Your Inferior Shadow

Dear Artist, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out why some artists just go ahead and do things and thrive, while others don’t get much done and languish. I noticed that thriving in our game often has more to do with attitude than talent. Further, I noticed that some would-be artists were dragging something around. I knew this because there were times when I dragged the thing around myself. These days, some high-priced shrinks are talking about “Your Inferior Shadow.” This creepy critter is a dark presence — always with you — and he wants you to be fearful, incompetent, lousy, victimized, procrastinatory and self-loathing. Some of us have almost untamable Shadows while others have small ineffective ones. It’s possible to train the former to be the latter. No matter what the size of your shadow, here are a few ways to keep him in check: A lot of what comes out of your mouth is him speaking. When you speak, you reinforce intentions. You need a small policeman standing alert at the side of your mouth. He puts up his hand and says, “Stop.” Shadow-talk needs to go to the trash. You need to cultivate habits that overrule his power. Some of these habits can be mighty small, like washing your brushes, but when they become habitual you can move on to bigger ones. B.J. Fogg of Stanford University in California has pioneered a system of developing “tiny habits.” According to Fogg and many of his satisfied customers, the system can change behaviors and even personalities. Your Inferior Shadow is a whizbang at throwing obstacles in your way. Funnily, some of the obstacles can be legit and daunting. But once your Shadow knows you will react to obstacles, any obstacle will do. One lady told me she couldn’t paint because her laundry wasn’t dry yet. I used to have a friend who felt he couldn’t paint until his studio was finished — and then he took 10 years to finish his studio. Because your Shadow has his own powerful ego that can overshadow your own ego, he can actually block your ability to work confidently, study, take advice and learn. He can literally shut you out of your own best interests. Just knowing he’s there and understanding his motivation is half the battle. You can’t shoot him because he’s just a Shadow. Best regards, Robert PS: “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.” (Robert Louis Stevenson) Esoterica: The weaker your self-esteem the more powerful your Shadow becomes. By making small gains (like a painting a day) we begin to show our Shadow that we are in charge. For some reason, accomplishments blind him and make him crazy. It’s our accomplishments that build our self-esteem. One of the real pleasures of writing this letter is receiving the large number of emails from artists who confide. Frequent disclosures include, “If I don’t paint I start to feel rotten,” and “When I paint I’m happy.” These admissions let me know that another Inferior Shadow has at least temporarily bitten the dust.   Recognizing the concept by Bonnie Rupe, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA  

mixed media painting
by Bonnie Rupe

This is the message I needed today, not just for painting but, more importantly, for life. Thank you for realizing that we all have Inferior Shadows. Just naming this shadow is a plus because now I can call it something. It’s important to note the role this shadow plays in our lives. It’s interesting for me that when he’s at bay in my painting life, he may be overshadowing another part of my life. Just recognizing this concept is huge for me.     There are 2 comments for Recognizing the concept by Bonnie Rupe
From: Linda Harbison — Jun 05, 2012

I love your painting!

From: Christie — Jun 05, 2012

I find this painting very evocative. Takes me back in the happiest way. Great colors, great posture, and unspecific enough that your viewers can relate quickly!

  Thirty Days Project by Keith Ikeda-Barry  

“Day 3 – Girl eating takoyaki”
watercolour sketch
by Keith Ikeda-Barry

Great post today about the Inferior Shadow, and especially the daily work that can help undo the shadow’s obstacles. We have a thing called Thirty Days Project that has a similar goal: to get motivation behind one’s creative output by completing a single piece of work and posting it to a communal blog every day for thirty days in a row. The next one starts on June 1 but if any of your readers would like to join in the next day or two, we will gladly hold registration open for them if they mention they found out about it from the Painter’s Keys site. It is entirely free and we even offer free image hosting for those who don’t have their own website/hosting set up. (RG note) Thanks, Keith. A noble idea and right down our alley. Readers can take a look here. There is 1 comment for Thirty Days Project by Keith Ikeda-Barry
From: JRWeekes — Jun 05, 2012

Robert I read your article and wholeheartedly agreed with what you alluded to. I was surprised to read the negativity in the comment submitted by the chap from Texas…shame on you guy. My advice to the Texan is walk the walk then talk the talk. We artists or wanna be an artist know what you (Robert)are talking about. Who’s looking bad now!

  Robert looks bad by Dr. Peter Berndt, The Woodlands, TX, USA  

“Still Life”
egg tempera painting
by Dr. Peter Berndt

The quality of the work of a Sunday painter tends to differ from that of a trained professional artist. Similarly, when someone who has not had the benefit of specialized training dispenses psychological advice, it is immediately apparent. I have observed how you, Robert, have a habit of attempting to give such advice which can only be labeled as pseudo-psychological and which makes you look bad. It is obvious that you have no concept of the difference between conscious and subconscious motivation. You also make the classical error in thinking that subconscious motivation can be conquered or overridden by an effort of the will. This error in your thinking manifests itself over and over when you tackle psychological issues that are a challenge even to people trained in the field. Since your words have an impact on the many people who read your column and who, like most of the general population, believe as you do in erroneous ways of thinking (such as the primacy of the will over feeling) you ought to be careful about what you say. By telling people that they can overcome their motivational issues by a simple decision may help a few but others, whose problems are deeper seated, will in fact feel stupid as a result of what you say in this arena. This is a fact that you may not have considered before. I believe that you are well intentioned, hard working and wanting to be helpful. I would urge you to heed the old proverb which says, “A cobbler should stick to his last” — if you know what I mean. So tell us about painting, colours, composition, the life of a working artist, marketing, all that stuff that you know about but stay away from other fields such as psychology. Unless you want to look bad which I don’t think you want. There are 19 comments for Robert looks bad by Dr. Peter Berndt
From: Anonymous — Jun 04, 2012

You’re not an artist, right? What impacts one personality may be incidental to another. If the shoe doesn’t fit feel free to discard it.

