Sometimes when no one loves you, vanity is a wonderful thing. At times, it is even good to be self deluded. Seeing your own work as worthwhile, even great, when no one else does can be all you have. Vanity can get you through hard times. Vanity is useful. It is a survival tool.

Gustave Courbet, “Bonjour Monsieur Courbet,” 1854, Oil on canvas, 129 x 149 cm, Musee Fabre, Montpellier

How often is it said that vanity is a bad thing? So she has the personality of hippopotamus and an appearance to match, but her nails and hair are divine. Or he has the masculine organs of mouse, but the lift kit and wheels of his big truck allow him to go through four feet of mud. Sure. That kind of vanus in the Latin sense of “empty” is laughable.

But there’s another kind of vanity, and I say, “Cheers” to it.

When I was a kid, I was lousy at sports. I wanted desperately to be good. But I could not hit a baseball to save my life, and no one would dare throw a football my way because the only certainty was someone on the other team would catch it. I wanted to get good grades in school. I really did. But the blue of the sky and the way the leaves on the trees whispered in the wind would engage my attention in a way that school work never could, and so when it came time to do the work, I was outside, playing and dreaming.

But I could draw.

I could draw like maybe a small handful of kids my age in the whole city. I was good, at least, at something.

Now some would say, “That’s not vanity. You actually could draw. You had a right to be proud.”

But I was vain. My skill made up for deficiencies in other areas — in my mind.

It didn’t. I was deluded. In my heart, I was jealous. Secretly, I wanted to be as good as other kids at the things that kids — boys my age — really admired, like sports or feats of bravery, but I was no good at those things…

(Well, I was pretty tough. I could take a punch or a fall or a loss and not be a bad sport, so I wasn’t a complete loser, but still.)

And the fact was, I never quit trying to be good at sports. I never gave up. It was harder for me because unlike my more athletic friends, I had no older siblings or father types to teach me. Unlike my more brainiac friends, I had no one to push me or test my scholastic aptitudes. But I kept at it. Eventually, I did become a good athlete. Eventually I did become quite the scholar. I never did acquire any vanity about those things though. I find that interesting.

Yet there came into my life long periods in which I was producing no decent work. My vanity expected and demanded greatness, and no excuses were tolerated. I would add to the body of art something as great as anything that was ever done by anyone who ever lived. Period.

That day has not come. But I will do it, or I will die trying.

Vanity, deluded or not, is a useful thing for artists.