Shame, Shame, Go Away

Brené Brown made it okay for us to talk about shame, both men and women. So, let’s go there. Because it seems to me artists deal with more than our fair share of shame. And it comes at us from opposing angles, to the point where sometimes we feel we can’t win:

“You spent all afternoon painting? Wish I had that much time to myself.”

“Why haven’t you been working on your writing? You were given a gift, you don’t want to waste it.”

“Aren’t you ashamed charging so much for your work? Art should be affordable for all.”

“Don’t you feel bad not contributing more money to the family income?”

“Is it hard to be on stage every night, knowing you can’t tuck your kids in bed?”

“You shouldn’t ask your children to pose for your photographs. Kids should be allowed to just be kids.”

“You play it pretty safe with your art. I think the best artists strive to be a bit provocative.”

“I feel like you’re trying to offend with your songs. What makes you think you’re better than the rest of us?”

“You should quit hiding in your studio and get your art out there more. People need to see this.”

“You submitted your work there? Wow, you must be feeling pretty confident.”

“That piece you created is very personal, isn’t it? I was always taught not to air my dirty laundry.”

“I liked your piece, but I felt you were skimming the surface. A true artist needs to bare his/her soul.”

Buried inside each of those comments are the speaker’s own insecurities, hang-ups, disillusionments, judgments, and fears. On a certain level, we know that. We know their comments say more about them than they do about us, but somehow, we still feel the shame. It’s easy because all our lives we’ve been made to feel ashamed of our looks, our work, our parenting, our beliefs, our behaviors, our indiscretions, everything. We’ve been shamed by our parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, friends, spouses, bosses, colleagues, pastors, children. All the people who matter most in our lives. No matter how good we feel about our art and the pursuit of our art, there’s always someone happy to tell us we’re being selfish, self-centered, arrogant, privileged, deluded, frivolous, or just plain foolish.

One of my favorite quotes from my hero, Eleanor Roosevelt (a woman who encountered shame in every aspect of her life), is this: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And this quote works if you insert the word shame instead. “No one can make you feel ashamed without your consent.”

The whole point of art, after all, is to produce something that is all your own. Something that comes from your heart, soul, and mind. So, sure, I guess it’s the ultimate selfish act. And that’s good. Because how else will the rest of us ever learn from or be inspired by what is uniquely you?

As long as creating art brings you joy, fulfillment, excitement, challenge, and energy, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It’s not your job to convince anyone about anything. It’s your job to be true to yourself. Period.

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