To me, this is an essential characteristic of any artist. It is so hard to gain confidence and so easy to destroy it, but it is the certainty an artist requires, if they are going to create brave, original works with flair and panache.
So many artists that call themselves artists lack this vital ingredient. It can be very illusive. Artists that lack confidence are somehow strangely inhibited and afraid. They care way too much about what other people think about their work, far beyond the need for simple affirmation, which we all need. As a consequence, they never produce their most authentic work. In trying to please everybody, they often please nobody.
Confidence is not arrogance. Arrogance is actually a symptom of lack of confidence. It is that false bravado that those with doubts about their own abilities and their own value put up against a world of criticism, in a vain attempt to deflect it. It is rarely successful and arrogance does not enable an artist to produce work of great quality and intrinsic beauty the way that confidence does.
Craving adulation is another symptom of lack of confidence. Without the self-assurance that recognises the beauty and worth of one’s own output, the manic need for adulation can, in the worst cases, crowd out the art itself. It becomes the goal. It destroys the artist. No amount of adulation is ever enough.
There are so many people that are jealous of the artist’s abilities and talents, but rather than put in the work to develop their own artistic voice and expression, they instead resort to savage and cruel criticism, believing (in some twisted way) that the destruction of their prey’s confidence will in some way improve their own artistic standing. The sad truth is that no amount of criticising some other artist’s work makes your own artistic abilities any better. You might get away with convincing the world that you have a delicate and refined aesthetic sense, which is all too easily offended by sub standard art, but it’s a sham. The realisation of this truth can turn a critic into a bitter critic. Artists should guard themselves against such critics. They are as corrosive to confidence as acid.
The guitarist Steve Vai had the word “Know” written on his guitar’s scratch plate, positioned in such a way that it was clearly for him to read, not his audience. I wondered why, but I think I understand. It was a reminder to himself, I believe, to never doubt what he was doing up there in front of all these people, many of whom would be hot-shot guitar players too. As an artist, he reminded himself to be the authority on his own art. It occurred to me that if such an accomplished musician still needs to remind himself that he is the author of his own artistic output, then we probably all need to keep that word in our own minds.
Update August 2014: Well, there goes a perfectly good idea and theory. It turns out that the word on Steve Vai’s scratchplate is “KONX”.
I’ve seen two explanations of the meaning of the word, both from the Vai.com website. Here they are:
“Konx om pax…
We come to find that the term is most commonly associated with both the Italian composer Giancinto Scelsi and occultist Aleister Crowley.
Scelsi wrote a large orchestra piece in the mid-sixties called ‘Konk om Pax’ And of course there is the slim obscure book on the kabala by Crowley written in 1907 called ‘Konx om Pax’.
So what does ‘Konx om pax’ mean?
It literally means ‘Light In Extension’, or ‘Light rushing out in one ray’; a mystical precept coming from ancient Egypt.
The words ‘Konx om pax’ were muttered at the Eleusinian Mysteries in 1500 BCE ancient Greece.
Plato wrote about the Eleusinian Mysteries that “the design of the mysteries was to lead us back to the principles from which we descended, that is to a perfect enjoyment of spiritual good”.
The phrase “Konx om Pax” itself is a Greek translation of ancient Egyptian words “Khabs am Pekht”.
The phrase seems to imply an embodiment of light, metaphorized through Enlightenment, the Truth giving from outside the etherealized provinces of whatever heavens or planes or dimensions that Truth is supposed to emanate from.
I think Steve Vai is merely using the word Konx on his guitar to symbolize something along the lines of: Enlightenment, Ultimate Understanding, Divine Truth, The Light of God, ‘Light without heat’.”
The other explanation I found (also on Vai.com):
“The word “KONX” is an ancient alchemist mantra word that is believed to have originated with Aleister Crowley. It’s meant to be used in various incantations that are supposed to invoke disembodied entities from the abyss to materialize into the physical.”
Take your choice. I now feel that, while the word Steve used is mystical and clever, and suggestive of occult knowledge, “KNOW” would have been a perfectly good choice too. 😀
In my defence, I have to plead that I was not close enough to the stage at the Astoria, the night the DVD the image was taken from was filmed (but I was there!). I couldn’t quite make out what the word said, but assumed it would be a four letter English language word, starting with “K” and containing the letters “O” and “N”. I couldn’t imagine it being “KNOX” and the word “KONX” was unknown to me. I guessed at “KNOW” in error.
You can’t win them all!