Menu

Recommended Reading: On Artistic Jealousy

Artistic jealousy gets at the pit of what scares us the most: will my work last? Yet, a little cocktail of jealousy, fear, and ambition is one heck of a way to get your pen moving.

Jealousy: competing against others or yourself can be a great motivator or the worst critic.

Jealousy: competing against others or yourself can be a great motivator or a great source of frustration.

Jealousy: competing against others or yourself can be a great motivator or a great source of frustration.

At varying times in our lives, we struggle with a particular emotion or vice. When someone mentions it, that word carries so much power, conjuring up all the things we’d prefer to hide about ourselves.

For me, the word is jealousy. Jealousy. A word with an unparalleled ability to force me to look right into the depths of myself, in exactly those places where I feel most vulnerable. It’s an excellent teacher, a terrible friend. Oh Jealousy, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

I’m a huge fan of the writer Esme Wang. While she’s written novels, stories, articles, and more, I primarily come into contact with her through her blog, where she writes incredibly sincere and insightful essays on what it means to be a writer, an artist, and an entrepreneur with a mental illness, amongst many other impressive themes. However, since I read Other People’s Success: On Artistic Jealousy, a blog post about envy within artistic circles, I haven’t been able to get her words out of my head.

I often hear this about jealousy: it’s a healthy and useful tool that points you in the direction of what you want. If your friend’s been picked for first chair in your city’s orchestra, and your stomach sours in the same moment that you’re buying her a congratulatory dinner, the idea goes that you, too, now know that you hope to receive an accolade of that caliber.

Where the idea stops being useful is that most of us working in creative fields know what we want. We know it in a way that burns. I don’t give myself self-awareness points because I feel jealous of a friend who’s been published in Harper’s; I well know that I want to be published in Harper’s.

Artistic jealousy gets at the pit of what scares us the most, especially creative types: will my work last? Yet, as with any emotion, it’s only useful to think these things in as much as they help us to motivate ourselves. Let’s face it, a little cocktail of jealousy, fear, and ambition is one heck of a way to light a fire under your, well, pen.

As you pick up the pen, or open a New Post tab, think of an emotion that defines you, one that you’re afraid to talk about. Then, make it work for you. You’re the boss, after all.

Show Comments

65 Comments

Comments are closed.

Close Comments

Comments

  1. I am STOKED to see this kind of post – thank you for writing it! This is such a fascinating, relevant topic.

    My father worked at the pinnacle of his creative field as a brilliant violinist with a world-class orchestra. When he retired, over 100 incredibly talented people auditioned for his chair. I wish I had the chance to ask him about how he coped with jealousy in his circle. My father had bipolar disorder like many of his colleagues. I’m a writer with bipolar disorder working on my first book.

    Esme Wang has schizoaffective disorder, so her words hold special meaning for me. i’ll definitely check out the rest of her blog and other projects.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Hi again, Erica.

        As you’re a fan of Esme, did you know she was nominated for a WEGO Health Activist Award? I was nominated for this award by the author Wendy Williamson (“I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar” and “Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival”) for the “Best in Show Blog”. 🙂 You can endorse us at the following links if you like – it just takes a second. Esme and I need endorsements as a show of support, and there are multiple awards given out in March.

        I run free support groups for women with mood disorders and I blog for the International Bipolar Foundation and Stigmama. Esme sounds like an incredible speaker and powerhouse!

        Esme’s link:

        https://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/65

        My WEGO link:

        https://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/4811

        Thanks, and I hope it’s okay to put this information up here. If not, please delete.

        have a great day!
        Dyane

        Liked by 3 people

      1. I think it is a rather academic question but do you think that they way you or your father perceived things or events or people is different from the way that someone without bipolar would?

        I do understand that perceptions in general differ at the individual level but does having bipolar insert a kind of bias in your perception building?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Excellent question! I can’t speak for my Dad, who passed away – we never discussed the topic of bipolar & perception. He wasn’t interested in advocacy though, and he very rarely discussed his manic depression. (That was the term he grew up with; he was diagnosed at 18.)