From: Jill Paris Rody — Jun 04, 2012

Robert, I’d much rather read and “listen” to your ideas about my “inferior shadow” than seek out a professional and costly psychiatrist. You are an artist; I am an artist, and I understood your message completely! Thanks for your terrific letters, if they don’t always ‘fix’ my troubles, at least I am wholesomely entertained!!

From: Mike Barr — Jun 04, 2012

I believe that a life-time of being an artist with all its attending psychological and technical challenges probably enables one to dispence advice on these things with more authority than a non-artist, whatever their qualification. Time and time again Robert cuts through any jargon and tells us how it is. The whole shadow concept would have found thousands of artists nodding in agreement. Acknowledging that we have a contrary voice that is always ready to throw in the towel at the least excuse is an important first step!

From: Susan Holland — Jun 04, 2012

Dr. Berndt, with due respect to your expertise, it sounds as if you are inferring that Robert is practicing medicine without a license! I have never thought that Robert had a shingle out, but he does have a ton of experience in behavior inside an art studio, and also the behavior of other artists he hobnobs with in person, in workshops, and online. He doesn’t need defending, in my view, but it is good for you to pipe up and say “ahem” if you feel supplanted in any way. It gives people a window into both professions– and the jealousy with which some folks guard their credentials! Thanks for the share. I am sure we all are thinking that we had better watch out if we are sharing experiences with one another to be sure no one thinks we are out of line!

From: Catherine Stock — Jun 05, 2012

I think most of us who read and admire Robert’s letters are intelligent enough to pick and choose what is relevant to us. I appreciate the wide range of topics covered. I also found food for thought in your response.

From: Sally Chupick — Jun 05, 2012

Dr. Berndt, your ego is getting in the way while chastising Robert for sharing his human experiences of his artists experience. Better watch out, it’s making you look bad.

From: Sarah — Jun 05, 2012

Sally has it right–Dr. Berndt’s ego bristles with importance, and a desire to defend “his” territory. Robert, on the other hand, is an outstanding humanist who has wonderful insight into all the factors that go into successful painting, including motivation and demons. And he is kind enough to share his wisdom with the rest of us.

From: Eric — Jun 05, 2012

If “a cobbler should stick to his last,” the Wright brothers would have continued in the bicycle repair business, Grandma Moses would have raised more chickens, and Paul Gauguin might have improved as a stockbroker.

From: Parviz — Jun 05, 2012

I’d rather to hear Dr. Peter interpretation of the inferior shadow in here, if he is not going to charge us as his patients. How about it ?

From: Dottie Dracos — Jun 05, 2012

These newsletters, kindly written and moderated by Robert, are a forum for us professional and aspiring artists to share our thoughts, successes, fears, suggestions, advice, commiserations, compliments, etc., with each other. In that light, these twice-weekly forums are invaluable to most of us who read and participate. I would say that for the most part, we are very intelligent, discerning people who have the good common sense to understand that our shared statements here are not necessarily “professionally based” but more experientially-based. We are in essence sitting around having a cup of coffee together and learning from each other’s experiences, failures, successes, ideas. Our goals in reading the newsletters and commenting here are not to seek the treatment/advice of a professional in any field, psychological or otherwise; we are sharing.

From: Jakki Kouffman — Jun 05, 2012

I would rather listen to an artist talk about psychology than to a psychologist talk about art. Why? Because the work of an artist necessarily involves a measure of self-reflection and awareness, whereas a psychologist can spend his/her whole career without ever picking up a brush: an important threshold. Robert’s special gift has been to keep the boundaries of art and psychology fluid, peppered with wit and and salted with a genuine humility.

From: Rose — Jun 05, 2012

I think,your letter speaks volumes about you…..

From: Christie — Jun 05, 2012

I do not paint, but play the piano and make photographs. Robert’s letters often (including today) speak directly to me, and admonish, support, educate, and understand where I am. I always look forward to them.

From: Delores Hamilton — Jun 05, 2012

Psychiatric therapy saved my life, so I have great respect for those who work in mental-health professions. With that as preamble, I can understand a professional in that field getting ticked off when others discuss psychological issues without a license, but–you knew there would be a “but,” didn’t you?–Robert is equally qualified to discuss any psychological issues he’s encountered in himself and in his student’s lives as he/they/we approach our artwork. Techniques take us only so far. Those who see the connections to our emotions, personality quirks, temperament, shortcomings, and mental health give us a greater perspective on what we create (or don’t create) and why. I say there’s room for all viewpoints…as long as they are helpful instead of a put-downs.

From: Consuelo — Jun 05, 2012

By default, Robert is given the ‘high road’ and the good doctor the ‘low’.

