This week, I want to talk about the artist’s lie: what it is, why it’s toxic, and how to avoid committing it.

Table of Contents

  • What Is The Artist’s Lie?
    • The Dangers Of Lying About Mastery
  • Why Do We Lie About Self-Mastery?
    • 1) To Avoid Critics
    • 2) Artists Want To Be Seen As Humble To Admirers
    • 3) Many Artists Are Insecure
  • How To Resolve The Artist’s Lie
  • Actionables

What Is The Artist’s Lie?

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” – Robert Greene, Mastery

The “artist’s lie” is when an artist lies about the time, energy, and effort that goes into creating art or mastering a skill. For example, an artist may invest hours a day perfecting his craft and learning from his mistakes. However, he may declare that creating great art is “no big deal” or “anyone can create” what he makes.

The artist who lies about the effort required to make art only leads his supporters astray. From anger management to nuclear physics, mastery of anything requires much from the pursuer. To lie about such efforts is horrid and creates more misery through unrealistic expectations.

The Dangers Of Lying About Mastery


Never lie about the efforts it takes to become a master.

Overall, if we are dishonest about the time, energy, and effort required in mastering subjects and skills, we cannot achieve mastery. The less honest we are about proficiency, the more people will be dissuaded when their dreams do not magically come true. Or when their pursuit of some noble end doesn’t fall easily in their lap.

Therefore, combating the artist’s lie extends beyond art and includes anything that requires self-mastery. We must always be honest about the time, energy, and effort involved in self-mastery, so we can ensure everyone has the reality they need to achieve their best selves.

Why Do We Lie About Self-Mastery?

Lying about self-mastery is a typical response. We are dishonest for various reasons, but all reasons involve arrogance and the protection of our egos. Let us quickly explore the three main reasons individuals lie about the reality of self-mastery.

1) To Avoid Critics

“The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus.” – Robert Greene

When you master a skill or create a work of art, you are making explicit statements about what you value and what skills you have. In short, you are revealing aspects of your soul and telling the world what you value and love.

For example, when a writer writes a story, he exposes himself. He is telling the world what beliefs he has. A writer cannot separate his value system from what he created. Therefore, if he writes about heroes, he exposes his love of virtue, which people could never determine without intimate knowledge of himself and actions.

However, if you can shrug your shoulders and say anything, from a crayon drawing to Mona Lisa, is something you “threw together,” then you can emotionally detach yourself from the criticism you may receive. Of course, saying something you spent time, energy, and effort on was “thrown together” is a blatant lie. But the artist or master devalues his work and mastery in the hopes of avoiding criticism. Or, when criticized, he won’t be emotionally affected because he detaches from what was “thrown together.”

2) Artists Want To Be Seen As Humble To Admirers


Pursuing the cheers of the masses will never make you happy.

Secondly, masters want to be seen as humble to obtain approval from admirers. Let’s say we have an artist named Jane, who spends five hours a day drawing and improving her skill. This investment enhances her abilities, and she quickly develops into an impressive artist. She is not ashamed of her talent, and many people despise her skills. They dislike Jane not because she brags about her accomplishments but because she refuses to denounce her abilities.

However, a rival artist, Micheal, has developed abilities close to Jane’s. Instead of being proud of what he has done, he continually shrugs his shoulders and says, “Hey, anyone can do what I do. I mean, I’m not that impressive.” His display of false humility garners supporters because he makes them feel better about their inactions and lack of discernable abilities.

The master who does not apologize for his mastery and is honest about his efforts will always be disliked. He is not feeding admirers the false narratives they crave about the spontaneity of skill growth. He does not justify their laziness or whim worship. He tells them bluntly that they need to work hard to get good. Weak individuals never value such honesty.

Therefore, you can lie about the efforts involved in self-mastery. You will always gain more admirers this way. Even though those same admirers will live a miserable life, achieving and accomplishing nothing.

3) Many Artists Are Insecure

Lastly, many artists are insecure. They don’t believe in their art nor appreciate the efforts they’ve invested. They worry about popularity, fame, and money instead of focusing on mastery of skill and enjoyment of the craft.

In this last example, the artist lies to themselves to calm their fears about not reaching fame or wealth. Only by severing ties to the desire to be seen as “popular” can an individual honestly come to peace with their art.

How To Resolve The Artist’s Lie

“Tell the truth-or, at least, don’t lie” – Jordan Peterson

The artist’s lie is defeated by not lying. Creating art or mastering a skill is arduous. There is no way around this reality.

Never listen to anyone who tells you skill growth is easy. Skill growth is emotionally draining, physically demanding, and mentally painful. However, there is light on the other side as you grow as an individual and master the skills that bring you peace and joy.

Lastly, to avoid lying to yourself, seek approval from virtuous individuals. Do not seek popularity. Fame and wealth do not make you a great artist or master.

Work hard. Stay focused. Believe in your most virtuous self. The road is hard. It always has and will be. But you can walk it.


  1. In your pursuit of mastery, what advice would you give others? What have you learned about yourself while walking the path of mastery?
  2. What is something you would like to master? Why? What joy does such a skill bring you?
  3. Do you know people who lie about greatness? What lies do they tell? Do others see through the lies? Why do you believe you are able to see through the lies?

Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

*Image credit to Unsplash.