Welcome back, as we travel some of the darker pathways of Chapter Eight, Recovering a Sense of Strength. How have you been doing? Were you able to work with some of the challenges from last week, specifically any teachers or other authority figures who shamed your artist self when you were most vulnerable? This week, we’ll zoom in a little closer on a specific area that Julia considers to be the most at-risk for such harmful behavior: academia.
She writes, “It has been my perilous privilege over the past decade to undertake teaching forays into the groves of academia. It is my experience as a visiting artist that many academics are themselves artistic beings who are deeply frustrated by their inability to create. Skilled in intellectual discourse, distanced by that intellectual skill from their own creative urgings, they often find the creativity in their charges deeply disturbing.
“Devoted as they are to the scholarly appreciation of art, most academics find the beast intimidating when viewed first-hand. Creative-writing programs tend to be regarded with justified suspicion: those people aren’t studying creativity, they’re actually practicing it! Who knows where this could lead?”
She goes on to cite as an example a film-department chair of her acquaintance. He was a gifted filmmaker, but had “been unable or unwilling to expose himself to the rigors and disappointments of creating. Channeling his ferocious creative urges into the lives of his students, he alternately overcontrolled and undercut their best endeavors, seeking to vicariously fulfill or justify his own position on the sidelines.”
She muses, “As much as I wanted to dislike this man – and I certainly disliked his behaviors – I found myself unable to regard him without compassion. His own thwarted creativity, so luminous in his early films, had darkened to shadow first his own life, then the lives of his students. In the truest sense, he was a creative monster.”
Can you think of similar people or experiences you have known? The blocked poet who terrorizes her Lit students? The hyper-critical director who can devastate the cast with only a word or two?
The world of art and creativity can be a cruel one, and often, that cruelty comes straight from those who are not willing or able to believe in themselves as creators. This kind of poison can be ruinous to their less experienced students. Unless we are prepared and can turn it into the fuel that drives us forward.