From: Helen Opie — Jun 05, 2012
From: Linda Gerson — Jun 06, 2012

I am an artist and a clinical social worker who has practiced psychotherapy for over thirty years. I can attest from clinical and personal experience that our thoughts affect our emotions. When we change our thoughts we change how we feel. Some are more easily able to do this than others; some need the help of medication and/or therapy. Perhaps, Dr. Peter Berndt you took offense to the phrase “high-priced shrinks”? Regardless, Robert Genn’s wisdom and compassion is not experienced as advice but thoughts he generously shares twice a week with so many of us.

From: A Knowles — Jun 09, 2012

Those of us who have serious psychological conditions and need the help of psychiatrists lose faith in the profession when we read such a petty protest from this puny practitioner.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jun 15, 2012

I am a bit late in giving my (unprofessional!) opinion, but have been away. Firstly I would like to commend the excellent replies to Dr Berndt’s letter – I won’t presume to add to them, except to comment that Robert is constantly asked for his opinion and advice on all matters relating to art; not just technique, and he freely and generously gives it. The key word there is “freely” – if he was charging us for his psychological advice, Dr Berndt might have a point, but he isn’t; he is merely sharing his thoughts with us, as anyone in any sort of social situation would do. If you did that beautiful painting, Dr Berndt, congratulations; it is beautiful. But I have a question – if someone asked you about the techniques you used, would you refuse to tell them on the grounds that you are not a trained art teacher?

  Childhood demons by Ann Cofone, Hobe Sound, FL, USA  

acrylic painting, 20 x 16 inches
by Ann Cofone

I just finished reading your letter this morning, and with tears in my eyes and tightness in my chest, I know you are speaking of me. I have loved and studied art all of my life and feel that is my “gift” …but it isn’t enough. I work in fiber, acrylic, collage and photography… buying the books, collecting the materials, thinking of the wonderful artistic possibilities, and then stopping myself from beginning or completing my work. I know I have a demonic inner critic but don’t know how to curb her. I know it started in my childhood but that’s old news now and I put those days “to bed” a long time ago… but yet the shadow lingers on. I’m wondering if perhaps you can direct me to literature or other guidance that might break this cycle. Accomplishing a ‘painting a day’ sounds like a good idea but… my head won’t let me do it. Thank you, so much, for caring enough to pass on so much of yourself and your knowledge. (RG note) Thanks, Ann. You can see a few good books on our feature Books on Artist’s Shelves. Other recommended books are Dr Eric Maisel’s Creativity for Life, as well as some of his other titles, such as Fearless Creating and Mastering Creative Anxiety. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is of course fantastic for getting folks focused. The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield is also an excellent source for motivation and understanding the dynamics within us. While I’ve not done it myself, Dr. B. J. Fogg’s Little Habits program, mentioned in my letter, seems like a good one to me. I’ve noticed that a great deal of what holds many of us back can often be traced to a few seemingly inconsequential bad little habits. There are 2 comments for Childhood demons by Ann Cofone
From: Angela Treat Lyon — Jun 04, 2012
From: Helen Opie — Jun 05, 2012
  ‘The best laid plans of mice and men’ by Damar Minyak, Kansas City (area), MO, USA  

Ray’s Planter

Attached is a photo of a boat project begun by my brother-in-law, long, long ago. It has come to be known as “Ray’s Planter.” This year, some of the trees bear fruit. This shot is one of several I took, to use as a basis for a painting I will call Someday. There are men (and women) in all walks of life, all over the world, with “Someday” projects in waiting. Now, I need to get back to work.   There are 4 comments for ‘The best laid plans of mice and men’ by Damar Minyak
From: suzannne jensen — Jun 05, 2012

Brilliant photo. That made my day.

From: Michael Jorden — Jun 05, 2012

Looks like it would have been a nice boat. Wonder why someone doesn’t take up the project and finish her?

From: Dianne — Jun 05, 2012

I agree – this frame structure has such nice lines !

From: Damar — Jun 11, 2012

It’s been in the weather too long. Deterioration beginning. But, I will do the painting — “Someday”…

  The miracle of working alone by Adrienne Moore, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Encounters 2”
watercolour painting
by Adrienne Moore

I agree that our shadow can be a detriment to our achievements and it has a lot to do with self-confidence. Some artists ooze self-assurance even when they do not have much experience and they do not shine in their field but to listen to them talk, it appears that they have no problems with the quality of their work. I tend to think that it is the more introverted doubters, who spend time worrying about whether it is their best work, that have darkest shadows. One or two denials into a juried show can send their confidence reeling and the darkness of doubt reigns supreme. To correct this dilemma I decided to allow myself time to just work alone, without critiques from other sources. I work often now in my studio to achieve a lot of joyful paintings not marred by the shadows of an overseer in a juried exhibition where I would run the risk of repeating the negative experience. I found that this idea worked well as I was no longer tailed by the ominous shadow that haunted and affected negatively my most recent work. I now take it one step at a time and accept the fact that I will always experience joy when I paint. These positive feelings that my new attitude has generated show well in my work although I realize that I do not have all the answers. However, without the shadows to darken my vision, I am pleasing myself and that is intrinsically the role of a painter. There is 1 comment for The miracle of working alone by Adrienne Moore
From: Sharon Cory — Jun 05, 2012

Love this painting, especially the black and white treatment of what could be a normally colourful beach scene.

