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March, 1994

EGO. NO MATTER how much they may disclaim it, no artist can leave home without it (or be without it at home either!). And I mean all artists of all persuasions. The simple fact is that in order to be an artist–one of any consequence at any rate–the first prerequisite is to possess that all important ingredient: a fully-blown ego–and one clamorous enough to demand attention. The artist–to be an artist–needs to be seen, to be heard, to be read. The painter must exhibit, the actor must perform, the musician must play, the writer must publish, for without the audience the creation lies stillborn–unknown, unappreciated, unfulfilled. Ego provides the motivation, the impetus that makes us believe that we have something to offer to the world–without ego prompting us, we feel valueless, unworthy of "speaking up" for the world to hear. The artist who claims complete humility, therefore, is to be taken with a grain of salt. Too much ego, on the other hand, and there is the danger of the artist making a fool of himself. A case in point: Some years ago I had written a profile on a Ukrainian-American artist for this publication. A short while later, she was a given a one-person exhibition at the Ukrainian Hall in Manhattan and, on the supposition that my profile of her played some part in the event, graciously invited me to the opening. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to see article neatly framed and prominently displayed for everyone to see. At the same time, I could not help but notice that hanging directly above my profile was a sign that was written in bold–but Ukrainian–lettering. I was, I confess, more than a little curious about what the sign said about my piece. Now, this may come as a surprise to many of my readers but–yes–I–even I–have an ego, and one (my intimates tell me) of considerable dimensions as well. I rationalize this weakness by telling myself that at least I’m not as bad as Salvador Dali who, at the age of six, aspired to be Napoleon! (It doesn’t help). In any event, after waiting what seemed a decent interval of time, I wandered over to two women who were speaking the language and asked them if they would translate the sign for me. "Sure," one of them chirped. "It says ‘No Smoking’." The amount of the deflation I experienced allowed me to see just how much of my ego was involved. Now this is an example of wasted ego-energy since such fatuous fat-headedness is simply the self seeking to be stroked. Ego ought (a much-neglected verb today, by the way) to be used in the act of creativity, ought to serve as the firing fuel that makes the creation happen–and without which the world would be considerably poorer. To piddle our ego away on praise-seeking is surely folly. If I could only learn the lesson…

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