Egos and Art

Have you ever wondered why many great artists seem to be modest about their work, and less-competent artists tend to have over-inflated egos?

You've probably noticed that some great artists don't recognize their high skill level.  They are so focused on improving their work that all they see are the mistakes in their work. Never satisfied, they are constantly trying to overcome their ever-rising standard of quality. Some may even feel a sense of inferiority about their work. This can be characterized as illusory inferiority.

 On the other hand, some unskilled artists suffer from illusory superiority, otherwise known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. These artists feel that their skill level is much higher than in reality, and they feel that they have no need to improve their work, They fail to recognize high skills in other artists and reject any critiques of their own work. 

The source of the Dunning-Kruger effect is debated, but one theory contends that excessive praise feeds an artist's beliefs and artificially elevates their self-appraisal. An artist might witness this on social media, where the response to their work is high praise and declarations that they are superior. They begin to believe the praise that they read, and it manifests into illusory superiority.

Illusory inferiority or inferiority complex?

There is another school of thought that asserts the Dunning-Kruger effect stems from trying to compensate for an inferiority complex. The idea is that the artist refuses to acknowledge greatness in others due to their own feelings for inadequacy, perhaps at an unconscious level.

In their view, illusory inferiority suffered by many skilled artist is compensated differently from that of unskilled artists. The skilled artist focuses internally on improving themselves, while the unskilled artist focuses externally by attempting to invalidate others.

Most artists have a bit of insecurity about their work. We don't know if others will approve of our work when we put our work out there. We hope what we create is good enough, but fear that we don't see the mistakes that the rest of the world sees. 

The best thing to do with that insecurity is to focus on improving our own work rather than attempting to elevate ourselves by bringing others down. Because no matter how much skill one acquires in their lifetime, there is always more to learn.




Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published


Rebecca Salcedo

July 26, 2021

Good article, Dru. I’ve had this conversation with my husband a few times and I find the subject interesting, especially because I’m a gallery director and some of the best talents struggle to see that they have worth, so I do my best to be an uplifting source of encouragement! I admit, I suffer from the hyper-self-critical end. but it’s justified most of the time! That’s why I’ll be taking more classes soon!

Ryan Barkley

July 26, 2021

Great article Dru. I definitely agree with this 👌

Ryan Barkley

July 26, 2021

This reminds me of many people I know.

Lisa Schultz

July 26, 2021

Well said.


July 26, 2021

AMEN! I suffer from some form of this. I’ve been painting for over 25 yrs. Had my own shop for 16 yrs. Painted countless bikes and gotten tons of magazine coverage. But, if any of my artist heroes including Dru painted something IDENTICAL to something I did my brain immediately says “theirs is great and mine is a bad copy”. The amount of praise my work gets has no bearing on this “ism” I have. Anyone else have this problem?

Timothy John -Luke Smith

August 07, 2021

Titian said, “It takes a lifetime to learn how to paint, and another lifetime to paint.” Great article.

John Tyson

March 11, 2023

Very good article. If you think you know it all, you will never be open minded enough to learn something new. The thing about art is even if you learn something every day of your life, you still won’t know it all. Art is always evolving.

Katharine Andrews

April 16, 2024

Bit late lol I just found all of your emails hidden away in a separate folder in my email.
Now I have a name for it instead of telling people I struggle because I’m a perfectionist. I have none of my own artwork in my home, I have to sell it or give away because I constantly see things that ‘need fixing’. When people offer to pay me to paint something for them, I instantly have an inner anxiety attack, an inner war where I know that I can do it but tell myself that it won’t be good enough, so I say no, undersell or give it away. As you say in this article, this is despite how much praise I am given. I really wish I could find a way through this, not to think that I am the best, just to accept that my work is good enough.

Just added to your cart:
Excl. postage 
My Bag
Just added to your wishlist:
Excl. postage 
My Wishlist