  A woman’s story by Anonymous   Yes, we all have our “shadows” and I am learning to manage mine more by facing my fears and doing what I know in my heart is in my best interest. Perhaps I’m just getting older — I’m 56 — and decided it’s time I put myself at the front of the line. Many women are taught to take care of everyone except themselves. I’ve decided I don’t have time to do that as much because if I continue on that path, I’m never going to accomplish some of the things I feel I was put on this earth to do. Duh! It took me long enough to get to this point, didn’t it? I’ve cleared away many of my business responsibilities over the past 6 months, and I’m taking more action on what’s important to me. Amazingly, I’m finding myself creating things far better than I ever dreamed possible. Sometimes I’m not even sure how I did it or where these things came from.   You are so Jung by Leslie Bamford, Waterloo, ON, Canada   Carl Jung has another angle on the shadow. I found this quote by someone referring to Jung’s theory, thought you might find it interesting…”The Shadow is the receptacle for all of that which we have for one reason or another disowned. There seems to be a movement on to ‘redeem’ the Shadow, as evidenced by such books as Your Golden Shadow, but in truth there’s a great deal that’s very, very unpleasant here, since we have good reason for wanting to disown our darker natures. The avenue for an attempted redemption of the Shadow lies in the belief that everything disowned winds up here. A person who grew up in a family where level-headedness prevailed and such things as art-making were not given much value may discover some artistic aptitude hiding out in their shadow. There are treasures here, but they are buried in stinking muck.” Also: “Beneath the social mask we wear every day, we have a hidden shadow side: an impulsive, wounded, sad, or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. We meet our dark side, accept it for what it is, and we learn to use its powerful energies in productive ways. The Shadow knows why good people sometimes do “bad” things. Romancing the Shadow and learning to read the messages it encodes in daily life can deepen your consciousness, imagination, and soul.” From Romancing the Shadow by Connie Zwieg.   Need to rekindle desire by Pam Craig, Memphis, TN, USA  

original painting
by Pam Craig

I lost my father, closed my gallery and shut down my website all in the same year. I never ever expected it to cause such a loss in my life. I needed to be with my father while he was on hospice and that precipitated what I thought to be a short hiatus from my painting — hospice took 2 years. I feel that my father must have been my muse and since he parted this earth I no longer see the colors that were around me. I try to paint, but everything is muted, dull and or moody. Where I once was prolific in producing, now I piddle… a little of this, a little of that, but nothing appears to lead me into producing a collection or a serious body of work. I tried to find my desire again when I took some classes: I read new art books, I visited galleries, I judged local exhibitions. I joined a local painting group and I even set up workshops for me to inspire others. I brought out my camera and planned nature walks and road trips to enjoy the beauty and help inspire me. I tried other mediums and even went back to clay, but there appears to be such a void right now, that I am afraid my Inner Shadow has taken over. I wake up every morning expecting to find inspiration and I go up to the studio. Brushes are clean, canvas is on the easel, new paints are laid out, compositions are available, but I feel there is no real desire. I am at a total lost as what to do to get back to work. All my artist friends keep saying just paint. I sit in front of the easel and even pick up a brush but nothing happens. I don’t want to keep doing this for fear any desire that is left goes so deep inside me that I will never be able to draw it out again. I am not a big fan of “fake it till you make it” but if that is what is left for me, maybe I should give it a try. Should I continue to try and paint without thought just for the sake of painting and hope I inspire myself, or wait patiently for my desire to return, take the pressure off myself, let my passion rekindle on its own and hopefully I can paint joyously again? (RG note) Thanks, Pam. It’s possible you have either fear of failure or fear of success. In previous situations such as yours I’ve suggested going right into the work like a zombie possessed. For some reason actual work, no matter how lacking your desire, primes the pump and gets things moving again. It takes a degree of character to pull this off. When my own parents died in 2004 I too went through a few months of non-productivity. Eventually I asked myself, “What would my folks want me to do?” and I went back to work. See next letter. There are 8 comments for Need to rekindle desire by Pam Craig
From: Anonymous — Jun 04, 2012

Pam, to my sensitive ears I think you’re still grieving. What you have endured in such a short time frame is life changing. Don’t discount the impact of such events. Take your time, feel, analyze, reach for recovery … and move on. It might take awhile so let it move at its own pace.

From: Angela Treat Lyon — Jun 05, 2012

I’m with Fiona, below – it’s just a matter of starting to do it and then keeping at it. I burnt myself out in a 10-day painting exercise, and it was a year and a half before I even began to want to clean up my studio. I started out again purely by accident when I spilled some paint on a canvas, liked how it looked and started fooling around with it. As soon as I get out of “just fooling around” I stop, bcz otherwise I tend to spiral down into trying to be prefect or trying to do this or that, when all I really want is to let Light flow through me.

From: Catherine Stock — Jun 05, 2012

Your painting is sensitive and beautiful, if a bit somber. Try to ease yourself back into painting. I think your work will touch many people who have also been through difficult periods and might allow you to move on. But don’t beat yourself up if you need more time.

From: Rena Williams — Jun 05, 2012

And also, muted and dull can be beautiful, and muddy is often exactly right.

From: Sharon Cory — Jun 05, 2012

Pam, it sounds like you’re one of the people that Dr. Berndt was referring to… maybe you have some deeper-seated issues that need to be worked out with a counselor. It’s great when we can talk ourselves back into painting and feelings of joy, but if it’s not working, ask for help.

