The Seven Deadly Sins of Art

The Seven Deadly Sins of Art

“Beware monotony. It’s the mother of all the deadly sins.” - Edith Wharton, American novelist 

Growing up a young artist and musician, I was fortunate to meet some amazing people and have some incredible experience in my life. I had mentors, early on, who taught me to see things differently and look to the side of what everyone else was paying attention to. I performed with musicians who helped me become better at playing my own instrument and how to interact, musically, with other musicians. 

But, despite those people and experiences, things weren’t always so positive. There were times when we’d have to cancel a gig that I was really excited to play, because one of our bandmembers didn’t show up, causing resentment. Or when I thought for sure I was going to get a promotion that went to my co-worker instead, causing jealousy. And of course, times when a project would be falling apart, but because of my pride, I’d keep going without asking for help, until it collapsed.   

And that’s the theme of today’s discussion, The Seven Deadly Sins, it’s a theme commonly found throughout literature, art, theater, and music. While I remember learning about it in my youth, my first real exposure to this theme was when we read Chaucer’s, “The Canterbury Tales” back in high school. It captured my imagination and I really absorbed the lessons that it taught, applying them to my own life in order to be more productive and live more wholesomely. As I got older, however, those old, thematic warnings seemed to lose their impact and become less important. Life went on, as normal, without worry. 

Yet, those themes kept coming back into my life, over and over. From Boccaccio’s, “The Decameron,” “Paradise Lost” by Milton, to Dante’s, “Divine Comedy,” the books I read brought a more full scope of the theme to life. Marianne Faithful, a popular folk musician, teamed up with Kurt Weill to perform an operatic version of The Seven Deadly Sins. In 1995, the film “Se7en” was released, in which a killer used the Seven Deadly Sins as his motif for his crimes. In 2012, Japanese manga artist, Nakaba Suzuki, began an action-fantasy series called, “The Seven Deadly Sins,” which, after selling over 10 million copies, became an animate series that is currently available on Netflix. 

The origins of the Seven Deadly Sins, as we know them today, are credited with the Greeks and have been updated and interpreted up throughout history. The intent was to identify and use as a list of teaching points to help people avoid corruption of the spirit and condemnation of the soul. For me, I was always fascinated and found them to be a source of great inspiration. Growing up, as I become more and more exposed to different aspects of our culture, from music and movies, friends and family, and even strangers out and about in the world, I began to notice how these Seven Deadly Sins were exhibited everywhere and had become thoroughly engrained in our everyday routines. 

Movies and television continually showed scenes of lust, while people in restaurants were gorging themselves like pigs at the trough. Politicians were arrogant, wrathful, and boastful and, even in my own family, there was envy over presents we’d get and for me, greed to keep my siblings from eating my favorite ice cream! But, later, on the job where I’d try and work like a horse, I began to see co-workers slacking off and being lazy, making more work for everyone, causing resentment in the office. 

I like to believe that I’ve been able to control my emotions and say that I’m not affected by these things anymore, but that wouldn’t be true.
I am still affected and it’s part of what makes me who I am. The difference is that I’m aware of these vices and I try to keep myself in check from them, not letting them out of control or to influence me in a negative way. But, how does this list of ethical teachings relate to those in the creative arts? Can there be anything learned by applying the Seven Deadly Sins to artists? 

In my experience, there’s no particular order the list appears in, and with the exception of Pride, which we’ll get into last, none seem to be more crucial than the others. So, in writing about The Seven Deadly Sins of Art, it’s probably best to begin with the most commonly familiar, Lust. 

1. LUST 

Lust is one of three sins that focuses on an excessive or perverse love of something good. It is typically associated with an overwhelming sexual desire, but it can also relate in other ways, as well. For artists, Lust relates to unyielding desire for fame, wealth, or power. It forces an artist to put aside rational thought and responsibility to pursue an emotional hunger that can never be satisfied. The effect is a blind indulgence of the artist, until it’s too late. It’s the dancer who refuses to acknowledge a sore leg and keep practicing until she injures herself and can no longer dance. It’s the musician who keeps playing until he gets the piece of music down perfect, ignoring the blisters that form and prevent him from playing at all. I recall my college roommate spending all his money on paint and canvases. He claimed it was his passion, but he was obsessed.
Month after month, he’d never have enough to pay his share of the rent, and finally our landlord kicked him out and we found a new roommate. Lust is considered deadly because it puts rational thinking behind a shroud of impulsive emotions that cloud good judgement and favor reckless abandon. 


