I recently discovered the book “The Artist’s Way”, a course in how to discover and recover your ‘lost’ creative self. Since lockdown 2.0 is in full swing and travel is a no go right now I am currently pursuing a different kind of exploration, an emotional-spiritual-creative-artistic one. This journey continues on the theme of my last post where I asked: “Does [travel] always have to be a literal concept or can it also be metaphorical? Does [it] have to involve physical movement or can it be an experience, a meditation, a shift in mindset?”
The book starts by asking us to identify the stories we were told (usually as children) about what ‘art’ is, and what it means to be an ‘artist’. Julia Cameron encourages us to think of our inner artist as an ‘artist child’ that needs nurturing. If we were never encouraged to give life to this artist-child, in the absence of nutrition it withers and dies. It retreats to the depths of our psyche, sometimes never to be reclaimed.
Man this cuts deep.
As children we hear that artistic pursuits such as drawing and painting are just ‘hobbies’. Enjoy, just only after you’ve finished your homework. We may receive messages such a “stop daydreaming” and “get your head out of the clouds”. Meanwhile, our caregivers direct us towards more ‘sensible’ pursuits and activities that will help make us a penny or two.
A bit later down the line considering potential careers, engineering, science, finance are encouraged. Be a doctor, be a lawyer. Be a ‘somebody’ not a ‘nobody’. These are the sensible careers that will get you a job that pays the bills. A writer? Pfff, don’t be so silly, you’ll starve to death!
Everyone is doing the best they can
I want to make it clear here, this tragedy is nobody’s fault. Our caregivers were simply doing the best they could, with the means and tools they had available to them. What may be a parental ‘dream’ for a child is often deeply rooted in fear and scarcity mentality, the idea that there just isn’t enough to go around. If we are lucky enough our caregivers want the very best for us, but more often than not the ‘best’ is a well trodden path deemed both safe and secure. It’s also important to recognize these stories have been passed down through the generations. From people who experienced real hardships such as poverty and war. Things that today we would really struggle to understand. These stories came from people who genuinely didn’t have enough money to pay the bills or know where the next meal was coming from.
I want to emphasize, this is not a blame game.
Yet part of the healing journey to recover our lost artistic self is to identify these limiting stories and address them. And through that recognition, the very process of naming and identification we can create the necessary distance that allows us to accept these stories without having to take ownership for them. We can recognize them for what they are – stories. Real or unreal.
The unlived life of a parent
Part of this journey is to reflect on this concept. We need to ask ourselves, whose life are we living? The one we designed for ourselves or someone else’s unfulfilled dream?
I’m reminded of the buddhist concept of ‘Samsara’, the never ending cycle of birth, life, death and re-birth. Samsara is rife with suffering. Synonymous with ‘dukkha’, a particularly unsatisfactory type of suffering through being subject to the mundane, tiresome everyday menotomy.
And what could be more poignant than this? Imagine the little boy who wanted to be a playwright but who, instead was forced into a career in finance by parents who had only ever lived hand to mouth each month. As an adult he becomes a wealthy stockbroker but spiritually he is so very poor, never having indulged his inner creative child. A core belief passed on and on, generation after generation trapping us in an endless cycle of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. I relish in the idea that creativity can act as a powerful antidote to the purgatory caused by an unfulfilled parental wish. Breaking the painful cycle of samsara through stepping into and reclaiming our creative identities.
What does it mean to be ‘creative’?
These stories are not just limited to our creative ability but also linked to the concept of creativity itself. When I think of creativity I conjure up images of artists with paint brushes and easels, bodies in a studio sitting around a pottery wheel crafting ceramics. I also think of those who engage in drawing or sculpture. I ponder a bit more an I extend the concept to writers and poets, to musicians and screenwriters.
But to think of myself as an ‘artists’? Even a shadow one at that? The gremlins immediately start to get quite vocal: ‘who do you think you are?’, ‘An artist? you have to have talent to be an artist’. ‘Artists are gifted and original, something you will never be’. They continue: ‘But you can’t paint, how can you consider yourself an artist?’.
The journey is a tough one. I’ve always thought of myself as a flexible thinker so I struggle to understand where this limited understanding of artistry comes from, but it is one I am slowly confronting.
Discover and recover your ‘lost’ creative self
Week 1 invites us to reflect on these gremlins (or blurts as she calls them), and turn them around into positive affirmations. This is a journey that is very much live for me right now, so I do not claim to have any answers.
The pictures below are the output from my first Artist’s date, a walk around Richmond. This specific morning was grey an miserable and I wanted to capture this ethos whilst contrasting it against rich Autumnal hues. I encountered anxiety forcing myself to use my 35mm prime lens (fixed focal length). This really challenged my comfort level. I also took some pictures of people which is also something I really struggle with. Later on I switched back to my 18-55mm and also my 80mm manual focus lens which was also fun to play around with. Overall it was a very enjoyable pursuit and I look forward to where this journey takes me.
An Artist’s Date, Walk around Richmond
If you are struggling to reconcile your creative identity I highly recommend Julia Cameron’s book.