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Not With The Band: Are Artists Always Narcissistic?


A few weeks ago, people were talking a lot about Beyonce’s god-like apparition at the Grammys, in social media, and I remember mentioning her overwhelming narcissism… a performance like this has to imply a lot of self-loving, self-aggrandizing in action, right? After all, this is a woman who self-directed a documentary about herself, so nobody should be surprised that she finally decided to upgrade her avatar of perfection from queen to goddess. But this is not a post about Beyonce. ‘Every artist is narcissistic,’ someone answered to me. Yeah, may be. But is it always true? Do you need to be narcissistic to be an artist? Are all musicians, singers, composers, performers narcissistic?

‘Major Artists Are Also Major Narcissists, Says Science’, explains this article in Artnet News, as a recent study by Yi Zhou, a Florida State University professor, seems to suggests. Here is what he says in a paper published in the European Journal of Finance:

‘You know, my data does support that: Narcissistic artists will have higher prices and they will have more recognition in the art world.’

He was talking about visual art, but it seems to be the case in the music world too, the more narcissistic you are, the more music you sell? It looks like Beyonce again!

There are many other studies to confirm this, like this one published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity, led by psychologist Adrian Furnham of University College London, and these studies lead to the same conclusion: narcissists may not be necessarily more creative than the rest of the population but they think they are, and that belief is enough to drive them at various creative pursuits, and helps them rise to the top.

You have to admit that the Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Kanye West of this world show all the signs of narcissism, their performances are always about them, and they never miss an occasion to talk about themselves in interviews… but we have to distinguish two things here.

There are the artists who love themselves so much they think the world revolve around them, and all the above names have to be in that category, to which you could probably add a lot of the Mariah Carey/Madonna/Jay Z type. They need to be admired all the time and that’s why they are so successful, they are always working, they are always in representation somewhere, and even when they stumble, they think they gave the greatest show on earth.

Then there are the artists who cultivate the self-loathing and the self-hatred, they are the miserable ones and they do not necessarily rise to the top, but they pursue their art, in spite of everything,… Are they narcissistic too? They could be, as many psychologists think that narcissists dislike themselves deep down inside and that narcissism is just a mask to cover this deep hidden insecurities and self-hatred.

So successful artists could be narcissists who manage to keep the mask on all the time to get to the top, while miserable and struggling artists could be narcissists who can’t keep up with the fake mask… they want the attention too, they crave for it and that’s one of the reasons why they keep on creating, but their narcissism is expressed differently. They can’t wear that Beyonce tiara, they can’t dance with an army of Madonna toy boys, it’s just too much for them, nevertheless they too want to be admired for their art.

At the end, creating can be a way to survive for many artists, it’s a cure for some deep inner misery, but it is also always a cry for attention, a way to nourish this narcissistic side, which is in each of us.

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