I live in a city that nurtures a great creative industry. This means that I meet (and, sigh, date) lots of out-of-work artists, musicians, and writers. Some of them live with their parents so that they can pursue their dream without paying rent. Others work “day jobs” as receptionists, delivery drivers, and store clerks so that they can free up time and attention for their artistic pursuits. All of them, to one degree or another, are juggling their tolerance for professional and artistic compromise.
Julia Cameron (author of the much-beloved book, The Artist’s Way) doesn’t have much use for artists who only go halfway or live in the shadows of other artists. She calls them, in a slightly derogatory tone, Shadow Artists.
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… Shadow artists often choose shadow careers — those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself.
By her definition, as an art therapist, I could be considered a Shadow Artist. I’m not out there producing, exhibiting, and actively selling my own work. I suppose I could, if I really dedicated myself to improving my skills and did art at the expense of all else. Instead, I am facilitating artistic expression and creativity in myself and others. I am “using” art for other means. I’m in an artistic profession, but am not an “artist.” I have not thrown myself, headlong, into the artist’s life with all of its uncertainties. I hate to be this way, but I like my paycheck.
In some ways, I think Julia has it right about the process of embracing yourself as an artist. Behold:
As a rule of thumb, shadow artists judge themselves harshly, beating themselves for years over the fact that they have not acted on their dreams. This cruelty only reinforces their status as shadow artists. Remember, it takes nurturing to make an artist. Shadow artists did not receive sufficient nurturing. They blame themselves for not acting fearlessly anyhow…
For all shadow artists, life may be a discontented experience, filled with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise. They want to write. They want to paint. They want to act, make music, dance… but they are afraid to take themselves seriously.
In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously.
Whenever I reach this point in the book, I wonder if Julia Cameron would prefer that all creative people attempt to become full-time artists. I am not trying to be overly critical of her or the book (which contains some good stuff), but the world does need doctors and lawyers and farmers.
One of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, was a highly successful pediatrician and medical doctor. You may know him from his famous poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
I love to think about Dr. WCW squeezing in his poetry and writing at odd hours and in random breaks during the day — between patients or after procedures. I relate to him, as a creative person who was also interested in compassionate care. I think it does a lot to explain his simple, straight-forward style and the way he uses images to convey meaning.
I think there are many of us who are caught in a trap of feeling that we should be doing something productive with our creations — making money, gaining notoriety, or whatever — but are unsure or are, as Julia Cameron suggestions, intimidated or short on self-worth. As though the only way to measure worth were in dollars. As though productivity were the apex of all goals. As though an external validation were necessary for satisfaction. Those things are nice, yes, and I certainly would never begrudge anyone who made a living from their art! But, I also don’t want people to think that it is the only way to find value in their pursuits.
The recession drags on and we are all beginning to feel the pinch. Even if we still have jobs, we may have noticed that the cost of our art supplies has increased. We may stand at the work table and mentally tabulate the amount of time and money that we’ve invested in our pursuits over the years. We may begin to wonder about return on that investment and what it means to make your passion into your work. Several bloggers have been thinking and wrestling with these ideas in the past few weeks. Some have successful shops, others are pondering shops, and still others are closing shops. The reasons and emotions are as varied as the personalities, but it’s interesting to consider their struggles.
Personally, I’d like to stand up in defense of the Shadow Artist. Yes, there are those who are able to make their art or their craft into a full-time profession. But then there are those for whom the joy of the process, the magic of making, and the other “fringe benefits” are enough. Must we all quit our day jobs in pursuit of art greatness? Maybe you sell off some of your creations from time to time, you take a commission or two, or you submit to juried exhibitions while continuing to pursue other interests and responsibilities. Maybe the creative process thrills or calms or challenges you and that’s enough for now.
Perhaps the world would be better with more capital-A Artists. For my part, I think the world would be better with more artist-grocers, poet-ranchers, and musician-cops. I like the bus driver that composes new tunes to whistle along the route. I wish I could find more waitresses who sketch out their customers on napkins just because. Accountants who write poetry on their ledger sheets. Barbers creating sci-fi stories as they cut.
Time to chime in. Do you feel you should be doing “more” with your art, or is your current balance of work/pleasure rewarding enough? If you were to move in one direction or another (toward work, toward passion) which would it be? Do you feel one impacts the other? What are your thoughts?