I read a blog, this morning, about psychopaths. In this article, they reckoned that you could spot a psychopath by a number of tell-tale characteristics. These included changing persona and leaving people that had invested their emotions, love and even finances in reaching the pyschopath’s wild-eyed, messianic goal in the dust. Psychopaths, as we all know, are dangerous people to be around. They have God complexes. The set themselves unrealistic projects and goals and eventually abandon them. They are heroes, hard-wired to hurt you, according to the blog. Here is a link to it:
That got me to thinking how many artists behave in this way, characterised by this blogger as psychopathic. Maybe the characterisation is closer than we think. We all know of artists that seem to callously discard acolytes and change their direction and whole persona. It’s almost de-rigeur for artists to behave in this way. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s a caricature we recognise.
I have a theory (and it is just a theory) that the behaviour these artists exhibit is more readily understood, if you frame the problem around the idea of fear. In this framework, the actions seem less calculating, irrational and evil. They might even be understandable and paint the artist in a sympathetic light. You be the judge.
Imagine you are the sort of person that strives to make something of themselves, be somebody better than they believe themselves to actually be and set themselves some massive, hard to reach goal to prove to themselves (and others) that they really are what they want to be. They might put on an air of superiority, “to make themselves appear enlightened and with a sense of deep moral wisdom and compassion”. It might be all part of a supreme effort to convince themselves that they can reach this high standard, as a way of driving themselves forward toward it. After all, if you nail your shingle to the door saying you are a painter, then you are a painter, right?
The blog goes on to say, “Psychopaths will make the most incredibly ambitious plans including you as their right hand man or woman then, on a whim, discard those plans and move on to some other crusade that excludes you. Victims often alter their own life plans to help the psychopath reach their imaginary goals, resulting in appalling emotional, psychological and financial chaos for the victims, when the psychopath moves on.”
Unfortunately, many artists (and psychopaths) abandon their grand plans without warning. The blog’s author writes: “They now see no further benefit in playing this part and have moved on to a new role. It is just business. You are treated to a completely new, cold and emotionless persona.” Could it be that the person simply got cold feet? Could it be that they became so fearful of failing to reach their ideal, that the only psychological protection they could find was to change the entire fabric of their lives, suddenly, to avoid the pain of feeling the project was a failure? Could it be that all of those people that believed in them are now painful, pointed reminders of their failure to be who they want to be?
Imagine how crushing and devastating it must be to wake up one morning and decide that you cannot face the fear of failing to be the person you want to be. How would you react? Would you want to spend time with your fans and supporters, or withdraw into some other persona and life? In some senses, the actions of these people isn’t quite as irrational and random as it at first seems. They have failed, due to their fear of failure and have changed tack simply to protect themselves from complete psychological destruction. They may feel the weight of the hurt and pain they cause others that believe in them – perhaps too acutely. The same defence mechanism that protects them from their own self-disappointment now makes them cold and distant from the people that loved them most. It’s all too painful to face.
It may be remotely possible that the difference between a successful artist (or human being) and a psychopath that leaves broken hearts and lives in their wake, is that the former had the courage to see their grand plan through. That, or the difference is that the former are content with their own failings, vulnerabilities and the possibility that they may not ever live up to their ideal, yet they can feel comfort in knowing they aspire and try to be something better and they take that as a result.
Facing your own fallibilities, vulnerabilities, failings, shortcomings and realising you may never reach your ideal takes courage. Lots of courage. It may be that having the courage to fail and the courage to face your failures as a step forward in disguise is what separates the psychopath from the non-psychopath.
If you are an artist and you fear never being good enough, never impressing enough people, never finding an audience or never reaching your own ideal, have the courage to realise you’re only human and that there is great credit in even trying to do what you do. It matters to those around you that love you and support you in your work. You owe them a duty of care. Be brave enough to embrace failure as heartily as you would embrace success and know that both can be the making of you.
Ironically, the courage to fail paves the road to success.