Many artists know that our inner depths provide the material for creative expression.
But much of what we have in our psyches may be shut away from awareness, by suppression and repression, and just not paying attention. This wealth of emotional and imaginational material psychologists, beginning perhaps with Carl Jung, identify as the Shadow Self.
There is a lot of outer reality that demands our attention, and it may take ongoing conscious effort to know some aspects of ourselves, especially those considered “wrong” or “evil” or otherwise unacceptable.
How do we access and make use of our shadow side to be more creative? Artists, psychologists and writers provide ideas below, and there is an online course listed at the bottom.
Carl Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
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Photo: Elle Fanning in movie: Leaning Towards Solace, directed by Floria Sigismondi, music by Sigur Rós.
“A lot of my images come from that time when you just go to sleep,” Floria Sigismondi said, “and I usually end up writing in the dark or just when I wake up. People think of women I guess doing softer more beautiful pink things… I’ve just got a little bit of that other side.
“I think it could get pretty scary if people hide that side of them, and then kind of let it out in other ways, where I’m very visible with it, and it’s a safe way.” [MTV.com News article]
“Floria Sigismondi is a multi-disciplinary artist whose photography, videos, films and sculptures have had a major impact on contemporary visual culture.” From summary for her book Immune.]
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“The unconscious is our best collaborator. I try to let the participants [in my movies] have downtime before shooting and after rehearsal, so our secret collaborator can do its work. I have learned to trust and encourage that more.”
Director Mike Nichols [AARP Magazine Jan/Feb 2004]
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He goes on to quote Jung: “The shadow is the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious… [The shadow] also displays a number of good qualities such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.”
[From his book: Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark Side.]
From my article Dancing With Our Shadow to Develop Creativity, which includes material on the movie “Black Swan” plus more books and artist quotes.
David Cronenberg: “Civilization is repression. You don’t get civilization without repression of the unconscious, of the id. And the basic appeal of art is to the unconscious. Therefore, art is somewhat subversive of civilization. And yet at the same time it seems necessary for civilization. You don’t get civilization without art.” [imdb.com]
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Tori Amos: “Let’s be honest, religion has not supported women and men exploring all sorts of their sides, their unconscious.
“It has not been supportive of, you know, go into the places without shame, without blame, without judgment, and just let yourself really see what’s cooking in there.” [imdb.com]
Another quote of hers:
“Self-acceptance is not something that the religious institutions are into. They’re about getting the demons out of you. I’m about inviting the demons to, you know, eggplant parmigiana. That’s where wholeness comes from.”
[Photo from facebook.com/toriamos]
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In her article The Shadow Muse – Gifts of Your Dark Side, Jill Badonsky writes about how much energy we use “to suppress what we perceive to be our undesirable traits – our negativity, judgmental nature, and our other secret peculiarities and struggles.
“Often we do not even allow our shadow side into our own consciousness… In this exercise we not only deny our humanity but we also disable a potent creativity feature – sublimation.”
She notes “The Secret” [book and movie] is “driving people batty who are trying to stop themselves from manifesting negative things in their lives by stopping negative thoughts. It is like forcing yourself not to listen to the horn section in a song that has a horn section in addition to strings, percussion and a triangle.
“And then they beat themselves up for having a negative thought and then they beat themselves up for beating themselves up. So you see what a waste of energy it is to try and stop negative thoughts especially when both the energy we use and the thoughts themselves have so much potential for creativity.”
Jill Badonsky, M.Ed. is a workshop leader, artist, performer, humorist, and author of the book, The Nine Modern Day Muses.
Aviva Gold thinks “To do our job as artists well, we need to be outspoken, meticulously honest and authentically emotional, which means that we and our art may express rage, grief, destruction, depression, death and sexuality.
“Our art may show up as flamboyant, aggressive, morbid, corny, disgusting, primal, spiritual, provocative and totally outrageous.”
From the book The Soul of Creativity : Insights into the Creative Process, by Tona Pearce Myers.
Book: The Complete Painting From the Source by Aviva Gold.
“Going to one’s dreams, or to one’s own life experiences/subconscious, I have found to be the best way to conceive images that might not even be truly original, but lack cliches, and come genuinely from the artist’s soul and heart…. often with a message for others.”
Fine-art and fashion photographer Natalie Dybisz / Miss Aniela, in a comment on her post Copycats and underdogs: the behaviour of online communities.
[Photo from facebook.com/missanielaphotography]
She is leading an online CreativeLive workshop: Imaginative Fashion Photography.
The Psychology of Creativity – Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond notes that we tend to dread looking “in there” – into our Shadow side – partly from a fear of “having impulses appear unbidden.” But he adds, creativity comes from a refusal to run, a “willing encounter with anxiety and what lies beyond it. It is an opening up to the unknown, the unconscious, the daimonic. And it can be terrifying. The real trick is learning to use the anxiety to work rather than escape. And all of this requires immense courage, the courage to create.”
His book: “Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity.”
Book: Jung on Active Imagination by C. G. Jung (Author), Joan Chodorow (Editor)
“All the creative art psychotherapies (art, dance, music, drama, poetry) can trace their roots to C. G. Jung’s early work on active imagination. Joan Chodorow here offers a collection of Jung’s writings on active imagination, gathered together for the first time.
“Jung developed this concept between the years 1913 and 1916, following his break with Freud. During this time, he was disoriented and experienced intense inner turmoil –he suffered from lethargy and fears, and his moods threatened to overwhelm him. Jung searched for a method to heal himself from within, and finally decided to engage with the impulses and images of his unconscious.”
How to Uncover the Unconscious and Release Creativity – online class (from the en*theos Academy for Optimal Living) with Carrie Barron, M.D.
“The unconscious is a treasure trove of novel ideas, innovations, odd combinations and original thought. It is where instincts, passions, wishes and dreams reside.
“Accessing the unconscious through honoring dreams, intuition and wispy random thoughts can help us be more creative, authentic and content.”