From: Sarah — Jun 05, 2012

Allow yourself to grieve, and respect the process for as long as it takes. You’re doing all the right things, and sooner or later your zest will return.

From: Sally — Jun 05, 2012
From: Jennifer — Jun 05, 2012

Pam, one thing that has helped me when I have lacked motivation is to change my role and teach others. I find myself drawn in and gaining motivation as a result of working with others and helping them to achieve something. This has worked for me in several areas of life, not just art (eg. when I lost interest in running, which I had really loved, I started teaching a beginners class and seeing how the students progressed really reconnected me with the sport and inspired me). I wonder if you volunteer at a boys&girls club or after-school program or a senior’s centre, and give some lessons in your chosen medium, if that will help you to reconnect with your passion.

  Facing the shadow by Fiona Frisby, Ireland   My own shadow self was probably the reason why I found I could not paint for nearly five years. Mine is so silent and unnoticeable that I had no idea what was causing my block, I just felt completely paralyzed and lethargic towards painting. My painting came back slowly, and now is back properly for the last few years. Like so many other artists, I feel lousy when I haven’t painted, and fulfilled when I do. I have a set amount of painting that I get done every month, and by following it, I feel content. It works like magic, making me feel productive, and it’s not even a very large amount of work I have to get done either. Consistency is the thing. I also meet other artists, who are so talented, and then I find that they have confidence problems and struggle with self-belief, despite their obvious abilities. I guess it’s something we all have to face at some point.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Your Inferior Shadow

From: Mary Beth Frezon — May 31, 2012

“A lot of what comes out of your mouth is him speaking. When you speak, you reinforce intentions. You need a small policeman standing alert at the side of your mouth. He puts up his hand and says, “Stop.” Shadow-talk needs to go to the trash.” Amen to that! sometimes I listen to this nay-saying stuff and I want to put my hand over their mouth myself to make it stop! Somedays, the amount of negative self-talk I hear from others is just crushing. If it’s not possible to stop the flow, I know I have to move away from it to survive.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — May 31, 2012

My brother saw a hawk flying alongside him while he was driving one day. According to my brother, the hawk looked at him and said, “what a loser”. I said, “oh, brother!” I’d like to get some thoughts on how to overcome real obstacles, which in my case are: fatigue syndrome (among other physical handicaps), and a hodgepodge of canvases, papers, boards, etc. of varying sizes that have no frames along with them, as well as a hodgepodge of ideas that have piled up. Especially the mediums, which I’ve accumulated over some years, thinking I’d do all small pieces on gallery wrapped canvas, or I’d try out some watercolor, or I love illustration board, or maybe working on boards would be better. To do a painting a day (i don’t) would be a horrendous collection of mismatched pieces and no way to hang them. When I first started painting, I used acrylics and did even more than one a day – sometimes 3. I’ve still got most of them, unframed, framed. Now I’m in oils largely and it tends to pile up! Plus one day I want to do something abstract, the next something specific – a still life, the next I toy with watercolor or drawing. My little studio is begging me to get coordinated. And if I ever get a new gang together to show, it’s going to be messy. With the fatigue is also less time to get coordinated. Any thoughts?

From: Malcolm Dewey — May 31, 2012

This should be a popular thread! What with the economy and all – not to mention our “inferior shadow” stalking us. Perhaps we artists should look this shadow square on and throw the word “inferior” right back at it. True, action is what it takes to overcome the shadow. It reminds me of the verse “if you have faith as small as the mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” We artists need to put more faith in our God-given talents and move that shadow too!

From: Faith — May 31, 2012

Nothing new, but good to be reminded! Remember this old song? “Shades of night are falling and I’m lonely Standing on the corner feeling blue Sweethearts out for fun Pass me by one by one Guess I’ll wind up like I always do With only…. Me and my shadow Strolling down the avenue Oh, me and my shadow Not a soul to tell our troubles to And when it’s twelve o’clock we climb the stairs We never knock ’cause nobody’s there Just me and my shadow All alone and feeling blue When the sun sets on the far horizon, And the parlour lamps begin to glow Jim and Jack and John Put their slippers on. They’re all set but we’re still on the go So lonely…. Me and my shadow…” The idea that something is there alongside or behind us (but shadows can also go ahead of us depending on the time of day) is probably as old as humanity, which probably explains the “existence” of Gods and devils. But the song – and the letter – also deliver a graver message: Even bad habits are habits and we are often loath to relinquish them, feel more comfortable having them – like the guy who couldn’t paint till he’d finished painting his studio.

From: Gary the procrastinator — Jun 01, 2012
From: ReneW — Jun 01, 2012

Isn’t “Your Inferior Shadow” just a metaphor for resistance?

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jun 01, 2012

I don’t remember what I read and when … but it made me start talking to my students and artist friends about what they say sometimes that is in the “negative” mode. That inferior shadow telling them something derogatory. I usually stop them, and then say, “Wait, stop! How can you say the same thing but in a positive way. Say it in a way that will be constructive criticism. Stop being negative because you are just reinforcing the negative and it is harder to get out from under it.” I can’t tell you how many times I use these words. Most of them take it well, and tell me I am right and try to change to a more positive outlook. Thanks for this newsletter, I hope it helps many more think about what they are reinforcing.

