Welcome to your second excursion. How are you feeling today? What was it like to take a journey into your own imagination? Did you find any monsters lurking there? Creatures built of fear, insecurity, self-deprecation, comparison, depression, perfectionism, etc. Perhaps they spoke to you while you were trying to create your art journal pages. Let’s contemplate the things that stop us from being creative. How much damage have these creatures caused in the past? Do you know motivates them to sabotage your creative spirit? If it feels right, address these creativity monsters directly.
Why might they have stayed close to you in your imaginary oasis? Wasn’t this supposed to be a safe place of your own making? Perhaps they have an important role to fill. Maybe they actually make you feel safer than you think. Let’s attempt to reimagine your monsters as protectors. Maybe they are defenders at your side, trying to anticipate risk for you. You will likely encounter them often. What if you could give them a formal invitation on your journey? Could you walk alongside these fear monsters with a new understanding of them? Likely they were born from pain, and raised for your defense.
Reading: Where do our creative monsters come from?
These creatures represent the negative thoughts you feel and think while you are attempting to create. Often we hear of the one, infamous “Inner Critic”. We’re familiar with this concept but usually lack any tools to deal with its attacks. What if the inner critic was the spokesman of many? Narrating your life on behalf of a group of fears and past injuries to our souls that combined to create a narrative we’ve accepted as truth. Let’s break down our fear monster’s motives. Can you find the direct connection between creativity and vulnerability? The things we create come from inside us and therefore represent a piece of our true selves. We birth something into the world that was created from our unique experience.
When we are very young, we explore creativity with no fear, no doubt, no hesitation. It is natural to explore all manner of creation in order to understand how the world works. It is as natural to a child as smiling, laughing, breathing, sleeping. Creativity is born of curiosity and a natural desire to see what happens when we exert any force on the world around us. Cause and effect. “What if I….?” Naturally we don’t experiment in this way in total isolation. Our creative experiments often occur in the presence of others (supervised play is likely highly encouraged, and at the center of many childhood activities). Sometimes it’s our peers, friends, family, educators, and other people. As humans do, we develop a set of filters based on information we receive in our experiments. We find some things safe and familiar and other things scary, unpredictable, and even dangerous. We shouldn’t fault ourselves for this tendency. It is a natural survival instinct. All creatures will do this. Categorizing things in life helps us to efficiently move through life. Unfortunately, in our own self interest we can unintentionally, or intentionally, hurt others. This is very often the case with creativity,especially the kind that explores the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable. We find something unpleasant for a multitude of reasons. And then the worst happens… We share this sentiment out loud.
“Those colors look bad together.”
“Why would you make it like that?”
“You’re not following the instructions.”
“It needs more work.”
“Hers is the best!”
“That doesn’t work like that.”
“I don’t get it.”
“What’s the point?”
Teachers grade us numerically against each other. Peers laugh at our idea. Parents show us the “one way” it is done. Time runs out. Essentially it boils down to: you tried something, and you landed somewhere else, unexpectedly, all by yourself… and there we find uncertainty. If in this moment we don’t receive praise, adoration, reassurance, or approval we tend to run back to what we find familiar and safe. Most kids don’t have a fearless sense of independence and freedom from the desire for approval. To survive we stay with the pack, there is a very real safety there.
Many years later we became adults. I think it is common for artists to consider themselves outsiders. This stereotype exists for a reason. Most will have experienced deep rejection at some point and felt what it’s like to live on the outside. Ouch. That leaves a mark! Ironically, this is the most appropriate place for artists, and any creative explorers, to exist. But still, we hurt because we are establishing an independent way of approaching problems, which obviously takes us away from our herd. We may be transforming into leaders, or venturing off on our own solo journey. Creativity is the exploration of the unknown and the journey into the concept of what if.
Still, it tends to feel wrong when we are separated from our people. Ideally, a child belongs to their family, because they provide safety, food, warmth, love, security, and many other life essentials. Exploring our creativity can place us into the abyss. It doesn’t help then, when others actually voice their judgement of us in these times. However, as an adult now you are free to look after yourself. You are capable of providing for yourself and the herd mentality becomes more of a choice than a necessity.