Gluttony, like Lust, is the second of the three sins that focuses on an excessive or perverse love of something good. We usually think of food when we think of gluttony. However, is about deriving more pleasure from something than it was intended for.
It’s the abhorrent consumption of goodness until it is exhausted and turns foul. For artists, it is the sheer overindulgence in the excess of their craft. It is the photographer who drains the energy and spirit out of their model, the painter who consumes their supplies without regard for cost or availability, or even the collector who is not satisfied with one or two pieces of work, but must have the entire body of work to themselves. The result is that by consuming to the point beyond excess, all appreciation for that thing is lost. It’s the difference between enjoying a single serving as opposed to consuming the entire supply, leaving nothing for anyone else to enjoy. For an artist to put all others to the side in an effort to devour and consume all resources, attention, and experience, for themselves, is both egregious and malicious and, as with food, brings the risk of choking on self-gratification. 


Greed, also know as Avarice, is the third of the three sins to focus on an excessive or perverse love of something good. While lust is the desire and gluttony is the volume, greed is the appetite that grinds down rational and ethical thought for the complete and obsessive need to acquire far beyond the level of excess. Greed turns artists into slaves, twisting our natural creative spirit and pervert our perspective to see only methods of gain, for ourselves, in ways that are often dubious or nefarious. Greedy artists charge more money for a job than was actually required, stealing ideas to call their own, trash talking other artists to raise their own reputation, withholding information to keep others from moving forward, or using another’s exhibit or platform to showcase our own work. And once it gets into our system of thought, it’s not easy to get away from it. I’ve seen lots of web designers and graphic artists who are quick to justify charging more because they feel, “the client can afford it!” I had a client that once told me I needed to bill extra hours, because “the company could afford it.” I admit, it was tempting, but that’s not how I work. I believe in being paid what I earn and being honest. And to me, that’s why my clients continue to call me back for more work. 


Sloth is different, in that it is the absence of love - or the absence of caring. In simple terms, it’s willful laziness. Arguably, sloth is most applicable to artists in procrastination and seeing projects through to the finish. It’s the artist who has ten thousand excuses or reasons why they can’t succeed or simply do what was expected. They are absurdly disorganized with no intent of cleaning up their workspace, despite it’s condition or who complains. Sloth keeps a musician from playing because they won’t fix faulty gear; It’s the artist with brushes covered thick in paint. Or the writer who watches television all day long instead of writing. Many of us have to get on top of ourselves to clean up, keep our equipment clean, and motivating to get things done. However, Sloth is the extreme version of this. It’s the absolute absence of care, concern, or motivation to exert effort, in any capacity. 

I once hired a young man at a very prominent company to be one of my production designers. He interviewed very well and looked capable on paper.
But, once he got the job I saw a very different person slowly unveil in front of me. He began coming in later and later, every day. Some days, he’d call in sick two hours after he was supposed to be AT work.
He’d boast about how he and his roommates stayed up all night playing video games. He spoke of drinking, smoking, and lots of junk food. His workspace soon became a disaster with food wrappers, spilled energy drinks, and trash all over. He spend most of his time wandering around the office until one day, a co-worker told me he was asleep in the men’s room.
I went in, and sure enough, there he was, snoring! I had to let him go, which was unfortunate, but wholly necessary. 

Sloth is deadly for artists because it buries us beneath our obligations, AND buries others in the work or mess we leave behind, forcing them to clean up after us creating a sense of apathy for everyone, and labeling us unreliable and sometimes, unhireable. 


