“Understand that you can have in your writing no qualities which you do not honestly entertain in yourself.” —Walt Whitman
You Can’t Hide in Your Art
An artist must take risks. An artist must be willing to be vulnerable in her art.
But, being vulnerable does not come easily to us. We are afraid to show up as who we are, to reveal our true selves.
Even if your art is not directly about you—for instance, if you are a fiction writer or a documentary filmmaker—the authentic you must shine through, if it is going to touch others in meaningful ways.
Here’s the rub: If you don’t like and accept yourself, it can be difficult to be self-revealing in your art.
If you’ve been shamed for who you or are afraid of being rejected, if you’ve been ridiculed or hurt (we all have), if you are hiding some part of yourself, you probably don’t want others to fully see you in your art.
The trouble is this hiding creates a wall between you and your audience that prevents you from reaching them in a deeper way.
Your weirdness, your hard times, your struggles are what make you human, like the rest of us. And so they make you relatable.
Self-Kindness Is the Greatest Gift to Our World
Therefore, as an artist seeking to move your audience, you need to cultivate self-acceptance and self-love.
I’m saying this to myself as much as to you. Because deep self-acceptance and love is an ongoing journey. I’ve made great strides, and I still have so far to go in being truly a fan of myself.
There is no greater gift to our world than to develop true self-kindness.
From this flows compassion, care, and healthy, loving relationships with others.
This kindness and love will then come out in your art, creating healing for others and a bridge of connection to your audience. How beautiful is that!
This is the work of a lifetime.
We keep uncovering parts of ourselves we have rejected or are afraid to share.
We keep discovering subtle or not-so-subtle ways we are unkind and unloving to ourselves, and hence to others. We keep finding parts of ourselves we have been trying to hide, masks we put on in an effort to be more lovable or acceptable.
So we keep having the opportunity to grow in love, kindness and self-awareness.
You Have Something Valuable to Share
You also have to believe that what you have to say can be of interest and value to others.
If you do not believe that others want to hear what you have to say, then you need to start by wanting to hear yourself.
Start by being genuinely interested in hearing yourself without judgment or censorship.
Often we want others to listen to our stories or receive our art, but we aren’t really listening to ourselves, receiving ourselves.
We all have something compelling to share when we express ourselves authentically. If we learn how to hone that expression into art, we have the possibility of giving something of deep value to a world hungry for beauty and truth.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” —Martha Graham
Meet Yourself On the Page
One excellent way to practice listening to yourself is through what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls the Morning Pages.
The Morning Pages are a valuable tool for creative people of all kinds. They are not just for writers.
They consist of three pages of long-hand, stream-of-consciousness journaling every day, first thing in the morning.
Let your ideas, feelings, experiences flow on the page unedited. Meet yourself without judgment. Come to know yourself deeply. Listen to yourself.
Morning Pages are a place to practice total allowing, self-acceptance and self-awareness.
Notice when you are not valuing what you have to say, when you are trying to avoid your own thoughts or feelings by writing about nothing much.
Notice if you complain about others not wanting to listen to you, yet you resist writing Morning Pages.
Notice if you talk and talk when with your friends, but think you have nothing to say in your journal.
These are signs that you don’t want to listen to yourself. So how can you ask others to listen to you?
It is up to you to be your own best friend, supporter and fan.
If that feels like a big leap from where you are standing now, take it on as your act of devotion to yourself, your art and to all beings. Commit yourself to developing this true self-friendship. You will be amazed at what this brings you, your art and others in your life.
Be Bold and Generous in Your Art
Share you wounds and flaws, share your extraordinary beauty, your outrageous brilliance without dumbing it down or dimming your light. Share your fears and doubts. Share your uniqueness without trying to make it more “normal.” Share you, share your gifts.
Pour your uniqueness into your art openly. Hone your expression, but don’t polish all the edges off.
When you are willing to be real, you give others permission to do the same.
You help your audience feel their own feelings and feel seen and known in that. You help them to feel not alone. And they will thank you for that.
Create a Thing of Beauty
You still have to work to hone and refine your art.
If you wish to be an artist and ask others to partake in your creations, you must revise and refine your art and craft. You owe it to your audience, but also to yourself as an artist, to shape your work into a thing of beauty, a piece of art.
Except in rare instances, a writer does not put her first drafts out for publication. And this applies to all kinds of art.
Unless you have already achieved, through long practice, a quality and refinement in your first drafts. Even then, editing and revising is almost certainly needed.
We have all been exposed to writing that is just mental or emotional spewing, unedited rambling on the page. Little has been done to shape the piece, to search for a better word, a more vivid or apt image, a singing metaphor, a more shapely, musical line, a better form or flow.
Your raw material is just that, raw. It needs refining.
You would not put a lump of clay on display, unmolded, nor a badly thrown pot.
Now it is time to hone, shape, refine, to turn the raw stuff into art. That is a magical process in itself, and that, my friends, requires craft.
This is your job, your work as an artist, and mine too:
- Learn to love and accept yourself: Cultivate self-kindness, self-awareness and a sense of self-worth. Believe in yourself and your unique voice and gifts.
- Go forth, take risks, be brave, be vulnerable:
- Stop hiding and be authentic and vulnerable in your art.
- Make the best art you can, out of all that you are: Take the tools of your craft and apply them to the raw materials of your expression, and don’t stop until you have created a work of art.
Will you do it? Let’s encourage one another.
This writing is part of my art and my work. If you got value from it, please consider supporting me on Patreon.
This is certainly my ongoing work–to love, accept and be kind when I’m feeling like hiding or not trusting myself to speak my truth. I’m learning day by day to support myself as I would my best friends or children. Taking the time to refine and reveal the truth and beauty and allow myself to be seen when it’s messy is risky but exhilarating! Thanks for your wisdom, understanding and support for so many on this unfolding path.
Thank you, Ellen! It is indeed ongoing work.