The Creative Soul Lives in the Shadow
by Aviva Gold
The following essay by Aviva Gold, is excerpted from the newly published book, "THE SOUL OF CREATIVITY, INSIGHTS INTO THE CREATIVE PROCESS" edited by Tona Pearce Myers (New World Library, April 1999.)
Those of us called to create authentic art in Western Culture have been up against formidable challenges. In order to express the uninhibited depths of our originality and soul we must risk being unacceptable to a prevailing, polite, status quo and thousands of years of rigid Judeo/Christian ethic. To do our job as artists well, we need to be outspoken, meticulously honest and authentically emotional, which means that we and our art may express rage, grief, destruction, depression, death and sexuality. We may need to paint African Mask faces in midnight black and blood red. Our art may show up as flamboyant, aggressive, morbid, corny, disgusting, primal, spiritual, provocative and totally outrageous.
These artistically necessary traits and topics are, in our culture, referred to as the "Shadow Side" of life and the shadow side of our personalities. These Shadows have the connotation of being negative, unpopular, unnecessary and threatening. We know that death and destruction are natural, essential and life fostering aspects of nature. We know that full expression of "all" aspects of ourselves brings physical, emotional and spiritual health to our culture and ourselves. Yet there is a history and association of alcoholism, suicide and insanity with being a "real" artist.
Might this be the result of, first our commercial culture placing a chosen few "real artists" up on a pedestal and then viewing them with both awe and suspicion? Secondly, because we collectively deny the artist in ourselves, don’t we think of the culturally recognized artist as an outsider, unpredictable and possibly dangerous? We are uncomfortable with the very honesty that we expect from "the artist".
I know, as do indigenous peoples, that the full expression and enthusiastic acceptance of these shadows is essential for the health and survival of art and people kind. For me the soul of creativity lives in the shadows and must be continuously mined, embraced and expressed. I see those of us in our culture who take creative risks in art making as trail blazers, cultural symbolic steam valves, blood letters, permission givers, inspirational leaders and visionaries. But we pay a high price. I believe that the health, emotional stability and prosperity of artists in our culture has suffered due to the subtle societal sanction and fear of this essential shadow material which artists are naturally called upon from within to express.
There are indigenous peoples in the world where the expression of what we call shadow is respected and embraced and those who express it are respected and embraced. In these parts of the world there is also no distinction between being human and being and artist - everyone is an art maker. Often these peoples who have retained "the knowledge" are dark skinned, representing the shadow side of white establishment. Again, we have a lot to learn from indigenous people as we do from our own shadow.
Besides the important expression of culturally perceived shadows, is the expression of our personal shadow; often harder to see. This could be "any" aspect of yourself that you do not recognize and/or value, such as being funny, loving, silly, cheerful, zany, wild vulnerable. Some people can only show these sides when they are drunk or anesthetized. It is transformative when you can paint them.
Art is the embodiment of raw materials into a work of soul. A transformation occurs. The absolute necessity of embracing the shadow, of embracing what appears to be the hideous monster, in order for transformation to occur is depicted though out history in myth and fairy tales. The best known is Beauty and the Beast. There is a Beauty and Beast in each of us. The Beast started out as a helpless misunderstood child. . . it was our honest, emotional, outspoken side, which through repeated sanctions went underground. That naturally alive, creative, honest, sensuous, child remained in the unconscious, under a spell, never dying, but growing uglier and more hideous to get our attention in nightmares and spontaneous flare-ups, violence, addictions and symptoms. Then one day, maybe due to a life crisis, we are face to face with the now ugly fearful monster - we are locked up in a castle face to face with it - or in front of the canvas.
The act of painting him, as he is--not making him or her pretty is your liberation. Looking into the eyes and heart of your jailer, beyond the mask, with compassion will unlock the true gift hidden within. Your original soul creativity has been hidden within the monster. Expressing and acknowledging this monster part of you allows you, and your art to heal and transform. . . the true prince is born. Now the sacred marriage of the prince and princess within can consummate and new creative life comes forth.
So, the more you make conscious and welcome with self-compassion, the unconscious aspects of your self - the more free and versatile becomes your creative expression. The more you creatively express these hidden aspects - the more soul and authenticity enters your art. The less fear you have of revealing anything, the less energy is spent in inhabitation, the more energy is available for free expression. In the 12-step program there is a wise expression; "You are only as sick as your secrets." I would say; "Your creative limitations are only as great as your unexpressed shadows."
The following is an example of how allowing myself to paint personally and culturally disturbing images literally cured me of arthritis, through painting my dark angel.