know how to go deeper or the road map to touch those more philosophical arenas of creating art.

    They get caught up in the group think, that it isn’t “good” unless it reflects “Beauty” so that is what they strive for rather than searching for their own voice to enrich the world, whether or not it is commonly seen as beautiful. I believe this is the challenge you seek and it takes a brave soul to step beyond the pet fence of social pressure to bare their soul and face those people who remain blinded by the cultural reference to “Beauty.”

    I think with age I have begun to understand the true nature of my desire to create art and I now paint for myself rather than trying to meet a market (like Georgia O’Keefe.) I find that the soulful truth revealed in a piece I paint to satisfy myself seem to connect with others much more readily than those that I have done to meet others expectations. It has been a long process because for years I used art as way to be accepted and to find approval and then I truly found acceptance once I accepted my own truth. (Isn’t it Ironic? Such is life.)

    • Ariane says:

      Oh, Michelle, you got it! This is exactly where I was going. I love how you pop in and so ably expand the range of my aim.

      What you say here is so powerful: “…for years I used art as way to be accepted and to find approval and then I truly found acceptance once I accepted my own truth.”

      I’m also thrilled at the hundreds of views these last posts have been getting even though only a handful of artists are drawn to comment.

      It’s all faces of The Good, The True, and The Beautiful, to quote Ken Wilbur…

      • Thanks Ariane, You’re the greatest! I send artists all the time to read your insights.

        On a side bar. Thanks for doing the Pintrest seminar that was FANTASTIC. Also you mentioned maybe a Twitter one… That would be good too. I have spent time trying to understand how Twitter can be used for a visual artists and I have to admit, I don’t get Twitter. So that would be another great one to do.

  4. Pat Hay says:

    Hello Ariane,
    All the comments have been interesting so far. Lots of ‘food for thought.’ I agree with digging deeper. I don’t think an artist’s purpose is to bring more beauty to the world. I think the word beauty along with truth and genius get thrown around a little too much.
    It’s weird I find beauty can be quite boring but at the same time I can find beauty in something that may not appear beautiful on first look.
    It’s interesting this has come up as I am grappling with this very thing. I am a Canadian who lives in the Highlands of Scotland. There are stunning and beautiful (yes I said it) landscapes and seascapes surrounding me. It has been just in the past year I have begun to paint these landscapes and the challenge has always been to make them ‘mine’ rather than just paint the ‘beauty’ I see. It has been in turns, exciting and frustrating. I realised after reading your blog that when a piece I have worked on is boring it is because it just has beauty and nothing else, then I start over. I mean I can walk out the door and see that but it is my deeper response to what is in front of me that is the real challenge.

    • Ariane says:

      You are, Pat, doing the real work of art – looking at what you see. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

      And yet seeing itself is in layers. Sometimes starting at the Beauty Gate is a good beginning. Ending there, however, might mean you’ll never know how far you could have gone.

      I love your insight about “boring,” a word that has always puzzled me.

      I’ve been in Ireland, but have always longed to come to the Scottish Highlands…btw

  5. Debbie Monachella says:

    Hi Ariane. I really got a lot out of this topic to help me think “outside the mixed media box”. For a while now I have been saving mishapen or damaged materials that I thought I couldn’t use in my work. I will now take this opportunity to use these very items in a piece and see how it, and I, develop through the process. Thank you again, and thanks to all those that supplied additional insight with their replies.

    • Ariane says:

      WhooHOO – an artist takes me up on the challenge!!!

      Love it – report back here, would you?

      • Debbie Monachella says:

        You bet I will, I’m curious to see how this will turn out as well. Many thanks Ariane for the encouragement to “take the road less traveled”. Debbie

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