Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Haunted Mansion

Yes, I confess, I am not always filled with good cheer and total optimism. Sometimes my "sun will come up tomorrow" attitude takes a nose dive and I feel self-doubt, insecurity and frustration. But becoming adept at the twists and turns of the artistic life include recognizing that sometimes I feel elated about my artistic progress and sometimes deflated and uncertain. The ideas and projects that seem so exciting and engaging and innovative one day suddenly feel dull and uninspired another day. When this happens I question many things, but most particularly, my own talent. Of course, what greater Achilles heel does any artist have than their own self-doubt? The ghostly. haunting feelings that cause one to question one's abilities and work are the most elusive, tricky and insidious ones of all.

It's a syndrome that in honor of Halloween this Friday, I'm going to name "The Haunted Mansion." Even though I just wrote that I don't always FEEL optimistic, my writing and playing with metaphors usually cheers and motivates me. Let's hope this is the case today.

Mansions are majestic places, opulent and luxurious and huge. That's our potential as human beings and artists. Since thoughts truly are things, I've been constructing a gorgeous mansion in thought and committed action as an artist. I have patiently and consistently practiced my craft, challenged and stretched myself to grow, and put my work out into the world (trying to remember to breathe at the same time). I have listened to and heeded that inner voice that pulls us away from the safe and familiar to explore uncharted and often uncertain, new directions.

I've met with failure and disappointment and recognition and praise enough that none are as important to me as my own sense of believing in my work, my vision and my ideas and engaging in my artistic practice to bring them to expression. While some people are outer directed, I am very inner directed and being so, very conscious of the landscape of my inner terrain. That's why it is one of my life challenges to keep putting my work and my perspectives out into the world, to turn thoughts and intentions into action and practice. I've been doing that now committedly for well over a decade and will continue to do so for as long as I am able.

So when whispery, ghostlike figures begin to wander the hallways of the lovely mansion I am hand-crafting with great care and attention, and I start to question my own worth as an artist, I know that I'm being haunted. The moaning, sighing ghostly apparitions?? -- my tired old doubts and fears that I still haven't totally let go of that seem determined to scare me out of continuing to craft the gorgeous dwelling that I'm building for my artistic self.

Maybe you are one of the fortunate artists who never fall prey to the voices of doubt and fear inside your head and you're sailing through life showing and selling every work you make. For your boldness and confidence, I salute you! Or maybe you're living the other extreme and those ghostly voices have you locked in a vice grip and you're so overwhelmed with doubts and fears that you're not creating anything at all. Perhaps like me, you're upbeat most of the time but every once in a while find yourself creeping down dark, shadowy hallways with nothing but a lit candle trying to convince yourself that you're brave and strong and can overcome ANYTHING.

What do we do when these apparitions begin to haunt our creative lives? In the good old days before slasher and gore films, the "ghosts" usually turned out to be "bad guys" trying to scare the owners off so they could buy the property for peanuts -- and of course for some reason that very property was soon going to be worth a fortune. That's one key to chasing away the ghostly apparitions: reality versus appearance. Doubt and insecurity are feelings, often based on fear or fatigue or disappointment, and they seldom hold up to rational thinking.

Step #1. Acknowledge that you're feeling haunted and a bit frightened and surrounded by darkness and then TURN A LIGHT ON. Rationally, none of the self-critical, hopeless thoughts that any of us think are 100% truthful. They're usually exaggerated, biased and contaminated.

Factual Statement: The basic concepts behind this body of work are solid, I just have not yet resolved this current work to my satisfaction. There are solutions to this problem that will resolve it. I am making a list of options, which I will test and choose from to complete it. I will learn from trying out these options. I am confident that one of them will work out satisfactorily. My confidence is based on having faced other design challenges and resolved them to my satisfaction. I know that working through this will further increase my confidence in my artistic abilities.

Step #2. DON'T GO IT ALONE. Don't you just know for sure when the good guys enter a dark building and one says, "Let's split up. You go this way and I'll go that way," that one of them is SO going to run into Someone or Something Terrible???

Factual Statement: We are communal beings. I have some trusted people in my life that let me moan and whine a little and then remind me that I'm making a great body of work, that it's being recognized and acknowledged in the world and will continue to be received and appreciated even more in the future. I have good friends who share my love of creating and who accept and enjoy me.

Step #3. KEEP WORKING. In scary movies, the hero/heroine never gives in, gives up or falls down, no matter how many times punched, thrown or dangling off the edge of a precipice. The hero/ine opens the locked door, climbs the tower or enters the dark, cobwebby tunnel. Perhaps art is not for the faint-hearted, the scared or timid but for the bold and adventurous -- or PERHAPS those who start out scared or timid and stick with their art practice eventually become the heroes and heroines of their own story!!

Factual Statement: I feel so much clearer than when I started writing this. I'm a doer and not just a talker or philosophizer. On that note, I'm going to stop writing, get in my car, drive to my studio and get back to work!


  1. Thanks Jeanne for this post. I will keep and read this again and again. I'm a newbie to art of any kind and when I feel tired (health issues) the ghosts sometimes whisper. I always appreciate your posts.

  2. I like reading your blog so much because your issues are all of our issues and they always seem to come down the pipeline at the right time. Thank you

  3. I just discovered your blog and how glad I am.

    I took a break in the midst of preparing for my first photographic portfolio review. All week I've fought the monsters of fear and doubt as I sorted hundreds of images. Finally I found myself saying you don't have work worthy etc.

    Reading your post helped me to realize what was going on within. Your words helped me to disinfect those halls and dark mental rooms of my mansion. I'm back on track. Just the boost I needed.
    Thank You