|Nightmare – 1781 Oil on Canvas – Henry Fuseli
Ever since I was invited to be a part of Muddy Colors, I’ve spent a good chunk of time internally debating over what I should write or share and whether or not what I came up with would be worthy of the audience. There are a plethora of topics that could be written about and I plan on visiting as many as I can. However, I’m going to take a departure from the tenor of my previous posts and go out on a limb here to touch on a subject that, although somber, I think is relevant.
The idea was sparked (in addition to some other present, concurrent events) by the recent rewatching of one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes. It’s the one where Doctor Who and his companion, Amy, go back in time to visit Vincent Van Gogh in June of 1890 at Auver-sur-Oise, France, during a turbulent period of the artist’s life just before his suicide. It’s a moving visual experience and I’d recommend it to anyone. In any case, what I watched ruminated inside my head for a couple of days and because of that, my fingers inadvertently decided to do some tap dancing on my computer keyboard. As a result, I ran across a particular article on CNN. It’s title: “The Dark Side of Creativity”.
|Self-Portrait – 1887 Oil on Canvas – Vincent van Gogh
It got me to thinking. Now, I know what some of you might say (and I chuckle to myself at this, because I’m just being silly here): “Heather, thinking is a dangerous thing. You shouldn’t do it.” But I was intrigued, and not just because the subject was morose. I started digging. It led to other articles. It led to study. It led to introspection. And no matter what anyone says, I believe introspection is always a good thing—if it leads to positive change.
This is where I’m going to go out on a limb. I think we all have demons. Well, at least that come in some form or another. Okay, so I guess I can’t speak for any of the other phenomenal artists and contributors who post here on Muddy Colors. Maybe they don’t have any. But I know I do. And maybe some of you who come here to visit us do. So here’s the disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist. I wouldn’t give anyone advice or direction where I have no power to do so. I’m only going to throw this stuff out there, pitch in a few of my thoughts (dangerous, I know!) and let you decide what you want to do with it.
So this is where I go back to my thought on demons and everyone having them. I’m not talking about the gargoyle-style demons that perch on the dresser across the room from your bed and give you creepy vibes in the nighttime—although that very well may be the type that haunt you, I don’t know. I’m talking about the ones that take up a very real residence inside our heads and don’t leave us alone. I’ll refrain from covering the ones for which I have no authority to make a statement and knowing that there are also too many to list to even make them a part of this post.
Throughout my career, I’ve met a few demons of my own and they’ve come in various forms. I’ll share just a couple of them, and if one or more of them strikes a chord, perhaps it will lead to your own introspection. I bare myself a bit in this, so be gentle. 🙂
|The Scream – 1893 Oil, Tempera and Pastel on Cardboard – Edvard Munch
One of the first demons to ever crawl on my shoulder and whisper in my ear was the one by the name of Self-Deprecation. Even during my childhood and then into adulthood, I felt I’d had a pretty good grasp on art technique and creativity and I was occasionally complimented on it. That felt good to hear, of course, but the Demon of Self-Deprecation is a vicious one. He sat on my shoulder and reminded me that no matter what anyone else thought, I’d never be as good as the Great Masters I admired (both ancient and modern). I’d never be able to attain the kind of creativity, quality and far-reaching influence that they did. According to Self-Deprecation, I would always and forever be a hobby artist. I’d never have a real career or find success in it financially or perhaps even find any true fulfillment in the creative process because of this. I’d find joy in creating images and then within moments of finishing a piece, Self-Deprecation would remind me that it wasn’t as good as something else I’d seen. He was a beast and difficult to be rid of.
