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ARTISTS AND SOCIETY
by Dorothea McArthur, Ph.D.
I have seen many artists over the years as clients in my private practice.
They walk into my office with a humble quietness. They see the world deeply
through an exquisite lens and can feel sadness, concern, disgust, and
the triumph of civilization and joy about nature easily. Many artists
have a need to understand and are deeply impacted by the poignancy of
their own life story. They often experience themselves on the outside
of the “in” crowd in childhood, and can be bored in school.
Some have become accustomed to putting themselves down because it’s
commonplace for artists to have doubts about the validity of their creative
Many of these clients do not know that they have been blessed with creative
genes because their parents did not acknowledge or encourage them to actualize
their particular talent. Instead, families responded cautiously because
they were afraid that their artist child would not be able to make a sufficient
living by practicing their art. Parents may encourage a degree in business,
or law instead of a degree in fine arts. As a result, many artistic clients
view their opportunity to create as an “extravagance” they
should not bother to indulge.
Being an artist is one way to make sense of and express feelings about
living life on this planet. An artistic exhibition or performance can
bring forth and regroup feelings we didn’t know we had buried deeply
inside us. Art can reach out and aid a viewer the way a therapist helps
each person reach a resolution. When an audience gathers to watch a movie,
play, concert, poetry reading, or dance performance, they mutually agree
to study together whatever the artist has decided to say.
However, clients come to realize they are artists when they use their
particular talent in a way that feels effortless, and brings contentment
with results that make them feel proud. A few are so passionate and compelled
that they do not have the choice not to be artistic. Some feel their creative
expression comes “through” them from the outside world, while
others feel it is generated from “within” themselves and their
life experience. Others feel their creative expression comes from both
sources. Which ever way it happens, the creative work of an artist has
to be a solo journey until the creation is completed. Then others may
be involved in getting it out into the world. Sometimes that journey leaves
the artist feeling isolated, different, alone and sometimes, afraid.
Throughout my own life, and many hours with clients, I’ve come to
understand that society and the world in general does not treat our artists
I believe that most people are jealous of artists, especially the ones
who get to perform in public. Probably everyone has had dreams of being
in the “limelight” with that wonderful high moment when artists
are performing and their creativity is appreciated. Many get to hear the
clapping and to feel that they have done something truly meaningful and
important. Artists tend not to be interested in riches or fame. Instead,
they just want enough support to go on doing their creative work. Many
famous artists have lived in poverty. What are the words that so frequently
come just before the word artist? The answer is, of course, “struggling”
Perhaps, because society is jealous, we make artists create and complete
most of their projects with no financial compensation. Maybe we’ll
look at their work after it’s done, and maybe we’ll respect
it, and maybe we won’t. Often we don’t even bother to look
carefully. In the meantime, we give artists little hope. We think nothing
about discounting them and their creative endeavors. Actors and
authors particularly have to be experts at handling rejection after rejection
as an expected and normal part of the process. Artistic clients come to
me to quell their fear, acquire a strong enough self-esteem to survive
society’s tentative response.
It would be outstanding if society could take a step forward and treat
our artists with the utmost respect. That support starts right in my office.
Many of these clients are often Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP) with an
overly tuned response to one or more of the five senses. Artists are our
deep thinkers with acute intuition; our quiet and honest leaders, observing,
creating and commenting on what we most need to hear as a society and
as individuals. Artists risk saying things that are really important,
even if they get rejected. They tend not to stay on the well-worn path,
but to carve new trails.
But often, as a society, we are reluctant to hear what artists have to
say, perhaps because we will have to alter the way we do things as a result
of their input. Therefore we shut them up with lack of support, ignore
them, or criticize them. Many famous artists have become known only after
In writer’s workshops, authors are often encouraged not to write
unless they absolutely can’t live without putting words together
in that effortless way that brings contentment. After the first draft,
there is a lot of editing to finish each piece of writing. Success is
difficult and often elusive.
There are two conditions that contribute to becoming a successful
artist. First, the person has to be born with creative genes. The second
condition is always a surprise to my artistic clients. Artists are often
involved in a struggle, such as a difficult childhood, that becomes well
understood by the client in terms of emotions and misconceptions. The
resolution of this conflict often gives shape to the particular subject
and expression of their creativity, while lack of resolution may block
expression. As the clients and I work on their unresolved issues, their
creativity is able to flow freely again. Their resolution shapes an important
creative endeavor that can make a difference for those who suffer in a
As Julia Cameron writes in Walking In this World: The Practical Art
1. explore the territory of the human heart, braving the dark woods
to report to our human tribe that a trail can be found and will survive.
2. report dangers we might wish to ignore
3. record perceptions that feel unbearable to others
4, encapsulate the loneliness of missed connections
5 function out of nerve, daring, stamina, vision, and persistence
It’s exhilarating for me to watch artist clients awaken to their
creativity, to own it and begin talking about their particular project.
Sometimes we look together at ways they can support themselves with a
non-taxing “job-job” so they can save all of their energy
for their creative work. The “job-job” pays the living costs
and takes away the struggle to pay for rent and food that otherwise could
erode the creative process.
Artists hate to promote their work. They rarely have the disposition for
this area of expertise. Hence, society has to have publishing houses,
agents, publicists, and marketing experts. Artists don’t want to
tell people what they’ve done, or try to sell it. They just want
to get on to the next project. Secondarily, they’re happy to be
financially successful, but their primary interest lies in making a difference
by articulating what needs to be realized.
It’s hard to kill an artist’s drive, especially when each
artist becomes an expert at rising above or ignoring sabotaging remarks,
meant to clip their wings in place of useful criticism. With enough encouragement
and support, the artist will prevail. Two quotes speak poignantly to this
One of life’s most exhilarating feelings is
to be shot at with no result. — Winston Churchill
All truth passes through three stages. First,
it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted
as self -evident.
I encourage my clients to listen carefully to their creativity and intuition.
When they have the urge to be creative, they’re being sent a message
from the universe to act. The universe is so much more intelligent than
any one human artist that it becomes ridiculous to resist. Only the universe
knows the whole picture. The artist merely has to do what is suggested
through their creativity. All fear of failure, evaluation, judgment, or
rejection of the work has to be sent down the drain of the artist’s
daily bath or shower. These feelings will only cause writer’s block
eroding the process of producing valuable works of art for us all.
Can we even imagine what civilization would be like if just half of the
funds that have gone into war, were diverted for education, training,
and support of artistic expression. Art would be taught in every school.
There would be funding for tickets to live performance so that everyone
who was interested would have a chance to attend. Artists would be paid
for creating and the development of their art. They would be “honored”
instead of “struggling” and “starving.” I would
have been paid for the hours that went into the writing and editing of
Currently, fifty percent of my clients are artistic. They leave my office
when we have worked with all of the above issues and they:
1. understand and respect their particular creative genius
2. have found and accepted their “job-job” when it is needed
3. feel entitled and compelled to use their artistic genes
4. understand the unresolved issues within their own lives and have some
artistic way to express it to help others with similar problem.
5. have mastered their fears of rejection and are able to create anyway.
6. can distinguish between useful constructive criticism to be incorporated,
and sabotage based upon threat and jealously that must to be eliminated.
In the final analysis, it is powerful and compelling and hard to be an
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