Thursday, October 07, 2004


The Cynic, who says no to life, may mock us by sneering, "Why bother to create? Nothing will come of it." The Tyrant, who seeks power, threatens us by ordering, "Don't speak without my permission! Don't create unless I tell you to!" The Perfectionist argues, "Whatever you do must be flawless. If you can't be perfect, it's not good enough." The Conformist warns, "Beware of risks. Be cautious. Don't rock the boat." The Star, presuming to be special and feeling entitled to lord it over others, may neglect the task of craft by whispering, "You're at the top. No need to work so hard." The Escape Artist can avoid the challenge of creativity by whining, "I'm so tired," or, "I have too much work to do." Or he might seduce us by saying, "Enjoy yourself now. Tomorrow is another day."

The presumptions and power of these characters inside us often culminate in detrimental edicts from the inner Critic, who uses the different ploys of these detractors. For example, the Critic might ask, "Who do you think you are to create?" Or he might accuse, "Don't be selfish. You should do things for others instead of spending time on yourself." Internally the Critic might play on our guilty feelings by insinuating, "You're crazy to waste all that energy on a mere "hobby". Be practical and put away your daft dreams." Another harmful devise of the Critic is to suggest, "You're a failure. It's not good enough. Forget this. Put it away before others laugh at you."

We cannot completely dismiss the Critic, however, because we need its help in order to create. The Critic's clarity and insight can help us make decisions in our lives and in our work. It is important to recognize and differentiate when the Critic's voice hinders us and helps us.

If we hear the voice of a self-righteous figure, an expert at self-justification who has an answer to everything, we can detect the destructive Critic. The illusion of perfection often underlies the Critic's rationale and masks a hidden agenda to gain dominance, power, and control of the psyche. If the emphasis is on competing, comparing, and end results instead of discovery and process, we know that we are face to face with the hostile critic.

One way to recognize whether the critic's commentary is helpful or harmful is to take note consciously whether compassion and respect inform its comments. Creativity requires that we learn to make discerning judgements that consider the unique tone, style, and being of each person. Compassion and respect celebrate the dignity inherent to the person searching for creativity.

Linda Schierse Leonard
The Call to Create

All the inner voices of social propriety and repression, waiting to waylay us! I had such pleasure typing out that passage for this blog because it has been, for me at least, so largely true. Is the psycho- drama "all too recognizable" to you? While books like Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones give simple tools (such as the Artist's Walk or journal) for almost anyone to find and nurture the nascent creative artist in themselves, Linda Schierse Leonard's book is primarily directed at people fully engaged in the battle, who identify themselves as artists or creators but who are all-too-frequently frustrated by impasses, bedevilling habits or attitudes that sabotage their full artistic realization. A Jungian analyst and teacher, Leonard helps us identify the archetypal patterns that rise up within us as we dedicate ourselves to our creativity. Against the negative inner voices identified above, Leonard names and delineates our positive dramatis personae. Against the Cynic, the Muse, "that mysterious, elusive spirit that inseminates our imagination, enlivens us, and invites us to cocreate with nature;" against the Tyrant, the Witness, who helps us " have the courage to stand ground and the wisdom to know how to do it" by recording the words and behaviour of the Tyrant; against the Escape Artist, the Sentinel, who actively stands watch at the borders of consciousness to prevent retreat and regression," against the Conformist, the Adventurer, who breaks out of given structures by taking a leap of faith and risking failure; against the Star, the humble Artisan in ourselves, who knows we must work continually and collaboratively to hone the skills of our craft; against the Perfectionist, the classic Dummling figure of fairy tales, who, awkward and even seen as "stupid", proceeds without a plan, not knowing the way or outcome - and stumbles upon wisdom. Against the inner Critic, the inner Lover and Celebrant.

The opening chapter in Leonard's book, a rather purplish paean on the creative inspiration to be found in nature, is nevertheless not to be missed if you are to appreciate the full meaning of what she has to say. If you are anything like me, though, I recommend starting this book further on with a chapter that deals with an issue that especially grabs you. The chapter about the Cynic was what pulled me in. For me personally there have been years where social isolation has been so hard, and the indifference (and ignorance) so monolithic, that the futility of it all has at times seemed simply too powerful to deny. How to counter that voice saying "What's the use?" Through personal case-histories, though the illumination of myths, through reasoned appeal to our better (and I think deepest) instincts, Linda Leonard helps us find ways.

For me, this probably the best creativity "self-help" book I've ever come across, and the only one spoke to me so well that I read it from cover to cover. While Leonard's purpose is to serve as a kind of midwife for the creativity of others, The Call to Create is at times so well written that it is itself a creative act worth celebrating. Anyway, if you get a chance to get your hands on it, you're in for a very interesting read. That's enough of a plug. I won't be back until after (Canadian) Thanksgiving. For a writer's Thanksgiving, I suggest you give thanks for your talents, your ability to appreciate, and for your favourite artists & books…

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