Wrath is one of three sins that is love, twisted, and directed to focus harm on others, whether it’s in words, physically, or in reputation. It is the most uncontrollable emotion that is easily provoked but very difficult to calm. Wrath can be triggered when someone harms or offends us - or someone close to us - and results in a violent reaction of rage, anger, hatred and even vengeance.
It’s that emotion that wants justice and conjures the impulse to damage and destroy. Rage is a hot air balloon that, when in full swing, shoots skyward, but when exhausted, comes crashing to the ground. Wrath can manifests as annoyance, impatience, contempt, or misanthropy. It can push us, emotionally, into self-destructive behavior, like drugs & alcohol and exacerbate potential mental health issues. For an artist, who puts an exhaustive amount of time, passion, and energy into their work, a simple, unprovoked criticism can send them into a rage, defending themselves against attitudes or words intended to derail or demean their work. While I have never seen a fist-fight break out at an art exhibition, I have been witness to artists succumbing to rage with teachers, at critics, and even at other artists who’s comments were provocative enough to draw out hostile emotions. It’s deadly because it’s not something we can internalize and work to resolve. Once the blood boils, it’s a challenge to keep the lid on, and wrath can put us into harm’s way, while also putting us in the position of creating harm for others. 

6. ENVY 

Like Wrath, Envy twists love and and redirects us to focus harm toward others. And much like Lust and Greed, it is an obsessive desire that is brought on by others, whether their person or their belongings. It’s the skilled musician with no audience who falls envious to the amateur adored by a crowd. It’s the understudy actress who never gets the lead role. It’s the painter who envies the paintings of his friends and peers. It’s a Dr. Jeckyl / Mr. Hyde scenario, where reason and logic are cast aside by an intense influence of resentment, sadness, and a yearning to possess the property or abilities of another. 

It’s also known as Coveting, and is a Biblical theme, as well as a powerful theme throughout history, literature, and the arts. In the 2010 film, Black Swan, dancers are consumed with envy and pushed to the brink of sanity in their competition for the lead role in Swan Lake. For artists, as in the examples above, it’s very easy to fall prey to “artist envy,” something I discuss in another video of mine, “How to Tame Artist Envy.” 

St. Thomas Aquinas claimed that there are three stages to envy, which I’ll adjust for artists: 

  • Stage 1: Belittling another artists reputation by criticizing their work, technique, habits, or personal life. 
  • Stage 2: Taking joy at another artist’s failure or feeling grief at another artist’s success. 
  • Stage 3: Hatred toward another artist due to our own personal inadequacy, self-doubt, or lack of success. 

Envy takes joy in the suffering of others, and it unfortunately affects people in all the creative fields, and beyond. 


The most dreadful and serious of all the deadly sins. Pride is in league with Wrath and Envy, and puts all of one’s urges and desires before all others, despite how it may affect them. It lays upon the belief of superiority, narcissism, and the belief that one is more elite than another. We are taught, from a young age and especially as artists, that we should always “believe in ourselves,” and that is the root of pride. But when the positive attributes of pride, like taking pride in our work or the prideful feeling of succeeding, become corrupt and turns to hubris or vanity, then that’s when pride becomes a deadly sin. 

Pride, it’s said, leads to all other vices. It’s an overly exaggerated form of self-esteem and self-confidence, even at the precipice of complete failure. And while it has it’s virtuous side, artist often flaunt their arrogance and boast of their work in haughty language that can make anyone feel infereior. Pablo Picasso’s arrogance was legendary, boasting at a young age that he could do anything Goya or Valezquez could do. 

It’s become commonplace to read news stories about actors or actresses, film executives, athletes, and politicians falling from grace, their pride denying all accountability or responsibility for their words and actions. As an artist, I find it difficult sometimes to be around other artists who are consumed by vanity for their own work, that they fail to recognize the work of others, or worse, that they fail to see any flaw in their work or need for improvement. The story of Narcissus comes to mind, about a young man so taken by his own looks in a reflective pool of water, that he falls in and drowns. 

To step back and look at ourselves and our work and see only perfection is to be prideful and vain; however, to step back and see where improvements are needed and to recognize our flaws, is on the virtuous side of Pride, where care and concern for our work are clear. 

Because the work of an artist is so intimate, personal, and often comes from a spiritual place, it’s important to remind ourselves not to abandon our ethical and moral responsibilities. To keep ourselves in check, ensuring we don’t crave too much from our work, consume too much to create it, are too stingy in sharing our creative spirit, get too lazy and put off being creative, get offended easily by negative reactions to our work, allow the seed of jealously of others to fester and grow, or become so enamored by our own work that we cannot see else.

I hope this article held some meaning or insight for you about The Seven Deadly Sins of Art (and Artists). Thank you so much for taking your time to check it out. I’m sincerely grateful. Stay well and God bless!