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Excerpt from "Making Your Creative Mark"

Your Whole Self and Your Artist Self

by Eric Maisel

What is the relationship between your whole self and your artist self? This is a tremendously important subject because you want your whole self to be the monitor for all your self-identifications — Jew, woman, Bostonian, painter — so that you don’t become drawn in directions you don’t want to go just because something happens that pulls at one of those self-identifications.

Consider the following seven points:

1. You are a whole person who is also an artist. You need to maintain an important primary relationship between you as a whole person and you as an artist, so that the “whole you” is in charge and keeps an eye on all your self-identifications, just as a third-grade teacher might mind her eight-year-olds.

To take a simple example, your writer identity may be hungry to do something fun, but your whole self may understand that you have a book to write that is more important than the fun book but also more like sheer slogging work than enjoyment. You want your whole self deciding these matters, just as you would want the teacher and not the eight-year-olds running the class.

2. Next is the matter of keeping your eye on your values and principles. Your artist identity may want to make meaning in a certain way, say, by using some Native American imagery in your next suite of paintings. But your whole self may have something to say about the rightness or value of expropriating imagery from another culture.

You may want to paint something because it strikes you as arresting or beautiful, but you still want your whole self to ask the question “Are there other considerations here besides beauty?” You might think of this as mind monitoring heart or as conscience monitoring ego, but probably the best way to think of it is as your whole self monitoring your artist self. If your whole self is monitoring your artist self, then you will make not only meaning but value-based meaning.

3. There is an important difference between monitoring your self-identifications, which is a good thing, and using this idea of identity as yet another way not to get on with your creative work. I think you can see how you might use this executive function idea as a way to doubt yourself or your current creative project. Say that you’ve decided to abstract some pine trees into geometric shapes, and let’s say your first results aren’t all that pleasing to you. Using this idea of whole self monitoring artist self, you might say to yourself, “Gee, I wonder if abstracting these pine trees is really a valuable idea?” and cast the whole project in doubt.

In some instances this may be a proper question, but very often — maybe most often — it will just be a reaction to difficulty and a way to avoid the pain of process. Do not use this idea of monitoring as a way to avoid hard work or as a way to evade the realities of process.

4. Running a bit counter to the previous points, you want to strongly hold and cherish those self-identifications that you want to hold and cherish, like the identity
of artist.
Sometimes you’ll have to tell your whole self, “Hey, self, I know I’m obsessing a lot about this novel and writing day and night, but please don’t bug me about my ‘whole self’ right now — I need to be writing!”

Usually you will lead with your whole self but sometimes you will want to honor and give free rein to your artist self, so it follows that these inner relationships will produce real conflicts — and conflicts generate anxiety. This means that you will want to have your anxiety-management tools at the ready to deal with these identity issues, because as abstract as they may seem in this discussion, they are very real and will cause real conflicts in your being.

5. Just as the tension between your whole self and your various self-identifications produces anxiety, the following dynamic does as well. Your whole self is not a static entity, and neither are your self-identifications. This ongoing shifting and changing causes discomfort and uncertainty, because somewhere in our minds we presume or hope that we have “settled down by now” into some stable something — and we sense that we haven’t.

There is really no reason to suppose that we will ever settle down in this way, not as long as life pre-sents us with new experiences and not as long as we ourselves desire to grow and change. Expect this regular shifting of identity, and when it comes, have your anxiety-management tools ready so you can deal with the anxiety such shifting naturally provokes.

6. When you learn how to operate from your whole self, rather than reacting in a knee-jerk way from one or another of your many self-identifications, you will also learn how to choose which identity piece to respond from. Your whole self has that executive function.

To take a simple example, let’s say that a bit of news about some event in the Middle East stirs and exasperates you. You can react as a Jew, you can react as a pacifist, you can react as a mother, you can react as a poet, but the starting place is to invite your whole self to consider the situation and to express its opinion about which self-identification it wants to nominate. To put it in everyday language, you can decide whether you want to react to the situation as a poet, as a Jew, as a mother, and so on. Honoring this capability is the same thing as making value-based meaning.

7. Seventh and last, this matter of operating from your whole self rather than from any given identity piece is quite significant, because if you fall into the trap of operating too completely or too permanently from one identity piece or another, you may lock yourself into a certain smallness — even if, for example, you get a tremendous amount of painting or writing done.

This is why many highly productive artists also seem immature and incomplete. They have given their artist identify free and full rein and have lost out by not paying sufficient attention to their whole self with its executive-functioning capabilities and its ability to look at the whole story.

Remember: you don’t want to put all your eggs in the basket of any identity piece, even the identity piece of artist. It is important to strengthen your identity as an artist in order to give yourself the chance to be that artist. Here I am saying, do strengthen that identity piece and really feel that you are an artist and really live as an artist but at the same time recognize that you have a whole self that is larger than and different from your identity as an artist.


Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, and Coaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at http://www.ericmaisel.com.

Excerpted from the new book Making Your Creative Mark ©2013 by Eric Maisel. Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com

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