What I’m trying to say is: creativity cannot exist without the experience of being alone, of not belonging, and not fitting in. Creativity is the exploration of the unknown. Creativity is an experiment and you are the scientist. Creativity is a risk. It always will be. It cannot exist within an entirely safe and secure place. Naturally, we hurt. We ache over this pain. We wonder if it’s worth it. Often we lack enough encouragement to overcome and deal with the pain, fear, vulnerability, and risk. Early on we get injured, and instead of scarring over and becoming stronger we choose to continue to avoid our creative selves. In doing so we re-enforce these injuries again and again with every perceived failure or slight. We rack up evidence in support of the idea that creativity is for other people. It is very scary to do the opposite, to brave the storm of intense feelings and choose to persevere.
Art Journaling Exercise 2: A Home For the Monster
On a new page, or over any notes from the reading, let’s imagine a body for your creative monster(s). Look up some reference images online of animals or creatures (real or imagined) that represent a protector to you. I prefer animal imagery to humanoid as I consider this protector to act more on instinct than complex thought processes. Your chosen image doesn’t need to look scary. Some of my negative thoughts move so quickly they behave more like a rabbit, mouse, or owl diving stealthily for its prey.
In this example, I’m seeing an armored bear. (I’ll be using he/him pronouns, but you can choose any that feels right.) Intimidating, foreboding, and capable of immense feats of strength. I have fed and trained this bear very well over the years. And yet, he loves me, in his own dysfunctional way. In the past he has held me back from risk and danger (also any potential progress or discovery). He also knows my pain intimately. His intentions are pure and born from an inherently human place. Cruelty was never the intention.
Let’s put this imaginary protector in your art journal. He/she/them/it is always with you, and deserves a place of honor for all of his good intentions. So lovingly choose a creature that represents this to you best.
If you feel comfortable you can draw this creature in your journal. I encourage you to sketch in permanent media, like ink, and incorporate all mistakes into your final creature. Likely perfectionism is one of his tactics to protect you from criticism. Today we are taking back control and ignoring his narratives. If it feels more comfortable to you, print out a picture, or find one in a magazine and glue it to the page.
Next, adorn him with all the glory a warrior would desire. A velvet cape, jeweled armor, an intricate blade, a heavy shield with an ornate crest, chests of gold and treasure, and a glorious throne. Medals of honor, a crown, an overflowing weapons cache. Name your protector.
Surround this creature with loving imagery. Use warm colors like red, pink, and gold. Purple to denote royalty. Honor your fierce protector. This creature guarded your heart over a lifetime. You have travelled together for a long time. Build a room around him with castle-like walls.
Next, on the opposite page, you’re going to write him a letter. Thank him for his service and dedication. Communicate your new understanding of his purpose in your life. He was your partner for better or worse. He performed his job admirably. Now, inform him that this is a new space for him to reside, a home. He may not want to retire, but I think it’s time for a little vacation. He can rest when you need him to.
Know that when you are weary he can, and likely will, be by your side in an instant. But you are embarking on a brave new journey. This journey requires fresh eyes and a new perspective. You will be collecting your courage to take as many creative risks as you can bear. His assistance, while appreciated, will not be required. In order to feel your full creative joy your protector must stand back while you face these hurdles alone. He may reside here in his place of honor for the remainder of this journey. Let your creature take a well deserved nap. Draw shut eyes on your creature.
Breathe for a moment to experience your newfound head space. It is quiet there now. You have become the leader of your creative journey. Can you feel any excitement brewing?
As an added activity you can write “I forgive you” over and over around your resting creature until it feels true.
Reflection and Notes:
How does it feel to put your negative thoughts to bed? Have you begun to form some compassion for your creative monster(s)? They were born from a logical and understandable place, they wanted you to feel safe. They wanted you to feel connected to the people around you. They wanted you to have a place where you were safe from criticisms that could cut you down to the places you hurt the most. They formed a protective barrier between your most sacred/innocent ideas, and the potential negative backlash. They are your warriors. They would protect you at all costs. Can you really blame them in their endeavor? Let go of any resentment at this time.