|Bound II – 2005 Oil on Canvas Study – Heather Theurer
It wasn’t long after Self-Deprecation took up residence, that his twin sister decided to join him. Her name is Self-Doubt. She took everything Self-Deprecation flaunted and magnified it across every area of my life. If Self-Deprecation could convince me that my art wasn’t good enough, then certainly, she could do much better and persuade me to keep my art to myself. Unlike her twin brother, she didn’t whisper; she was bold and in my face, letting me know that my art wasn’t worthy of selling. I also didn’t have a formal art education, she reminded me, and that meant I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a “fake” and perhaps even a “cheat”. So sitting at a table for my first years at San Diego Comic-Con turned into five-day stretches of torture wondering why in the world I was there (which springs back to my first post on Muddy Colors). Having her on my shoulder led to uncertainty and indecision. I wondered if I was selfishly taking away from my family (I have five kids) to make stuff that nobody cared about. I struggled with the idea of investing in my art financially, especially if seeing a positive end come out of it was not clearly in view. This dragged on for a long time and was seriously frustrating because there was a part of me that didn’t want to believe all of her lies. With these twins sitting on my shoulders, it was hard not to imagine that the only reason anyone bought my art was because they were either related to me and therefore obligated to show support or that they pitied the “little guys” at Comic-Con and felt the need to fulfill an urge to be charitable. The Demon of Self-Doubt didn’t stop there, though. Doubting myself because I hadn’t yet achieved a grand goal I had set for myself was a rather natural response and one relatively easily remedied with time and experience. No, Self-Doubt dug a little deeper. She took the heart of what I did and attempted to blacken it. I’d always loved creating art. It was a part of me, kind of like breathing. But I didn’t know why that was, specifically; I just did it. Self-Doubt tried to convince me to doubt every brush stroke and its purpose. It was like convincing me that breathing wasn’t important, one inhalation at a time. It took everything out of me and it became a battle to continue.
|Saraigh Ceol – 2012 Oil on Canvas – Heather Theurer
Then there are the demons that rear up in front of us and bare their fangs in all the ferocity of a grizzly on a rampage because you’ve stolen the last salmon in the river. These guys don’t sit on your shoulder. They attack head-on and make it seem as if all the powers of Earth and Hell are combining to destroy us and everything we do. Death, illness, tragedy, economic trials, emotionally/physically abusive relationships—they all have a way of finding their way into our lives to some degree. I’m not going to dwell on the particulars here. You all know what your personal demons are and what face they take.
Instead, I’m going to step back and bring this all together. Maybe this is the unrealistically optimistic side of me—because I tend to lean in that direction—but, barring serious mental illnesses or addictions (which I mentioned I’d refrain from crossing over into, for the sake of lack of expertise), I believe that none of these demons—and I do mean none of them—have any real power. None whatsoever. They only have power as we give it to them. In hindsight, I can see points where I pretty much handed over my life to the demons that sat on my shoulder and demanded it of me, which is kind of sad to admit. However, I think I’ve experienced enough of life now to realize that I not only didn’t need to do that, but that I won’t be doing it again. For some of you who feel you’re right smack dab in the middle of Demon Central, you might be, in addition to scoffing at me, asking how in the world I plan on accomplishing that. Demon Central is a bleak place to be, after all, and one with a daunting city wall.
|Santuarii – 2011 Oil on Canvas – Heather Theurer
Well, it’s definitely more than just attitude, I’ll tell you that much, although that is at the root of it all. If you find yourself in the downward spiral of pessimism, no amount of effort is going to free you from the demons who climb on your back and tell you what to do. What shed the demons that I faced in my past came down to putting up my dukes and just doing. To begin with, I had to acknowledge that the deceitful little buggers of Self-Deprecation and Self-Doubt were actually sitting on my shoulders. They have the ability to hide well, blend in, and appear insignificant. Now that I know what they look like, I can avoid them. I pluck them off and flick them away before they can get their dirty claws into me. I plow forward in my art with the kind of determination and speed that makes it hard for the demons to catch up. Creating artwork is no longer an end result but a process. If I can see that I’m not where I want to be right now, at least I’m approaching it, moving toward it. Sometimes that happens in big leaps, but most of the time it comes in slow, trudging, tiny steps. I don’t think I’m unique in this regard. I’d place a hefty bet that most artists out there are taking the slow and steady route with their noses to the ground searching out the best path to take. That’s probably wise and beneficial, so long as you’re aware of who your companions are.
|Gruppo del Laocoonte – Marble Sculpture
The same could be said of the demons that I have no control over—the grizzly bear kind. Crazy thing is, that out of every one of those types of experiences I’ve gone through, something grand has been added to my creative core. They’ve changed my work for the better by challenging not only my skills but the substance of the art itself. Perhaps these demons didn’t appreciate it, but I dismantled them, took their base elements and then rebuilt them into something that I could call my own and hopefully uplift others with. This didn’t happen spontaneously, folks. It took focus, vision, and ridiculous amounts of effort. It was sometimes a tedious and painful method of creating and living. With that as a setting in which to launch the future, though, I don’t fear the demons anymore.