If I had to pick one of the most consistent themes of the human experience that I see in my Tarot practice, it would be the suffering that people undergo when, for any number of reasons, they are unable to connect to or express their artistic natures.
Not only does this frustrated desire show up in unhappy career choices, but it plays out in toxic relationship decisions, as well as any number of self-sabotaging habits, addictions and psychological problems. I have also come to believe that it is often at the heart of violence and much that we call criminal behavior.
Some of the people in this dilemma become what Julia Cameron calls, “shadow artists.” The shadow artist is created when our sense of safety as we explore our creative yearnings is violated. This often starts when we are very young and vulnerable, with well-meaning parents who think they’re serving our best interests by warning us away from our artistic dreams.
Instead of encouraging us to at least give it a shot, our parents more often list all the terrible failures they’ve ever heard of, or imagined. These fears are often rooted in our parents’ own histories of artistic frustration, projected onto us from generations of dashed dreams.
Julia writes, “Timid young artists, adding parental fears to their own, often give up their sunny dreams of artistic careers, settling into the twilight world of could-have-beens and regrets. There, caught between the dream of action and the fear of failure, shadow artists are born…
“Artists themselves, but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists. Unable to recognize that they themselves may possess the creativity they so admire, they often date or marry people who actively pursue the art career they themselves secretly long for…
“Artists love other artists. Shadow artists are gravitating to their rightful tribe but cannot yet claim their birthright.”
So we find people in parallel careers that are “more practical,” like the secret longing of a fiction writer that turns instead to owning a book shop, or who goes into advertising or teaching. Or we become collectors, fans, and critics. We faithfully support the local opera company or symphony, forgetting that we once aspired to compose. We attend the dance festivals, having long ago stilled the longing in our feet and spirit to be on that stage.
Is this you? Is it me? “In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously,” Julia writes. “With gentle, deliberate effort, they must nurture their artist child. Creativity is play, but for shadow artists, learning to allow themselves to play is hard work.”
Tomorrow we’ll look at some ways to begin to recover our sense of safety and playfulness.