Modeling The Artist’s Life

December 2, 2019 § 55 Comments


luann castleBy Luanne Castle

After a lifetime of spurning “self-help books,” I bought a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and joined a local support group to help me navigate a new spiritually-charged creative path. This book has been a go-to guidebook to discovering the life of an artist for twenty-five years, but only recently did I feel ready to tackle it.

At the first group meeting, we began by introducing ourselves. It turned out that most of us pursue various forms of writing. One woman identified herself as a painter, and I said, “My mother-in-law was a painter.” I could have bitten off my tongue because who cares? Why did it matter that my mother-in-law was a painter? An hour later, as I listened to the others talking about the artistic paths that led them to this first meeting, I experienced a rare epiphany.

Cameron’s system rests on two major repetitive activities—morning pages, which are essentially journal pages, and artist dates, where the artist performs a viewpoint-shifting solo activity. In addition, the artist performs a variety of tasks each week. In the first week, Cameron urges the reader to “list three old champions” of her “creative self-worth.” These people have provided affirmations to the reader’s creative spirit.

I struggled to answer the question, although certainly the poet and teacher who encouraged me to put together my first poetry book deserves a space on that list. The literature professor who used to read and comment on my short stories, although creative writing wasn’t her field and the stories not written for her classes. The well-known poet who wrote me when I was first submitting poetry to say that my poems were cogent and real. The truth is that when I pulled out that treasure from my files, I realized he was trying to sell me his summer workshop.

Diana Dale at the easel c 1950How had I developed a resilient creative life when the affirmations had been so limited? I hadn’t felt much support at home for my creativity, although my parents had never mocked my attempts and had even provided art, piano, and ballet lessons (the two latter subjects chosen by my mother, not by me). What I realized in a burst of “knowing” was that specific inspiration, and not affirmations, had allowed me to reach a point in my life where I can say the previously verboten words: I am a poet. I am a writer.

My mother-in-law was a painter who fully lived her life as an artist. Everyone she met knew she was an artist. Being a painter was never a second or, worse yet, secret identity. She exuded confidence in her art, never comparing herself with other artists. She invited others into her world by envisioning them through her artistic lens and sharing what she saw. She sketched at the coffee shop and while she waited in the mechanic’s office for her car. In-progress canvases and an easel took up the backseat of that car, an old Opel that smelled like oil paint when one climbed into the passenger seat. My mother-in-law showed me how to accept my artistic identity and to embrace it. As I looked around at the people in my group, I wanted to share this epiphany, but more understanding was still materializing in my mind.

luann castle daughter

Not only had my mother-in-law provided the inspiration to live the life of an artist, but my daughter had inspired me to come to my art with all my heart and efforts. A brilliant dancer from a very young age, she often heard people mention how she “danced her heart out,” and that is how it seemed to the audience. But she always found more heart to give. As she matured, she displayed the vocal and acting talents to match her dancing. As a teen, she worked hours every day, developing her skills. By her senior year of high school, she was a leader in dance, drama, and choir departments. She was accepted to a top-notch university musical theatre program and completed the four year BFA program. Throughout this time, she also auditioned for and performed in professional shows. After graduation, she continued auditioning and performing.

Only by going through this process or closely watching someone who is doing so can one realize the difficulties and hardships of the audition-perform cycle. Submitting poems to journals and watching them come bouncing back is nothing compared with the very personal rejection often served to one’s face at an audition. Scheduling conflicts popped up between auditions, between shows, with doctor visits, and survival jobs contributing to high-level daily stress. In the midst of all these issues, my daughter, like many performers, continued to train as she could fit it in. After all, artists need to keep learning and sharpening their skills. I watched my daughter go through this with grit and industriousness for so many years that when I decided to go back to my writing, I unconsciously modeled myself as a hard-working artist on her lifestyle.

I never needed to look far afield for affirmations. I found inspiration in my own family and integrated the lessons of my mother-in-law and my daughter into my outlook and my artist’s life. I owe an enormous debt to these two dazzling artists. I wish my mother-in-law was still around for me to thank her, but I am blessed to be able to thank her granddaughter.
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Poet and writer Luanne Castle has published in Copper Nickel, TAB, Verse Daily, American Journal of Poetry, and many others. Her first poetry collection, Doll God, was winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Luanne blogs at writersite.org.

§ 55 Responses to Modeling The Artist’s Life

  • ninagaby says:

    Great post! Always good to be reminded that creativity can save us! I too spurned the self-help genre until I secretly picked up “Artist’s Way” about 25 years ago (after closing my art studio for a new career) and though it took me about three years to get through the three month program, here I am. Happy to shout from the rooftops that I’m a “writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner.” Mazel tov to your three generations of creative women.

    • Luanne says:

      Thank you so much and back atcha. Three years, three months, it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s all about the process and the creative spiritual paths we forge between ourselves and the world around us. What an amazing array of talents you have!

  • Great post! I have read The Artists Way, and was so valuable to read someone else’s experience, thank you!

