The Holy Grail of Creating

The Holy Grail

There’s a secret to fulfilling your destiny as an artist

To express yourself in your art, to search for your truth, you must first master yourself — a never-ending wrestling match with the dark angels of self doubt. It’s similar to the biblical story of Jacob wrestling all night until daybreak with an angel by the Jabbok River after an exhausting journey in the desert wilderness.

For an artist, the minute you become comfortable is the minute you’re no longer searching for your truth, for your deepest expression.

You could avoid this struggle and stay on the surface, settling for the low-hanging fruit of creating predictable, formulaic paintings. But in your heart you know that to create your deepest, most authentic and astonishing art, you must never give up the fight.

The one thing you must do is express your truth.

And so, what is the holy grail of creating?

What is this elusive treasure you seek and pursue and keep searching for?

It’s trusting yourself.

Why is trusting yourself as an artist important?

Creation inspires fear because fear is associated with the unknown.

Creativity is deeply associated with the unknown because things that you’ve already created are known. We’re not going to rid ourselves of fear but rather face it head on, by going ahead anyway even as we’re afraid.

This requires a degree of self trust.

It requires trust to allow ourselves to step into the unknown, the terra incognita of creating. To go deeper in our work, we’ve got to let ourselves create “ugly” paintings and be willing to explore and experiment and not know what’s going to happen next.

This requires trust.

This raises another important question:

How do you trust yourself?

I’ve thought about this question for years. It’s a central concern in existential psychiatry too. Along with doing the deeper work of learning to value yourself (and this may take intensive therapy), it’s important to cultivate self-trust.

It certainly helps you trust yourself if you grew up with secure attachment and learned from your parents’ example of believing and trusting in you. That said, I believe we can learn to trust and value ourselves regardless of family history if we have enough support and encouragement to do so. There’s wonderful clinical work being done now in attachment therapy of repairing disrupted trust.

What does it mean to trust yourself?

You may be wondering exactly what trusting yourself looks like.

You only have to reach back into the recesses of your mind, back to your early childhood, to remember. Or watch a child of one to five years old draw and paint and you’ll see play and trust in action.

Play is the work of childhood and it’s the work our lives as well

Children play freely, boldly and imaginatively. They’re continually exploring and experimenting. They’re the embodiment of being an artist.

They’re not worried about what other people think. Unselfconscious, they explore as they go. Not knowing what’s going to happen next, they make their first mark and the magic begins.

Children paint from their bodies. They respond to the emerging image and paint what pleases them.

There’s no second-guessing, overworking or overthinking. When children paint, they don’t doubt themselves.

At some point, they declare the painting done. They have no problem finishing their artwork.

The secret of creativity is hiding in plain sight

When you were a child you were continually exploring and experimenting and in that way discovering the world.

You were both an artist and scientist.

You lived in the present and continually met the moment.

You made a mark and responded to it.

Trusting yourself was inherent. You didn’t have to think about it.

Once known and now forgotten

The great British child psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott was a virtuoso psychotherapist and brilliant theorist. He believed that play was essential to health, and that to help his clients play, whether they were children or adults, he needed to be able to play himself.

He embodied play in his unconventional approaches to therapy, employing a reciprocal game he developed called Squiggles. He and the client would begin with a squiggle drawing (essentially a scribble) and, in turns, they’d add to it and images would emerge.

This informed the evolving narrative of the therapy, where previously unconscious material bubbled up and therapist and client played with the reciprocal drawing.

You once had no doubt

The fear around artistic creativity comes from a special category of unknown, because it was once known and now forgotten.

This knowing, this knowledge still lives inside of you.

You never lost it.

From my studio to yours,


P.S. If you’d like to go deeper in exploring the holy grail of creating as well as be inspired and motivated to create consistently, my monthly online abstract painting workshop, Studio Journey, is now OPEN for enrollment. Click >>> HERE to learn more.

Originally published at Nancy Hillis.