It feels good heading into the last three weeks of this wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Week 9 introduces the topic of “Recovering a Sense of Compassion.”
Immediately when I read the chapter title, I assumed it would be about compassion towards others. However, the topic is the idea of artists having compassion for themselves. And, because all people are creative and are, therefore, artists to some extent, this chapter is universally applicable.
Blocked artists, as Cameron describes them, are people who, for whatever reason, have lost touch with their sense of creativity and play. Creativity is not only for artists; every profession and endeavor needs creative inspiration. Creativity is not only normal and fun, it is necessary for effective problem-solving. Being a blocked artist can be extremely painful.
The pain manifests itself, oftentimes, as self-loathing, impossible standards, and self-defeating behaviors. For example, we call ourselves lazy, when we are actually fearful. Or we set large, impossible tasks for ourselves, then beat ourselves up when we fail. One of the most painful side-effects of this is what Cameron refers to as “creative U-turns” (Cameron, 2004, p. 153).
Creative U-turns often occur right when we are at a point of major success. However, they also occur in response to crushing set-backs. We feel a “sudden wave of indifference” (p. 155); we become attracted to other, less important pursuits; we run away from or sabotage amazing opportunities. Cameron likens it to a show horse in training that approaches a new jump then backs off at the last moment. As painful as these self-inflicted setbacks are, there is a solution.
First of all, we must have compassion for our inner artist. It is like a child. It loves to play; it loves encouragement and fun. To coax our inner artist into coming out and playing with us, we must figure out how to make it feel comfortable, safe, and excited to play. This is the purpose of the weekly artists dates, which encourage us to try new things and to look at life as a comic strip rather than as an obituary.
Second, we must stop setting up impossible goals for ourselves. Progress is achieved through baby steps. Creative activity – ANY step in the direction of positivity – is the best response to perceived failure. Time heals nothing. Creativity, though, does heal the artist’s soul.
Third, we must maintain perspective: “a successful creative career is always built on successful creative failures” (p. 156). Fear of success and fear of failure are evil twins with the same purpose – keeping us stuck. To get unstuck, we must free our minds from useless baggage – irrational fears, jealousies, resentments, and unforgiveness. These things depress our inner creative child and perpetuate the ruts of self-pity and blocked creativity.
Finally, one of the most reliable counter-measures to combat creative blocks is ENTHUSIASM. As children, whenever we did anything we enjoyed, we did it full-out. We did not care who was looking; we assumed that anything we did or created was wonderful. In the privacy of our own studios, offices, and workspaces, we can retrieve that feeling of enthusiasm through play, whimsy, and small extravagances that make our creative souls happy.
I recently bought a cheesy ceramic skull and put it near my bed where I sketch. Some people like toy cars or stuffed animals. Whatever. Life is too short to take overly seriously. And our inner artist is too special to neglect. May we all do what we need to do to nourish this precious being!
Now, go follow your bliss…
Cameron, J. (2004). The Artist’s Way – A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. Penguin Putnam Inc.: New York.