  • […] MODELING THE ARTIST’S LIFE at Brevity Blog […]

  • Such a wonderful post to read this morning! Your passion for the writing craft shines through.I always think, step by step, we build upon our dreams. Word by word, books are written. But, we must take those steps. We must believe in those dreams. This was a great read…so much wisdom here. Thank you!

    • Luanne says:

      You are so right! It does feel that I now think mainly in steps, not in “book” or “stage,” and it feels more useful. It helps to keep me connected with my daily life–and if daily life isn’t part of writing, I don’t know what is!

  • Inspiring! (I too have watched one of my children suffer from the “difficulties and hardships of the audition-perform cycle” and persist in theater.)

  • I keep meaning to read The Artist’s Way, and then I forget! Thanks for the reminder.:-)

    • Luanne says:

      So many of us have known of it, but put it off. If you’re concerned about starting a “big project,” you can always just read the book at first. Some people might not agree with that, but so many people do the program in fits and starts or over and over again, what would it matter? Happy TAWing when you get to it!

  • gmabrown says:

    Persistence, joy, owning your talent. Love this, good Monday boost. Thank you.

  • Marilyn Kriete says:

    Love this comparison to the artist’s and performer’s journeys. Thanks for an inspiring read.

  • What a wonderful gift for your daughter, Luanne.

  • Such beautiful artistic connections reaching into the past and continuing into the future with your daughter. As always, Luanne, you inspire me.

  • Beautiful essay, Luanne. I can see why it would bring tears to your daughter’s eyes. You’ve given her a priceless gift.

  • Ellie P. says:

    Lovely post, Luanne! ❤

  • carlamcgill says:

    You have been and continue to be a main inspiration for me, Luanne! My high school English teacher, and a few others over time, have encouraged and provoked me to write. Your Cameron adventure sounds worthwhile and enjoyable. xo

  • Margaret says:

    This is a lovely piece. I so enjoyed reading it. I love the fact that you paid homage to the past and recognised the hard work and talents of your daughter.
    I was reminded that my grandmother used to pick up my hands and say that I had piano players fingers. And as a result I always believed that I would be able to play the piano. As it turned out, I wasn’t actually a great player but that was due to lack of practise more than anything else.

    • Luanne says:

      Margaret, it sounds like your grandmother suspected you had the talent. What a wonderful way to encourage you. Thank you so much for letting me know you enjoyed reading this piece.

  • Eilene Lyon says:

    Nicely done, Luanne! Your successes are inspiring. Good luck with all your work on the Artist’s Way.

  • I picked up Cameron’s book when it first came out, but didn’t get very far in the exercise, because I wasn’t ready for what she had to offer. Except for this one mantra I adopted – “Leap and the net will appear.”

    I agree with Eilene – you are an inspiration and I thank you.

  • Luanne says:

    Hah, thank you!

  • Tatenda Mugwambi says:

    this is amazing to read. I felt captivated

  • Chandana7338 Chandu says:

    So nice

  • reocochran says:

    Aww, this was such a beautiful essay about how you have come to embrace your artistry and creativity through magnificent poems, Luanne. Your mother-in-law was a fantastic artist and your daughter is so confidently a true super star in music. Being in musical productions takes guts!
    I think it has been in my “blood” through my Dad’s family (Alexander Calder). Later, I came to realize my Mom’s mother ~ Grandma Mattson showed a flair for sewing and embroidery. She created her own designs, as well as my Mom created her gowns in college. I love designing a Juliette styled pattern with pointed sleeves on her mid-thigh length silver satin wedding dress.
    I liked books about writing, starying with E.B. White. Especially studied, “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Artists of all kinds attract such lively discussions​! “Birds of a feather flock together,” Luanne. 🐦🕊️🦆

  • reocochran says:

    Oops, I meant my Mom designed her own wedding dress. Also, “starting” would have been easy for me to have proofread, Luanne! Congratulations to you and your creative and courageous family, Luanne Castle. xo

    • Luanne says:

      Robin, I love reading about the creativity that runs through your family. Many artists of all types, including yourself. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate you so much.

  • Really interesting to approach this in a slightly different way Luanne. Like you, I struggle to think of these champions, but maybe I need to think more laterally.

    • Luanne says:

      I was astonished that it hadn’t even occurred to me until I wondered why I mentioned that my MIL was a painter. The why was because it was important to me. It’s more a matter (for me) of them leading by example than being my cheerleaders.

  • Theresa Hupp says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your mother-in-law! And to your daughter. THE ARTIST’S WAY was instrumental in helping me find my way to creativity.

  • I, too, explored Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” many years ago and it inspired me to eventually cobble together my first novel. My writing fell off the rails for many years as a result of life slamming me into the pavement, but the passion has never left. At sixty eight years old, I am still not ready to extinguish the desire to write. And so, I bought Cameron’s book, “It’s Never too late to Begin Again”. Yesterday, I wrote my first post on my very own blog. It’s just a small step, but, to me, it means so much…Thank you for the article! And Thank You Julia Cameron for your spiritual inspiration!

    • Luanne says:

      Congratulations! It’s exciting to begin a blog! You are on the way. Blogging gives me so much satisfaction. I also credit it with improving my writing. Even if I don’t show up for my other writing, I do for my blog. My best to you in creativity!

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