From: Jean McLaren — Jun 01, 2012

I went to Painters at Painters Lodge this past weekend (sorry you were not there Robert) but I attended a talk by Suzanne Northcott, who paints in abstract/acrylic. She said sometime people could not understand her paintings. I also paint in abstract and often people say the same to me. I refuse to get my knicker in a knot about it. I just paint what I love and that is what Suzanne said. After all I will be 85 in a month why waste time in by not painting what you love…go way shadow and paint.

From: Cori Malloy — Jun 01, 2012

I have found that my shadow loses traction if I just keep moving…I love your visual metaphor today. It is a nice reminder that our thoughts become our actions, or in-actions as the case may be.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jun 01, 2012

You are so Jung at heart!

From: Denyse Milliken — Jun 01, 2012
From: Pam Adams — Jun 01, 2012

Sometimes it’s a duct tape kind of day. Thank you for the article.

From: Walter Dodge — Jun 01, 2012
From: Jenny — Jun 01, 2012

This letter is very timely for me…just reading the responses is the validation so many need. I paint what I love and intend to continue to do this. I am not sure at what point I decided that what others think of my art is not as important as what I think of it but that works for me. If only I could apply the same principles to the rest of my life. One way I try is to continue to paint engaging my right brain as it is an effective way of quieting the voice of my left brain, although I love your comment Pam, a little duct tape may help too!

From: Jerry Fuller — Jun 01, 2012

Ah, Robert, you’ve been watching me and my shadow! I really don’t like him at all, but he keeps following me around and tripping me. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m going to figure out how to show Mr. S. who’s the boss!

From: dcw — Jun 01, 2012

…and sometimes your inferior shadow is reinforced by the inferior shadows of others…watch out for that too!!! You know the type. They say things like “I think I painted something like that in the second grade,” or “Oh, is that FINISHED?” :)

From: Susan Donnellan — Jun 01, 2012

My shadow has been trailing me since I can remember. Crayons, pencils and brushes!!! Being an artist is the essence of who I am. We are now good buddies; my shadow & me.

From: Holly Ulrich — Jun 01, 2012

I have found that telling the shadow to “Stop” out loud really does help. Sometimes it is the only thing that works.

From: DebraAnn Salat — Jun 01, 2012

This particular article had a great impact on me as it reinforces changes I’ve been making in my personal life and the affect that other people with very huge shadows have on my work and my self esteem. Thank you very much I so enjoy your articles every day but this one resonated particularly strong. It gives me the confidence to just forget the noise and move forward.

From: Patricia Oates — Jun 01, 2012

I believe that the Inferior Shadow and the ego are one and the same, and they, it, thrive on sadness, regret, and all negativity that comes up in our everyday human life. I have given my ego a name, and envision it like a gargoyle which likes to sit on my shoulder. When unhappy thoughts come up, I say to myself, “get thee behind me, Satan,” (another name for his voice inside my head), and it retreats. Positive thoughts, good times with friends, and successful paintings keep it down.

From: Lynn Oakley — Jun 01, 2012

Thank you for soothing our troubled artists’ souls, Robert. Now we will get up and paint some more!

From: Lory Lockwood — Jun 01, 2012
From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Jun 01, 2012

In the fifties when I was in high school we used to have Interscholastic Musical Literary Contest in Singing, Orations and Declamations. My teacher gave a narrative poem to study and memorize and try out to for the competition to represent our class. If I won I would then go to compete with other schools. I studied it and memorized it and tried it out with my cousins. I did very well without a hitch. The day of the try out I suddenly got an attack of the “angst” and I did not go. Somebody else got to represent our class. My teacher was very disappointed and told me I would have made it better because I had better voice and the dramatic expression of emotion required in the declamation. Imagining my self declaiming to many people took the better of me. So I think it is also the same in painting. To accomplish a high quality piece we have to be determined and put a great effort to accomplish it. Choosing an inspiring subject, composing it and choosing the right colors that best depict the intended mood for the painting or expressions on the person or people in the picture.

From: Robin Baratta — Jun 01, 2012
From: Dorothy Lorenze — Jun 01, 2012

Sometimes it just helps to have a thing named: inferior shadow, perfect! I once told a fellow artist that it’s hard spend time in my studio because I feel bad about leaving my dog! Just saying it out loud made me realize how ridiculous it was and I stopped using that excuse! Thankfully my artist friend did not laugh at me, I did that myself!

From: Verna Korkie — Jun 01, 2012
From: Janet Gilliland — Jun 01, 2012

This particular message was good for me, as I tend to procrastinate out of fear more than anything. It’s funny, because every time I enter a show I either get juried in out of a large arena, or I win a prize, so I don’t understand. But this was a good reminder to just do it!!

From: Karen R. Phinney — Jun 01, 2012

I think I have finally emerged out from under a shadow that held me back for years. I was so timid about putting my work out there, or even trying new things…… but now am much more “sanguine”. Let it be what it is. We need to embrace the fact we have a Shadow, the more we try to hide from it, the bigger it grows. But it’s difficult, I guess it takes a lot of courage and self awareness. I think of all the years I’ve wasted, the struggles I’ve had over it especially when it comes to painting. I didn’t even try to paint sometimes, just felt so hopeless. But only by doing it and continuing to be open to new things, can we overcome our fear and insecurity. It means looking at yourself in a very clinical way, and realizing you are self-sabotaging. And that is painful sometimes! You have to become fearless about outcome, and love the process………

From: Karen Blanchet — Jun 01, 2012

My inferior shadow (one among many names) has dominated most of my life. It was a huge, life changing insight when I was introduced to him with the realisation that things could be changed. I am very thankful for all the personal growth programs out there. Things have changed and I am a much happier person living in a chaotic world where I can paint anyway. Love the freedom!

