As we begin to explore our artistic yearnings, we are going to run into challenges and difficulties. Because we are “in recovery,” our tender egos can easily want to abandon everything and send our artist self back into hiding again.
Don’t let that happen! Be prepared for the inevitable setbacks. Entertain the idea that perhaps your fragile artist is simply beginning a program of exercise with resistance weights, in order to build the creative muscles.
For instance, the Big Scary Thing that holds so many of us back is the very fact of putting ourselves “out there” in our most authentic, therefore vulnerable, ways. It’s not like we expect the world to fall at our feet (as recovering artists, inflated ego is rarely a problem for us!). But we need to face the fact that we will receive criticism, sometimes harsh, sometimes unfair.
I know we are sort of beating this metaphor to a pulp, but it really is very helpful to think of, and treat our inner artist like a very young child. For instance, little kids have a wide-open, uncensored curiosity and desire to learn. They live in a world of constant, unselfconscious trial and error.
So, as Julia points out, “The artist within, like the child within, is seldom hurt by truth. I will say again that much true criticism liberates the artist it is aimed at. We are childlike, not childish. Ah-hah! Is often the accompanying inner sound when a well-placed, accurate critical arrow makes its mark. The artist thinks, ‘Yes! I can see that! That’s right! I can change that!’
“The criticism that damages an artist is the criticism – well intentioned or ill – that contains no saving kernel of truth yet has a certain damning plausibility or unassailable blanket judgment that cannot be rationally refuted.”
So when a child is trying to learn a new skill for the first time, say, tying their shoes (do kids still have shoes with laces?), pointing out where they are getting it wrong is a necessary part of teaching. But while they fumble clumsily the first fifty times, if the parent lets loose with something like, “You are so stupid. You can’t learn anything!” what does this do to the child?
Suddenly, it is no longer about shoelaces. This is an attack on their entire character and being. The child, who has nothing else to measure by, absorbs this message. How many times does it take before the youngster believes the “fact” that all their clumsy beginning efforts prove that they are stupid, slow learners?
Has anything like this happened to you as a baby artist?
Think about the authority figures that have impacted our inner artist child — parents, teachers, editors, and mentors. As Julia notes, “There is a sacred trust inherent in the bond between teacher and student. This trust, when violated, has the impact of a parental violation. What we are talking about here is emotional incest.”
So now, dear friends, we are taking a long, clear look at some of the deep wounds we may have suffered in the past, and naming them for what they were. This gives us an opportunity for profound healing, as well as the ability to recognize and ward off future damage in a similar vein.
Therefore, I invite you to breathe, relax, and be gentle with yourself as we walk this part of our path. More tomorrow.