        I *definitely* think that my having bipolar one disorder has totally affected my perception of things/events/people, and not in an especially healthy and accurate way. I have a bias against many things, but there are countless others with bipolar who are not this way.

        I’d love to expound further, but this is probably not the best place. 😉 I welcome you to email me anytime (dyane@baymoon.com) and of course I invite you to visit my blog “Birth of a Ne Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder”. I’ll check out your blog too! 🙂

        warmly,
        Dyane

        Liked by 1 person

      1. You were fine. I’ll answer almost anything – I’m an open book about bipolar. Unfortunately I’m half-awake (a medication side effect) so I hope I made a modicum of sense. Hope to hear from you via blog or email or both.

        Like

    1. Wow. I used to be in an orchestra and I really can’t begin to fathom what your father must have felt; I already get dark thoughts when just one more horn player is added to our section, haha. Thanks for sharing your father’s story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that “jealousy” can be a creative catalyst, my own envy/jealousy of someone else doing cool stuff has made me strive and create in the past. However I disagree with “Artistic jealousy gets at the pit of what scares us the most, especially creative types: will my work last?” I could care less if my work will last, it’s digitized in the 21st C. so the chances of it surviving are pretty great, unless the internet stops working, which is out of my control anyway but it is not “the pit of what scares me the most,” please don’t speak for me/”us.”
    What scares me, and where jealousy comes in, is the question “Am I doing enough?.” It’s the possibility of a “NO” that scares me, answering “NO” means one is a creative poser, posing is a bigger fear of mine than whether or not my work will survive. I get jealous of the people who can easily answer “YES, I am doing enough,” and I want to be in their camp. “Will my work last?” Doesn’t scare me in the slightest, my work is here now, and some art, ie: live music, is gone soon after the note is played, it exists only in memory. Recorded music is not “live music” so is different. I suppose it’s fair to say music is my main form.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I concur to some degree with this comment. Moreover, the passage quoted in the post seems to me to speak less to the question of whether one’s work will last as to whether it is recognized and, in some sense, validated. Being published in Harper’s seems to me to have more to do with external validation and recognition than with the notion of creating a work that lasts–whether one means physically lasting or lasting in the sense that it offers some “universal” human truths, if such things exist. If you want something to last–well, bury it in a time capsule.

      Mr. Tim Mills’s question is, to my mind, the right one for any artist to be asking themselves, or any human, really.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is definitely about validation. Once you’re doing something, whatever it is, the next step is getting a reaction, hopefully a positive one. And the next question is indeed “am I doing enough?” possibly coupled with “why is so and so getting more of a reaction than me? Is s/he doing more, is s/he luckier/better connected/more talented/more in touch with their audience?”

        Liked by 2 people

  3. You h.i.t. it. Jealousy is driven by fear. Will I be supplanted? A pivotal event in my own life, overriden by jealousy, caused me to do a 180 – completely change my position and direction. So far, it has paid dividends. Thank you for making us so mindful; we need to do a check on this e.v.e.r.y. day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never feel jealous towards someone yet in any field. I just accept that all of us are different and every one has their own talent. I cannot be you and you cannot be me, therefore it is no use to feel jealous. I have something nobody has and vice-versa. Each of us is unique in our own way and beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. If there is something I envy is the youthfulness of the youth. I can never go back in time no matter what and I feel that I missed out on some things. Is that jealousy? I don’t think so.

    Like

    1. yes, everyone is different, but are you not jealous of anyone’s success, especially where you thought you were at least as good and yet that person has surpassed you in terms of how much validation they got?

      Like

      1. No. I rather think it is me. I must be doing something wrong, or don’t handle the things right. If I am indeed better, I will be in that person’s place and s/he’s in mine. If that happened, then I fail to utilize the opportunities that had been given to me or didn’t market myself better. Sometimes, It got something to do with luck. So, I will think maybe I am not lucky or the successful someone is in the right place at the right time. But jealous, no.

        Like

      2. That’s mostly a healthy approach, though when it’s luck it’s frustrating thinking you could have had that opportunity that would’ve made a whole lot of difference.