From: Barbara Legacy — Jun 01, 2012

I really liked this one especially because you gave some helpful easy-to-use advice. My inferior shadow has too much influence over me. Those feelings of inadequacy infiltrate my social, personal and artistic life. What a waist!!! I hate it. Thanks to you I’m kicking it in the butt whenever I see it.

From: Sandy Bartz — Jun 01, 2012

Thank you, Robert! This was the most timely email. I’ve been in a funk for quite a while and I’m not sure what it is and thought that maybe I just lost the desire to paint. I think looking at too much art on Facebook might have an affect as well. That “Shadow” says, Why bother there’s so many better artists already. (Dirt little rat.)

From: Leslie Ross Stephens — Jun 01, 2012

So very true– I’ve posted your saying “Nothing to it but to do it” on the wall next to me and have started painting again.(!!!) Thanks so much for sharing this strangely elusive wisdom. My inferior shadow is waning, I’m so relieved to say.

From: Ron Challenger — Jun 01, 2012

Your letter of June 1st was right on time. Feeling overwhelmed with tasks related to painting and art “the shadow” started to appear. Now that I’m aware we’ll correct and control and move ahead with more confidence.

From: Terry Honstead — Jun 01, 2012

I would like to hear more about B.J. Fogg and his tiny habits. I used to make myself do at least 3 things to do with art each day. When I did that, I accomplished more than I thought possible. Lately I have slipped and my art seems to be suffering as well! My goal now is to get back into my 3 things a day (of which this is one, by the way!)

From: Jaye Moscariello — Jun 01, 2012

How perfect! I was just really digging into myself all day, and had a realization, “I’m feeling so low because I don’t have a pencil, pen or brush in my hand!!!” And I told myself in no uncertain terms that there wasn’t a good enough excuse to keep me out of my studio. And there I went, and what happened to my beating myself? It took a hike! Thanks for this great letter, it is very great to know that we are not alone in this business.

From: Denise Bezanson — Jun 01, 2012

Maybe the Inferior Shadow’s name is Procrastination. A thing we all struggle with – why do it today when we can put it off until tomorrow – because it will never get done if you put it off….. It’s the same in sales, business, art, whatever. You have to just do it. If it helps, make a list (mental or physical) and get it done.

From: Marti O’Brien — Jun 01, 2012

You have captured the essence of low self esteem and what we can do to help ourselves out of the pit —one small step at a time.

From: Nadi Spencer — Jun 01, 2012

I guess I don’t have an “inferior shadow.” I like my shadow. She constantly gives me good ideas and keeps me on track. She encourages me every day, praises me lavishly and forgives easily. What better companion? Maybe she’s a “superior shadow”. Or maybe it’s because I’m a positive person and I just expect the same from my shadow.

From: Margie Rust — Jun 01, 2012

Oh Yes… “I.S.” has me digging up the yard! Now that I have begun, I must finish it. However, after reading your letter, I have decided I will split my time and not devote all my hours to the yard but get back to my paints and canvas!!!! The yard will get done eventually, although not this week. I am “overthrowing” “IS” as of today with the cultivation of a “tiny habit”……a small drawing or painting a day!

From: Len Skerker — Jun 02, 2012

re. shadows. a university friend related this story (irrelevent whether true or not). phd student making little progress on his thesis (as is commmon). decide family distractions too much, so wife and kids go back to mother for a few months to leave him with peace and quiet. return to find the house immaculate and, he proclaimed, ” the silverware is perfectly clean.” of course, thesis no closer to completion. so came the expression ” polishing the silver”. as you said, we find an (often worthwhile) task to avoid the main goal. beautiful…. greatly enjoy your tips (and admonishments).

From: Charles Ashman — Jun 02, 2012

I’m going to be threatening mine…

From: Sandra Wilkes — Jun 02, 2012

Funny thing…I’ve been talking about my “shadow” all day but haven’t know what to call it. I’ve been a beginning painter for 3 years….lots of lessons, great teacher, great program. My work is decent…but since I’ve done it all in class with guidance, I don’t “feel” like I know how to do anything on my own….and it just about paralyzes me! It’s like I think I don’t know anything and don’t have any talent….and yet I know that’s not totally true. My self esteen is very good in all areas except art…and that is what I want to do most! I look forward to growing in this area. It’s hard to grow when you’re scared to pick up a paint brush! I have friends who paint with abandon and they are not “good” at all. I can’t help but see it. They inspire me sooooo much and I admire them for the pleasure they have and the guts to just do it. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just do it like they do?

From: Sandy Wadlington — Jun 02, 2012

I thought I would be one of those enthusiastic responders you referred to. Thank you for this important insight (and on a good day this mere reminder)…

From: Marie Morgan, Santa Fe — Jun 02, 2012

For your tip on B.J. Fogg at Stanford. I just spent an hour on his website learning about how to change habits, and I’ve signed up for his (free!) Tiny Habits 5-day online workshop. His method gives me new hope. We’ll see by June 8 how it works.

