I grew up surrounded by the arts. As a child I would go to local art openings in Pennsylvania. We’d drive to New York to see exhibits at the Met and the MOMA. My mother, a painter, would stop at Bloch to buy charcoal, oil paints, and sketchbooks. At ten, I regularly drew the figure from life in the woods outside of our house. I’d enter a timeless flow state, completely absorbed in the feel of charcoal on paper and the light on the form.
My family includes playwrites, filmmakers, and visual artists. From an early age, I knew art was a worthy pursuit, to be taken seriously. But early on I knew that work could be critiqued and it would be hard not to take it personally. I started writing poetry at age 11, and won an award. It felt exhilarating to get dressed up and read my work in front of an audience. Being chosen made me feel special and valued.
The parts of ourselves that are imaginative and playful need nurturing and recognition. This is healthy narcissism, that Heinz Kohut described as “mirroring” (Baker, Baker 1987). Mirroring is the excitement reflected back to us by our parents’ attention. Our “grandiose selves”(Baker, Baker 1987) get mirrored and fuel our passion to create. In an optimal situation, artists get validation from their parents and later from their teachers. Unfortunately, to create often demands feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability can open artists up to harsh attacks. Creative wounds often injure our sense of self and impair our ability to create.
Some art teachers cause deep wounds by making negative comments. I’ll never forget when an alumni returned to see my juried show in art school and told my sculpture teacher that the perspective was highly distorted in my self-portrait. The two adults chuckled about my lack of technical skill and accuracy at my expense. Decades later, I returned to my fine arts high school, and learned that many of my classmates were intimidated, insulted and alienated by their respective teachers. One woman had been kicked off the stage by the theatre teacher before she even had a chance to audition. She never set foot on stage again. Another woman, an accomplished opera singer, had been told by her vocal teacher that, “She was not college material.” Sadly, she hung on to that comment the rest of her life. When these harsh experiences happen at a vulnerable age, there is little ability to evaluate the situation. Teenagers often take feedback at face value.
Of course, even adults suffer from disapproval from others. But as adults, there is a greater ability to reflect and have distance from the judgements of others. Through therapy, we’ll explore your creative wounds and find ways to heal. My experience as a writer and visual artist, uniquely qualifies me to empathize with the struggles of creative people.