Welcome to week one, part one of The Artist’s Way Challenge! Cameron calls week one, “Recovering a Sense of Safety.” This week touches on the subject of fear, which is a root cause of many of our creative blocks. We must understand how fear holds us back before we can progress. She explains that week one will allow you to
“establish a sense of safety, which will enable you to explore your creativity with less fear.”
There are three sections in the chapter: Shadow Artists, Core Negative Beliefs, and Affirmative Weapons.
The chapter begins with a discussion about “Shadow Artists.” Cameron considers a shadow artist someone who doesn’t recognize their identity as a creative. Limiting beliefs, such as low self-worth, may prevent them from developing or pursuing their own artistic talents. Instead, shadow artists often surround themselves with other creative types and keep abreast of the developments in their field. Think editors, critics, or other representatives.
Not all people who enter the previously mentioned careers are shadow artists, but I think the overall theory makes sense. My first two careers were in restaurant service and accounting, but I’ve always found ways to surround myself with the art I love. For one, I’m a voracious reader. I seek out all the books, plus anything else related to writing, like news, interviews, and advice. I’ve also attended quite a few book signings in my time.
Cameron proposes that shadow artists are born of young artists who never received the vital early encouragement they needed. This lack of support left them apprehensive about their creative potential. Now, they judge their abilities too harshly or berate themselves for not having acted on their dreams.
Artists are born, not made, they say. And abandoning your dreams means you aren’t a “real” artist.
These sound like creative blocks to me.
Living with our failed initial efforts, like that butt ugly landscape painting from paint night, is hard. Cameron writes,
“Typically, the recovering shadow artist will use these early efforts to discourage continued exploration.”
“This happens in a number of ways: beginning work is measured against the masterworks of other artists, beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends.”
I’m so guilty of this. I even referred to it in one of my recent posts on Writer’s Block.
Radio host, Ira Glass, coined one of the best terms I’ve heard associated with skill level. It’s called The Taste Gap. Glass suggested it’s in our nature as creative types to have good taste, but our current skill level may not be up to par with that taste. This article from Brain Pickings explains his advice further and includes a related short film by Daniel Sax.
“It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time. Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner.”
And one final quote, which includes a favorite excuse of mine,
“but do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play? Yes…the same age you will be if you don’t.”
Core Negative Beliefs (or Where the Creative Blocks Lie)
“Most of the time when we are blocked in an area of our life, it is because we feel safer that way. We may not be happy, but at least we know what we are – unhappy. Much fear of our own creativity is the fear of the unknown.”
Oh, how true this is. We are sometimes so afraid of change that we go to great lengths to avoid it, even if that change can make us happier. We would rather dance with the devil we know. This aversion to change was apparent in my non-creative life, as I stayed in a job I [mostly] hated for nearly 14 years. It’s part of what drove me to this whole process.
Ultimately, this section is about how our minds create our core negative beliefs. Usually, they are ingrained from childhood. We develop them out of interactions with our families, friends, or society, and they become our creative blocks. They are destructive and “always go for your jugular,” but aren’t necessarily huge or life-altering.
The final section addresses affirmations, an excellent tool for overcoming negative thoughts and beliefs. We can use positive affirmations to retrain our brains, but our minds will usually object at first. Cameron refers to these objections as “blurts.” They are essentially red flags, our creative blocks at work.
I loved one of Cameron’s quotes here about artists we critique,
“All too often, it is audacity and not talent that moves an artist to center stage.”
Sometimes we find ourselves envious of people we consider unworthy or undeserving. But the simple fact is these people believed in themselves. They had the cojones to promote their work and stand up to criticism, so they are worthy and deserving. Art is subjective. Believing in ourselves is more than half the battle.
I hope to see you there for part two!