February 20, 2017

Are You a Shadow Artist?

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way talks about being a shadow artist. In her book, It's Never Too Late to Begin Again, she says a shadow artist is someone who has creative urges or abilities and chooses a career that is close to the life they would like to have themselves, but are afraid to pursue.

So, they settle for something in the "shadow" of their true heart's desire. A painter becomes a gallery owner, a playwright works in the front office of a theater company, or a photographer becomes an assistant to another photographer. Those folks satisfy their creative needs by being part of the world of art, but without the actual creation.

For some reason the shadow artist idea popped into my mind when I was thinking about unsatisfied desires. Retirement is the time of life when we are often able to pursue something that has eluded us until now. Yet, for a host of reasons, we remain in the shadows of that dream, unable to take the steps necessary to fully realize it.

Financial constraints, life circumstances, or health reasons may hold us back. Ms. Cameron suggests it can be a lack of belief in our own talents and a fear of failure. So, think of any part of our life that is lived more on the edges of something than being fully engaged:

1) You have always wanted to compete in a marathon. Instead you take part in organizing local 5 or 10K runs and remain somewhat unsatisfied.

2) Your photography generates very positive comments from friends. Instead of seeing if your work will sell, you are content to display it in your home and for family.

3) You love to write and seem to have a knack for it. But, instead of the hard work needed to produce a book, you are content to attend artist signings or write a blog.

4) You watch the Food Network, collect kitchen gadgets, and find great recipes on You Tube. Even so, your weekly menu seems to always be the safe choices you know others will like.

5) You collect travel videos and guidebooks of the places you'd love to explore in person, but never actually go.

6) It has always been a goal to go back to college and get that degree that eluded you in your youth. Instead, you find yourself attending free adult classes at the local community college.

Importantly, none of these six examples indicate failure. In their own way, each can be very satisfying and fulfilling. Creativity is evident in virtually everything we do. Creativity is simply the use of imagination or original ideas. Being even a small part of the world that excites you is a good thing.

The question is whether we settle for less than we can be. We get close to a dream, but, stay in its shadow. Is there any part of your retirement that is prompting you to move from the shadows into the light?




22 comments:

  1. I think almost all of us settle for less than we could be. As you say it takes a lot of work to move up to that final fulfillment level.To be an olympic competitor you must literally give your life over to your sport. There is little room for anything else. Who wants to spend their life with such a narrow life?

    On the other hand yeah, some of us are just too lazy to move to the next step. I admit that I am one of those people. I am just now coming around to the idea of writing a book about a couple of topics. One nice thing about being retired is that I can spend as much time as I want to fulfill that dream. Another is that everyone can be an author now, all you have to do is put your work on Amazon Kindle and see if anyone is interested. (ha).

    Then final thought about not having your "dream occupation" is that maybe you just did not have the guidance in your formative years to help point out your strengths that should be followed. It is hard for a teenager to decide what he wants to be. That maturity usually comes years later when it is often thought of as being too late....

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    1. I was lucky. I knew what I wanted to do for a living when I was 12. Or, maybe, I had a limited imagination. One or the other.

      I urge you to write a book. You probably have enough great material just from all your various blogs to curate enough for a fascinating read.

      Your point about guidance is important. The importance of a mentor cannot be disputed, but too frequently, that role is left unfilled in someone's life.

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  2. One thing I've found myself having to examine is "when is a limit a real limit" which necessitates a lower level of expectations or possibly substitutable expectations and when is a limit transcendable, something to be challenged, even overcome. Stories we read about aging individuals often focus on a select few who heroically, courageously, or mentally and physically transcend some limit which others of similar age might consider a "real" limit. For example, with two knee replacements, I will never run again (or do some other activities), so the choice is to forgo those and either find satisfactory substitutes or be miserable about limitations. I've had to carry into retirement a keen realization that I never found my "dream occupation." I found some great substitutes, but never had the satisfaction of pursuing a "grand academic passion" in my life. I think I know now what it might have been, but pragmatically, economically, and overall prudentally, I've had to decide that the best I can do is pursue it as a "grand life long learner passion," taking online courses and reading on my own, and having to at times regretfully accept that this is the best I can do, as the academic limits at this stage in my life are real, despite the stories I read about 90 year old college graduates in a particular field.

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    1. Accepting the reality of our situation and what we have accomplished in life are so important to happiness. Thanks, B.E., for making that point so clear. If we don't achieve something we thought was our dream, there are alternatives.

      Of course, over time dreams also change. If we stay fixated one what might have been then other growth opportunities are missed and we are more likely to become unhappy and bitter. As long as we don't simply settle for less than we are capable of, we are fulfilling our potential.

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  3. I have to agree with RJ. I don't think I had the guidance in my youth to really figure out what I wanted to do. Growing up in small Midwestern town in a large family, I knew I wanted a family and kids, so that was my first goal. Finding a career that worked with that was my first priority. Of course, that worked out about as well as you would expect. So I ended up returning to college in my thirties (while parenting 3 kids) and even then I'm not sure I followed my true passions. BUT, I was able to create a career on the periphery of my passions: design and writing. Now that I'm retired, I enjoy both but am glad I'm not striving to do either at a commercial level.

