An Artists Guide to The Shadow

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An Artists Guide to The Shadow

What is The Shadow?

The shadow is a psychological reality for every being. Its nature is hidden, subconscious - hence the term' shadow'.

It contains the un-integrated & primitive aspects of our psyche. Within it is a wealth of energy & potential but until shining the light of consciousness onto it, it can be destructive & unpredictable.  

Carl Jung, 20th Century psychologist who coined the term and wrote prolifically on the topic, describes it thus:

“The shadow is that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors… his shadow does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses etc “


The idea is that when these aspects of our personality lay unconscious, they hold a wild power that is unharnessed therefore unpredictable.

An individual who has a large or heavy shadow would react emotionally against a lot of scenarios. Not knowing why exactly, perhaps attempting to explain their emotions with surface level reasoning.

If they were to take a step back and pause however, they would learn that the thing they are reacting to is an unintegrated aspect within themselves.

There is no shame in having a shadow - it is created in childhood, maybe even passed down through our genetics and it is a vital part of the journey to overcome the challenges that it presents in our lives. 

All that is needed is some compassionate curiosity.

The shadow & horse training.

Teaching a young horse with all of his wild exuberance and energy to control his emotions is a reflection of the shadow work we do in our own lives.

In showing him that his perception of a situation - the plastic bag that is trying to murder him! - is only his shadow version of reality, we help him to feel safe & capable in himself. 

His shadow consists of primal emotions like fear that are designed to keep him alive - just like ours. His reaction to whatever frightens him is a very deeply ingrained instinct. 

In training the young horse we show him that another reality of light & love exists, we help him to interact with the world in a much more positive manner. Awake & aware - he becomes a true partner.

(I will come back to this analogy a few times)

Shadow work is no mean feat.

Just like a young horse, the shadow will have you pulling away, fighting against & running away as fast as you can.

Confronting your deepest fears & insecurities will feel as dangerous to you as the terrifying plastic bag feels to the young horse.

Talking about it can get confusing or uncomfortable because confusion, fear, avoidance & doubt are the gatekeepers of the shadow realm. This doesn't mean that we turn away. 

Art shows us the way.

Art is a gift to humanity. I believe that it isn't just a past time that we've picked up along our evolution to entertain us. Creation is the whole point to life.

As a being - we are a work of art - the process to become takes a lifetime. 

In the process of creation, we reveal hidden aspects of ourselves - including the deepest, darkest parts of our shadow. 

Through facing this darkness we slowly, with compassion, integrate it into our psyches. 

So let's get into the realm of the shadow from the perspective of the artist.

How does it affect my art?

As quoted earlier, the shadow contains not only negative capacities but also a great capacity for creativity. 

Artists often find themselves creating from an unknown state of mind. If you were to ask them during their process what they were thinking - they might not really know!

Multiple parts of the process of creation can reveal aspects of the shadow.

What we find interest in are little tags in the wall that we grab onto and pull, dragging out an entire rope of unrealised potential into the world.

An artist might find that they are drawn to painting a certain idea over and over. Something grabs their attention and they become so obsessed with an idea until the walls around their house are covered in repetitive scribbles (or the less extreme version).

Their subconscious mind has something it's attempting to work out.
An emotion or an idea wants to be expressed so that something can shift and a lesson can be learned.

So in attempting to work out their inner turmoil and confusion the shadow can drive artists to create a great amount of work. 

Artists Block
An artist might encounter a block in their art. They could have all the good intentions in the world but find themselves stalling, becoming distracted, forgetting. 

Rather than using a surface level explanation like laziness to explain it, this is the time to ask, with compassion & curiosity, why are you not pursuing your passion? 

Our minds love to sit with questions.

This stalling is the shadows protective walls going up. You are entering into dangerous territory perhaps with something that could hurt you - a revelation about yourself or an emotion that threatens to expose you.

The shadow is a very primitive part of our psyche. The fears that it associates may not seem logical if you were to ever pin point them, many of them made in childhood.

Plastic bags are also not logical to be scared of but the fear is still real for the horse. 
The fear still needs to be processed within a safe & comforting environment. 
You wouldn't tell the horse just to 'get over it' - you would extend as much kindness as necessary to help him to find peace with it. 

Do the same with yourself. 

Does the shadow produce good art?

Yes. To put it bluntly. 

Just think of how creative your dreams are. The subconscious realm is a limitless source for inspiration. The shadow is a part of this realm. It has messages (sometimes ancient) throughout it that can be worked out through art.

