“The artist begins with a vision — a creative operation requiring effort. Creativity takes courage.” Henri Matisse
What fears and anxieties are holding you back from expressing yourself more creatively? Matisse and many other artists and psychologists note creative work requires courage or dealing with our fears.
[Continued from Part 1]
What does creative excellence take?
In his article How to Win American Idol, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to research by Rena Subotnik and Linda Jarvin, who “interviewed over 80 top students at different stages of their musical careers and identified the traits important to succeed at every stage on the way to the top.
“The three abilities that were absolutely necessary as a baseline were intrinsic motivation, charisma, and musicality.”
But for musicians at an “elite” level of talent, “technical proficiency mattered less and the following factors rose to prominence: self-promotion skills, having a good agent, capitalizing on strengths, overcoming self-doubt, exuding self-confidence, good social skills, persevering through criticisms and defeats, and taking risks.”
How does a brutal teaching style impact those factors?
“I push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that is an absolute necessity.”
How much does forceful mentoring help students achieve excellence, and when does it become abusive?
Those issues are part of the movie Whiplash, apparently named after the jazz standard by Hank Levy.
The quote above is by acclaimed teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) at a music school reputed to be “one of the best in the country,” explaining his teaching approach to one of his star pupils, Andrew (Miles Teller), who idolizes jazz drummer Buddy Rich, and has aspirations to also be “one of the greats.”
Even very talented people may experience fraud or impostor feelings, which can lead to insecurity about their abilities, despite their accomplishments.
“I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Jodie Foster made that comment in her acceptance speech as recipient of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award several years ago.
A highly accomplished actor, director and producer, Foster also said, “I suppose that’s my one little secret, the secret of my success.”
From my article: Jodie Foster on impostor feelings and faking it.
“Basically, I’d been fairly drunk or high since I was 14.” Colin Farrell
Why do so many creative people use and abuse drugs, often to the point of addiction?
There is of course no easy answer, but one of the factors for many people may be childhood trauma.
In his article Emotional Trauma: An Often Overlooked Root of Addiction, David Sack, M.D. writes, “A history of childhood neglect or sexual, physical or emotional abuse is common among people undergoing treatment for alcoholism and may be a factor in the development of alcohol use disorders…
“Trauma has been associated not only with drug addiction but also overeating, compulsive sexual behavior and other types of addictions.”
Another article notes, “Children who have a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma may exhibit oppositional behavior as a response to their experiences. Experiencing any kind of traumatic event increases a child’s likelihood of acting out, as they must cope with challenging feelings, thoughts, and memories.”
So many people experience unwanted sexual contact, rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
And they often help deal with the aftermath through creative expression, perhaps using art therapy, but more often some other form of creative self-expression.
One of many articles on the topic here on Psych Central, Mental Disorders Often Follow Sexual Abuse by Rick Nauert PhD, reports: “Researchers have discovered that a history of sexual abuse is frequently linked with a lifetime diagnosis of multiple psychiatric disorders…this association held true regardless of the victim’s gender or age when the abuse occurred.”
There are many references and articles on “healing” from sexual abuse and other kinds of trauma, but it is important to keep in mind the emotional and spiritual impacts may endure, at least to some degree; dealing with abuse is not like healing a broken bone.
But experiencing abuse of any kind also does not make us “damaged goods” – see actor Teri Hatcher’s comments below.
The painting is a self portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653). An article notes she was raped by an art tutor of hers, followed by a “highly publicised seven-month trial. This event makes up the central theme of a controversial French film, Artemisia (1998), directed by Agnes Merlet.
How important is it to identify yourself as an artist – to others, and especially to yourself?
What if you don’t get awards for your creative work? What if it isn’t even seen by others?
Are you still an artist if you are doing something else for survival?
Psychologist Robert Maurer has worked with many creative people and researches the dynamics of success. He comments:
“The people who love their craft and see themselves as artists, and carry that identity through and study each day… are the people who thrive. To me, that’s the only definition of success that matters.”
In Part 1 of this article Eric Maisel talks about moving from an everyday mindset of “getting things right” to a creative mindset “where huge mistakes and messes are permitted and even welcomed.”
But many of us tend to be perfectionistic – which can help drive excellence, but may also support anxiety and creative constriction.
Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond notes “Were it not for perfectionism, we would be in short supply of all those myriad human activities we deem extraordinary, excellent, outstanding or great in quality.”
But in his Psych Central article “Perfectionism: Adaptation or Pathology?”, Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. notes, “Somewhere on a continuum between normality and pathology there is a point at which the behavior results in functional impairment.” Read more in my post Too Much Perfectionism.
Coach and author Barbara Sher has a helpful perspective on this.
“At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” Actor, writer, director Mike Myers
Many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.
Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an expert on impostor syndrome and commented in an Entrepreneur magazine article: “Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments.”
The article author notes “the impostor syndrome is especially common among people who become successful quickly or early, and among outsiders, such as women in male-dominated industries.”
Dr. Young adds, “They explain away their success as luck or timing. They feel this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
From Fake It Until You Make It: How to Believe in Yourself When You Don’t Feel Worthy by Nadia Goodman.
One example is actor Emma Watson, who commented about its impact for her:
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.
“I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.”
Many actors, musicians and other performers seem to be very self-assured and confident, though some admit that is not always true. Some psychologists note that confidence can have negative aspects – and low confidence may have benefits.
Her fourth album “Red” had opening sales of 1.21 million – the highest recorded in a decade, and Taylor Swift has had two million-plus opening weeks.
But in an interview in front of a college audience for a tv show she commented: “I doubt myself 400,000 times per 10-minute interval. I have a terrifying long list of fears. Literally everything — diseases, spiders… and people getting tired of me.”