    I look forward to the other comments...another great topic, Bob!
    --Hope

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    1. When I write a post like this, I am never quite sure of the response: lots of comments that inspire others, or a more quiet contemplation that means fewer written responses. I hope this one inspires participation because I think this is a universal concern for all of us: am I making the most of what I have?

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  4. Well, the problem with any performance activity -- music, acting, writing, painting -- is that each one is a ridiculously competitive world and only the very best (and very luckiest) find a wide audience. But what's wrong with acting in your community theater, or playing in the local pickup band ... or writing a blog?

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    1. For probably 99% of us, the local level is where we find our fulfillment. For that 1% that wants to try acting in the local theater but "settles" for selling tickets, give the stage life a try. If it never pans out, you made the effort.

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  5. I've read her books and enjoyed them but, sadly very few of us who work in the arts make enough money to support ourselves. Unfortunately, there's little money to be made in the creative world. I encourage everyone to pursue their God given talents, it is a gift to be sure. Just don't expect to make a lot of money, if any.
    b

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    1. I think the application of pursuing what one truly wants can apply to anything, not just art-based creativity, like Julia did. Especially at our age, making money isn't the primary motivator. rather fulfillment.

      That said, you are absolutely right. The current administration's proposal to stop federal funding for the arts and public broadcasting is disturbing. For too many artists, that funding is what gets them out of the starting block.

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  6. I still don't know what a I want to be when I grow up.

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    1. I thought the same thing but then when my 68th birthday rolled around I decided I had procrastinated long enough (ha). Now I have decided that my career is to do what is necessary to have a satisfying retirement! Here's to you Bob for helping me with that decision...

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  7. What a thought-provoking post, Bob! And strangely enough, risk and creativity are what I wrote about as well in my most recent post. How to fit creative endeavours into life is an ongoing challenge. It is true that only a few in creative fields will rise to the very top and become entertainer of the year, produce a platinum album, or become the visual artist of the era. But isn't this also true of any other field? Not every professor will become top researcher in their field or university president; very few people in industry will rise to become the CEO.

    I think that we often defeat our creative selves before we even start by saying that because it is unlikely that we will become the best, we won't even try. And that is sad. The little creative spark inside each one of us needs to be nurtured, and it takes courage to risk making imperfect pieces of art (or meals or wooden bowls) or to perform in front of others, with flaws and all. But it is through risk-taking that we grow. The satisfaction of making/creating something is immeasurable, even knowing that it isn't and never can be perfect.

    Retirement and childhood are the two periods of life when it is easiest to decouple creative endeavours from the need to make money. In midlife, it is much harder to find satisfying paid work in creative fields that feeds our souls, or to make time on the side of a busy career for creative work. But in retirement, one no longer has that barrier.

    Jude

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    1. You have captured the essence of the post, Jude. Settling for less than we are capable of has nothing to do with money or fame, rather the priceless sense of accomplishment. Each of us, in our own way, contributes to the texture of the world, simply by taking that next step, wherever it leads us.

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  8. The Artist's Way is my favorite book - I have read it at least nine times and I highly recommend doing the exercises for anyone who wants to unlock their creativity.

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    1. While not as often as you, I have re-read The Artist's Way a few times over the years and find new inspiration every time. Thanks, Robin.

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  9. What a great post! I had to think about this for awhile. The closest I can come to this is my study/writing about the Tao Te Ching and my practice of martial arts. In both cases, I have often come up to the edge of my comfort zone, meaning that I have to choose whether to fade back into the shadows or just put myself out there and see what happens.

    The person who, to me, most represents NOT being a shadow artist is your wife, Betty. She is a totally out there express yourself with wild abandon artist. She is my hero.

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    1. What a nice thing to say! I will be sure she reads your comment.

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    2. What a nice thing to say Galen! Thinking about this I came to the conclusion that I am beginning to arise from my own shadows. In each season in life you should re-access your creative outlets. Sometimes it is good to be in the spotlight and other times in the shadows. Thanks again. You are a dear friend.

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  10. An interview with Maya Angelou's son has come to mind. The interviewer asked him if it was a challenge growing up in her shadow and he replied that he hadn't grown up in her shadow - he'd grown up in her light. I like what Betty said about a time to be in the spotlight and a time to be in the shadow. I guess the important thing is the satisfaction one gets from their actions, whether in the spotlight or in the shadows. A person's motivation is so multifaceted. Are we settling when we live vicariously or is it enough?

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    1. Excellent thoughts, Mona. Your last sentence is worth extra highlighting: "Are we settling when we live vicariously or is it enough?" That decision is made by each of us, and the answer varies over time. Betty's reference to spending time in both shadows and the spotlight is exactly correct.

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