When an artist is committed to the process & craft of art, those messages are communicated with astounding clarity & impact. 

Before you think that you might just hold off on doing shadow work in order to produce some good art - remember that the shadow is not a kind authority.

Some may see the shadow as having some deep, dark, alluring facade to it that they romanticise - the tortured artist archetype - but that all breaks down.

Self-sabotage, anxiety, depression, even psychosis have plagued artists that have not transmuted their shadow into light. 

Imagine if you could harness all the imaginative potential of your subconscious and focus that into your art without the horrid negativity of the shadow ruling over you.

Your art will only improve once you learn to harness its potential and turn it into something meaningful that inspires others. 


How do I know I'm acting through shadow?

The subconscious might play coy with its exact form but it leaves clues.
Through our art. In our dreams. Through our behaviour & emotions. 

Armed with some knowledge we can conquer the shadow realm and bring the unconscious into the light. 


The shadow likes to project itself outward, away from the self. It's easier & far less uncomfortable than recognising that you possess some undesirable traits.

The shadow has shame, guilt, judgement & other negative emotions associated with it so it will manifest through externalising these onto another person/ group / phenomenon.

When you have a strong dislike, disgust, judgement or hatred of something or someone - you could be projecting a shadow part of yourself onto that thing or person. 

Even if you think that it is IMPOSSIBLE that you could ever posses that trait
- leave it open in your mind as a question. 

Compassionately & with curiosity question yourself. 

Negative Self Talk

What do you say to yourself when you see your direct reflection? 

Some people find it very confronting when they see themselves reflected back at them:

Through a mirror
Through a camera
Through a child
Through a horse

The words or thoughts you have when confronted with yourself are very revelatory of the shadow. 

Take note the next time you're looking at yourself.
Are the things you are saying negative or positive? 

Affirmations are a brilliant way to combat this negative self talk. 
You might feel silly at first but with enough repetitions, you can change your default associations with your reflection & re program your subconscious mind. 

Read my Affirmations for Creatives

Giving Up Repeatedly

Giving up the gym, diet & morning routine on a semi regular basis - sound familiar?

When you have a heavy shadow - positive, healthy behaviours are hard and require a lot of energy. 

That's because when you are doing those positive, healthy behaviours - your shadow that contains all of your negative self talk is whispering fears, insecurities & doubts in your ear. 

It will make you retreat to a place that feels safe & comfortable - even if that is back in situations that aren't ideal and don't make sense logically. 

When you've integrated your shadow & you are acting in light - positive, healthy behaviours are easy and natural. Everything just flows with ease. 

Emotional Reactivity

We all know what it feels like to be triggered. Someone says or does something and a torrent of emotion, usually anger, comes flowing.
Or, for the more emotionally suppressed amongst us, a tight ball of emotion sits heavy on the chest or in the stomach. 

Some may not realise that they are being triggered and may feel completely justified in their emotional reactivity - thus making them an emotional tyrant, expecting others to give in to their emotional demands. 

Let's think of the horse analogy again.
We laugh at horses when they 'over' react to a simple, harmless plastic bag. To the horse however, he is in peril! His life is threatened and the danger is completely real.

When you recognise that the reaction that exists within you is not a true reflection of  reality - you can see the shadow affecting you. 

This is where you give yourself the same compassionate treatment that you would give a child or a horse. Take yourself to a quiet, comfortable & safe place and gently explore those emotions. 


    How do you transform the shadow?

    The creative act is a powerful therapy.

    The subconscious is a massive reservoir of innate knowledge & we know how to heal ourselves from deep inner wounds. It often leads us to creative acts when we need to work through & process emotions.

    Through painting or by writing, by dancing or singing. 
    Creativity via any of the senses can be a cathartic way to transform the shadow. 

    Another very powerful way is through self reflection

    It's so simple. Become aware. 
    It starts with a pause. Followed by awareness.
    With compassion & curiosity - look inside yourself.
    Hold onto your breath.

    The shadow gets away with so much but its powers are taken away as soon as we become aware.

    It takes courage to face your emotions. Recognising them as agents of love. Even anger just wants it to be known that someone didn't get the love they deserved. 

    "Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love." - Rainer Maria Rilke




    *note from the author
    Writing about the shadow has been one of the most difficult, confusing & confronting topics I've ever written about so it is likely that I will update this as more of my own shadow is integrated. Will keep you posted on my social medias: @brvcreative

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