One of those cliches about creative expression is to “Write what you know.” Maybe it can be expanded to “Create from what you know and who you are.”
Lena Dunham is the creator, executive producer, and one of the stars of the HBO series “Girls” about four young women living in New York. She bases the acclaimed show on many of her own experiences.
In a newspaper interview, she was asked, “How do you manage an awareness of the pitfalls of your age while you’re still in the midst of it?”
Dunham: “I’ve been in therapy since I was 7; that’s probably helpful. The way I process my experiences is to translate them into some artistic form. I don’t know another way to get through them.”
From The Contenders: Lena Dunham of ‘Girls’, June 07, 2012|By Lisa Rosen, Special to the Los Angeles Times.
(Dunham recently got a reported $3.5million deal to write a memoir and advice book for twenty-something women.)
One of the most common experiences of creative people is anxiety. Psychotherapist and mystery author Dennis Palumbo notes that famed psychiatrist Rollo May “reminded us, real creativity is not possible without anxiety. In many ways, it’s the price of admission to the artist’s life.”
Palumbo adds, “Which means, for those artists who have the courage to embrace their own fears, to co-exist with potentially crippling anxiety and create anyway, the rewards can be significant. Consider artists as diverse as Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King and James L. Brooks, Anne Rice and Phillip Roth, Richard Pryor and Diane Arbus.
“They use who they are—all of who they are—as the wellspring of their creativity. Just as it is for yours.”
From his post Turning Anxiety Into Creativity:
Lucy Daniels and therapy for artists
Dr. Daniels is a writer and clinical psychologist. She “dropped out of high school at 16 and spent five years in psychiatric hospitals in treatment for severe anorexia nervosa. In 1956, less than a year after her release, a novel she had written in the hospital, Caleb, My Son, was published by Lippincott and became a best seller.”
That profile is from the site of her Lucy Daniels Foundation, a “private, nonprofit organization that fosters personal development, emotional freedom and a deeper understanding of creativity through education, outreach, and psychoanalytic treatment and research programs.”
In 2002, Daniels published her memoir, With a Woman’s Voice: A Writer’s Struggle for Emotional Freedom.
Painter Gayle Stott Lowry creates “Allegorical Oil Paintings With Focus on Light” according to her site, where you can see many examples.
In her biography on the Tyndall Galleries site, she makes a statement many artists can relate to: “Creating my artwork is a very introspective process for me. It is my way of dealing with what is invisible and making it real. It is my means of seeking truth and clarity.
“Although my work, like most creative work, could be seen as autobiographical, it also is reflective of this time in our existence and the issues we all face. My best paintings encourage the viewers to confront something within themselves and consider alternative points of view.”
Lowry also writes candidly on the Lucy Daniels Foundation site about her mental health challenges impacting her creative expression: “A few years ago, my pain became so unbearable that I was no longer able to contain it and maintain a facade in my personal life or in my work.”
Facing demons doesn’t mean killing them off
“I still have pretty much the same fears I had as a kid. I’m not sure I’d want to give them up; a lot of these insecurities fuel the movies I make.” Steven Spielberg
In his book “Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within,” therapist Dennis Palumbo lists some of the common anxieties and other demons that creative people confront:
“Writer’s block. Procrastination. Loneliness. Doubt. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Just plain … fear. What do these all mean? What does it say about you if you struggle with these feelings on a daily basis?
“It means you’re a writer. And that’s all it means.
“I ought to know. I’ve been a successful writer for over twenty years, and I’ve spent more than my share of time grappling with most of these feelings. Now, as a psychotherapist specializing in creative issues, I work with new, struggling writers, as well as some of the most successful in the country… And what do they all have in common? See above.”
Palumbo points out that people often think they just need to find the right roadmap to release their creativity.
He writes, “The problem is, most writers…believe that if they just read the right how-to book, took enough writing seminars, got the best therapy, etc., they could get rid of their doubts and and fears, their ‘negative’ feelings and behaviors.”
He notes one of his writer clients expressed it, “I want to just shove all my anxieties, that pain and fear, all that crap out the door. Then I could sit down and write.”
“But write about what?,” Palumbo asks. “Those very feelings we yearn to dispel are the raw materials of our writing, the stuff from which everything we write – including even our desire to write – emerges.”
“I had the feeling therapy was good for my writing very early on.” Filmmaker Agnes Jaoui [From post: Therapy Would Kill My Creativity.
This article includes only a few examples of creative people who have found that engaging in the challenging and rewarding process of therapy, and being creative, enables them to better understand themselves and be more fully alive.