From: Carol McIntyre — Jun 04, 2012

…and I thought you were going to talk about painting inferior shadows in our paintings! A good one on me. :)

From: Dick Porter — Jun 04, 2012

I paint superior shadows. They are full of reflected light and blends

From: Rick Rotante — Jun 04, 2012

Having an inferior shadow is a good thing. It brings to mind the image of the little devil self on one shoulder and the angel self on the other. I was raised happily by my parents with the idea that there was nothing I couldn’t do. But when I reached an age where I gained some intuition, I saw, in their eyes, they were unhappy with some of the life choices I was making. Being an artist, wasn’t on their career list of professions for me. We all have an inferior shadow and if its cultivated by those around us, there is probably more we have to overcome. I saw the fear and trepidation in their eyes and at that moment my Inferior Shadow took seed. But not to dwell on this I want to say that artists of every kind suffer this dilemma. It comes with the territory. The difference is -self doubt is good. It keeps me honest. It keeps my striving to be better. It helps me get my ego in check and causes me to stop loving everything I do. It prods me to keep getting better. I respect my Inferior Shadow. I embrace it. .

From: Mimi Ball — Jun 04, 2012

I love the poem “I have a little shadow, that goes in an out with me.” I have always done so from my childhood and when I think, sometimes this exactly how it is but, I am now on the right track again. And I believe it is your doing, Robert! Thank you.

From: Roos Schuring — Jun 04, 2012

Great piece thank you so much. The Netherlands

From: Alana Dill — Jun 04, 2012

A therapist once pointed out to me that my shadow was there to protect me: my inner worst-case-scenario detector. A survival mechanism. I did make friends with that aspect of my shadow and had a huge period of artistic growth. Because what I learned to say was “thank you so much for your opinion, but I am not going to starve if I quit my day job. Now shut up.”

From: Jen Lacoste, Cape Town — Jun 05, 2012

Out! Out damned spot!

From: Mark Nakell — Jun 05, 2012
From: Patty Kiersten — Jun 05, 2012

Thanks so much for your writing on the Inferior Shadow. I don’t know about anybody else, but this article spoke directly to me! Thanks tons.

From: David — Jun 05, 2012

Please help! I’d like to add comments to the clickbacks, but the MathGuard thing is gobbledygook so I can’t enter anything. Whereas here on this page the ReCaptcha thing works fine. How do I fix the Mathguard thing? Maybe Recaptcha could be used in both places??

From: Jacqueline — Jun 05, 2012

I’ve just spent 20 minutes reading through many of these posts by your readers. Many of them have made me giggle and smile. What a great group of readers you have! An ‘exercise’ that might help the procrastonators or those who have a fear of failure (or success); find an egg timer or use a stop watch and get your paints out, find something to paint that interests you (or used to interest you), and some cheap paper and dip your paint brush in a color, start the timer (set for 1 minute), and paint your subject as fast as you can! It might take a couple tries, but I guaruntee you will end up with something amazing! ; ) Then try 2 minute paintings, 3 minute etc… Its worth a try, right?! It really helped me get my creative energy flowing again! It’s kinda fun too! Give that shadow a ‘boot’ right out of your studio!

From: Debrah Barr — Jun 08, 2012

Perhaps as I am getting older, I do not give a rip if the laundry is not dry. What we all have to realize is that time is fleeing, and instead of hiding under the easel – get in front of it – and fill your time in the here and now with what you love doing!! You have to ask yourself if you are really in love with painting or the idea of painting. If it is actual painting then… go to your room. I have had great success with small changes. Working on a section while the rice steams. Studying a painting while I fold laundry, rock a baby, vacuum. Make your time –yours. You really are the boss. You really are the captain. And if anyone disagrees..send them to their room. I don’t have a studio – I paint at my kitchen table..grand central, yes, but it has worked for 40 years now-

From: Ouali Abdellatif — Jun 08, 2012

Thanks for sharing such interesting information about the shadow. It helps me a lot and open new spaces in my artistic mind.

From: e dekker canada — Jun 10, 2012

love your work , much realism, the style I like to paint , beautifly done.

From: Priscilla Ferguson — Jun 28, 2012
From: nflJersey — Oct 19, 2012

Well it depends.He has many strange ideas in his mind.

     Featured Workshop: Stan Moeller
060512_robert-genn Stan Moeller workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Ravine pond with yellow and purple

acrylic painting, 22.5 x 16.5 inches by Russell Hogger, Edmonton, AB, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes >Rodney Cobb of Scottsdale, AZ, USA, who wrote, “Just so you will know — I see that you are trying to steal my art blues by putting light on my shadow. Well done!”

And also Jacqueline Satterlee of Elmira, NY, USA, who wrote, ” ‘fearful, incompetent, lousy, victimized, procrastinatory and self-loathing’ …That’s so exactly how I feel, and my laundry is never done, and my studio is never quite right… too far, too cold, too hot… And my decisions always seem wrong… ” And also Suelin Low Chew Tung of Grenada, Caribbean, who wrote, “It’s difficult to handcuff a shadow… so am leaving lights on (and thinking sunny positive thoughts) to banish her from interfering with my work.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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