        Like

      3. Frustrating it is. But sometimes there are things that out of our control. If it is meant to be, it is meant to be. No use crying over spilled milk, it will only hinder us from progressing and doing our outmost best.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such a transparent post. I know exactly what you mean. I think I have some jealousy at times to want to be as admired or respected as someone else, whether or the same expressive form or not. It is helpful in some sense, but I have found it very easy to avoid it becoming toxic, although at times some toxin does seep through.

    I usually turn the mix of fear and jealousy into motivation to remember that it is possible, but feeling a certain way about the success of another won’t bring me any closer to mine. So take it, acknowledge it, feel it and, most importantly, use that as fuel for good.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I think emotions like jealousy can be useful to a point, if they motivate you to do better. Well, MAYBE. But my problem with that is that it very often is a completely negative emotion. Wishing someone less success rather than aiming for more for oneself. There is a bitter joke that shows that. Two neighbours in a village, one has a goat. The other is envious. But he does not wish for a goat himself, he wants the neighbour’s goat to die.
    That is jealousy for me.
    Lucie

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is a wonderful post. Thank you. I think the word that comes up for me most if “fear .” With my new book coming out I fear it will be a dud and people won’t buy it. I fear I will seem to be a failure by others standards.

    This is some interesting energy to look at. I am not fighting the fear, rather I am holding it in the light while letting it go.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Aqeelah Ikram and commented:

    Jealousy isn’t shameful if it isn’t superficial. Let it be deep, let it breath a little, but most of all, let it be for all the things that are real and ethereal. Then conquer it to death.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Wow, I love this post, and I am thrilled to have discovered Esme Wang. Must read more. “Yes, a little cocktail of jealousy, fear, and ambition is one heck of a way to get your pen moving.” Thanks, Erica. Something I haven’t wanted to admit about myself, but of course it’s true.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I find that, though my work convinces me of its truth and experience, I get faintly jealous when ambitious individuals work strenuously to promote themselves and end up enjoying a wider audience. This troubles me because I see it as marketing strength, rather than the strength of the work itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Loved this post! It makes u kind of look at things differently. If jealousy can be good, then maybe anger can be too. just gotta find out how its good for you. I write music and i have never thought about my music lasting throughout the years but its definitely something that im going to be thinking about. also sometimes i want to write and i dont know how to start. focusing on a feeling can definitely help!

    Thank you for this post!

    Like

  12. Hmmm. Constructive jealousy? I had never considered my moments of jealousy to be indicators of ambition… this is pretty insightful. I always thought that “negative” emotions were valuable and interesting to look at, but I usually looked at sadness and anger as examples. Never thought of jealousy!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I completely agree with the idea that we all have fears and to some extent they can motivate you. However, I can’t agree that jealousy has been a catalyst for me. When I encounter a person that is doing something better than me I try to learn from them. I think that I am most concerned with giving up. Giving up because someone says that you are not good enough. Fortunately, my parents taught me that I could do whatever it is that my little heart desired.So I choose to see the naysayers for what they bring to the table. While art is subjective and guaranteed not to please everyone, constructive criticism is always appreciated. Furthermore the naysayers only prove that someone is interested in what you have to say.

    By the way check out my blog at http://www.happyforlyfe.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I loved your article,human and universal and refreshing. Thank you.
    Also went and peeked at Esme Wang’s blog – so creative and feminine, a real inspiration,hope mine would look like that one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. For writing, blogging and art, jealousy has not been the driver for me. For my paid full-time career, which is none of these 3 things, I have been remotely jealous a long time ago. Then abandoned it: wastes too much precious energy.

    Being in creative zen phases requires total focus of now and not even thinking about others.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Please go my website, http://www.gen524.com and support the PARKINSON’S SUPPORT

    Fundraiser as Donald Havener hikes the 2,181.1 mile Appalachian Trail from Springer Mtn. GA. to Mt. Katadhyn, ME. The website will feature regular updates with photo and video enhancements. This hike should require approximately 150 days at an average speed of 15 miles per day.

    Like