Shadow Artists And Creative Wounds
When I was a kid I wanted to be a ninja and a writer. After immersing myself in the world of martial arts for half a year, I decided to stick with writing. I wrote all the time: at home, in the street, in waiting rooms, in public transport, wherever inspiration struck. I dreamed of publishing one day. I dreamed of winning writing contests. I dreamed of making a career out of my passion.
And then I turned into a shadow artist.
This doesn’t mean I work with shadows (although I often do in my photography). It means I chose to work in proximity to declared artists rather than owning the artist within me. In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron explains many creative people abandon their desire to be artists growing up:
“Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream, these people become shadow artists instead. Artists themselves but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists”.
Low self-worth never stopped me from writing but it did stop me from putting my work out there and pursuing my dream. So I became a proofreader and translator instead. I have translated seven books, secretly admiring their authors for daring to do what I didn’t think myself capable of doing. This is the root of perfectionism. Those of us who feel what we do has to be perfect avoid doing anything because it will never be perfect. These creative wounds run deep and make us lose sight of the true purpose of creation: our need to give life to worlds born in our imagination.
There are many creative wounds: some more obvious, some more subtle, but they all suffocate our energy until it stagnates. A comment from a teacher, a rejection from a writing contest, our own sense of comparison when we measure our work next to other people’s work… Most of us aren’t like Stephen King, who used to hang his rejection slips on the wall. If low self-worth accompanies us from the beginning of our journey, there’s a chance we’ll deviate from the path and cling to the shadows of those we deem more worthy to be called artists.
The remedy to this sickness? Pouring love into those wounds. Grieving our losses. Feeling the anger, the sadness, the shame, the guilt of it all… and then letting go. Accepting the bad art we make. Celebrating the bad art we make. Realising none of the artists out there are perfect. Stopping our negative self-talk right on its tracks and choosing nourishing words instead. And taking one step at a time, and another, and another, because only consistency will move us forward, and if we’re not moving forward, we aren’t moving at all.
This is one of the lessons I'm slowly learning this year. If we don’t build a container for our creative energy, it stops flowing. If we don’t make time for our creations, they start decaying. If we don’t feed our spirit with art that we love, the void inside will just get bigger and bigger.
I used to think there was no point in doing something unless I was the best at it. This kind of logic doesn’t make sense to me anymore. How is one pair of eyes better than another? Or one writing style better than another? Who decides who is the best at something anyway? Why do we have to accept a culture that turns everything into a competition?
If you too struggle with paralysing fear when it comes to creating, I formally invite you to make art right now. Any kind of art. Make bad art on purpose, just as a first step. Ditch the titles and labels. Ditch the comparison. (I know it’s hard but bear with me). Turn those creative wounds into visual or written representations, get them out of your system. Move forward. The point isn’t to be the best at something, it’s to love the act of creation itself, like when we were children and the worlds in our minds poured out and permeated the real world with their magic. The possibilities are endless.
I wrote this poem a while ago and I feel today is the day it must see the light:
You watch others use their voice,
sing from their deepest parts,
speak words the wind carries away,
wishing you were them.
But you forget my dear
shadow artists like you have
waiting to be unravelled
and the song your heart sings
quietly when no one is listening
is the flutter of a newborn bird,
the petals of a flower when
it first opens in spring,
the chrysalis breaking through
now transformed into a
butterfly, new to this life.
The world needs your gifts
as much as it needs the bird,
the flower, the butterfly
to bring forward their own gifts.
All it takes is trust, patience, courage
and unwavering faith in yourself.