The Vulnerability of Art and the Art of Vulnerability

This Monday was a taping day for a month of shows for Dragons Unicorns and Other Creative Creatures, the cable and YouTube series I host with Dr. Kevin Ross Emery. We talk with local artists about their work, their process, and their journeys.  The goal is to help them to reach a greater audience as well to encourage other creatives to step out and start creating because one of the things I realized in listening to everyone is how vulnerable creativity can be.

I’ve never met a person who said anything remotely like “I’m looking forward to feeling vulnerable” and yet I writers, artists and other creatives – myself included – take this step all the time. Every time we write something, design something, paint, craft, or put to things together to make something that wasn’t there before we take a part of ourselves, put it into our work and then put it out there for the world to see – and judge.

I’m starting to believe this is a little bit of a miracle.

The definition of vulnerability is:  The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.   

Yup, that’s about what it feels like. As a writer, I first expose my work – and by extension myself – to an editor or agent and then if the work is accepted for publication I am then exposed to the reader. And that doesn’t include the moments in the creation process which feel vulnerable, those times when as I’m writing I’m putting something personal or emotional into my character’s journey.

When you stop to think about it – it’s amazing there is any art in the world at all. The ongoing courage it takes is incredible.

And wondrous. A tiny miracle in the middle of the everyday. Maybe that is why there is something so special about art, why we are attracted to it.

Not only does creating something that comes from your passion make you feel vulnerable, but the creative side of ourselves is a vulnerable, underbelly-soft aspect. It starts off so tender and susceptible to the harsh words and comments of others. Is it any surprise that the young creative can be so easily discouraged? An uncaring response, a dismissal of something created the criticism – intentional or not – of something private and personal. It doesn’t take much.

Because of this, there are many creatives who grow up to be what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls “shadow artists” – they teach in creative fields or support others to be creative. They are agents, event organizers, advertising executives, doing creative work that is one (or more) step removed from their own because somewhere along the line a parent, a teacher, or a friend said something that sent their precious vulnerable artist hiding for cover, possibly never to come out and create again.

Just today I met a wonderful quilt artist at Western Avenue Studios, where I have a studio for writing, who said one of the things that had her hesitating about taking space was whether or not she was a “real” artist. To be in that building, to put her name on the door, hang her art on the walls and be open during the Open Studio weekends was a big step for her.

She’s 61.

Yes, of course, people in other professions get criticism and negative feedback, but their work doesn’t come from that deeply personal space. A lawyer does what the case demands and if he or she loses, it’s not personal. Not the way it would be if this same person spent weeks creating a painting only to be told it looked as though a child did it.

We need to be vulnerable to create art – to get at the core of what we want to say and show. Our vulnerability, the personal and personal aspect we put into our work, makes it better. Vulnerability helps to create the art. And then we must be vulnerable again in order to show, whether to one person or the world.

In Sunday in the Park with George, the hero of, Act II laments “Art isn’t easy”.  It isn’t. But it’s wonderful. This coming month on Dragons and Unicorns we have an artist who paints intricate designs on stones, another who creates gorgeous doll clothes and a third who does fashion, jewelry, pop culture events and anime comics. The variety is limitless, but as I said – it’s existence is a miracle, every time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *