The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who said she would love to write, but wasn’t good at creative writing. I encouraged her to try other forms, like poetry. This was met with something that resembled panic. “Oh no! Nobody wants to read that!” She responded. She went on to explain that if she started with short fiction, and got some good critical feedback, she then might be able to venture out a little further. This got me to thinking. I have spent the last 20 years trying to let go of the idea that to be able to create, we need a license through positive feedback on our art. (I use the term art here to mean anything that involves the creative process.) I somehow, like my friend, have the idea that, for art to be meaningful, we need permission to create.
I have read many things about turning off the inner critic, and letting failure be a learning tool. I sometimes wonder why this is so difficult to do. And I admit, being fully human, I still seek approval. I think that we often see art as a separate part of our everyday lives. We have difficulty “owning” anything we see as a failure. And we have been entrenched in a culture that obligates us to acceptance before we feel that we can move forward. From a Pagan perspective, it helps me to know that art is an expression of our humanity and a reaction to our daily lives. Art is a way to understand and connect with the deepest parts of ourselves. Art can be a very spiritual experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it is a communication between parts of ourselves and with the world. In Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler says “Neo-Paganism returns to the ancient idea that there is no distinction between spiritual and material, sacred and secular.”(pg. 11) If we embrace this idea, there is no failure. We shift into another reality and an outcome is just that – an outcome. Not good or bad, but a product of a journey we have taken. Sometimes the outcome is unexpected and not what we first envisioned, but we can be open to the idea that the value of it exists, not in the feedback, but in the act of expression itself. This can open us up to broaden our perspectives on, not just the perceived value of the finished product, but the entire process.
In part, is being Pagan a willingness to engage in a process such as creating art? In many Pagan paths, I hear that we should be our own priestess/priest which means to me that we should engage in creating our own spirituality. This seems like a strong parallel to art. One difference is that, for the most part, I do not think that many of us see our religious creation with the same possibility of failure as we may see our art. I want my art to be praiseworthy but it seems that I want my own Pagan path to be acknowledged. Perhaps acknowledged and praised are closely related and thus art and religion may share this commonality.
To returned to this question of engagement with a process. I think that being Pagan is very much about engagement. Something I often point out as part of piety (the building of right relationships).Yet, as much as I may want to turn off my inner critic; I still struggle with wanting something external. In some ways this is good. If I create art that I want to move people towards an emotion or even an action, then I would want that feedback. Perhaps I create art to make a living and that external feedback (the energy exchange of money) would be very important. But if I create art, in all its many forms, to engage in this process of connecting with myself, deity, nature, other people then what is important is did I build a connection. No one else may care but then again I am the one who took the journey.