Monday, July 11, 2011

Dark Night of the Artistic Soul

 Water Lily 
Watercolor by Lynne Hurd Bryant

This is a blog originally posted to my website in February of 2010.  It resonates with many artists and continues to be read frequently.

A fellow artist on Facebook inspired this blog. He had a dark night of the soul recently. He gathered all of his work together and decided to burn the lot of them. He didn't actually complete this task, but he was exasperated by his artistic career. I assured him that he is not alone, we have all been there. I am there nearly weekly.

The dark night of the soul is inevitable, at some point, in our artistic lives. It is born of frustration, the inability to do the sort of work we want to do and not being the artists we want to be. Primarily, I believe, it is profound self-doubt. Self-doubt is not a bad thing.

I am a converted Catholic of nearly three decades. There is one particular idea that was presented to me during instruction and it is this: If you never doubt God, your faith will never grow. I turn this around: If you never doubt yourself, you will never grow. This is something I have thought about repeatedly as I have tried to paint again over the past several months.

We have to understand the dynamics of self-doubt and the origin of these feelings. The only way to combat them is belief in one's embrace the artist within, not the one who is without in another body doing work we envy. This is a lot easier said than done.

I paint florals because they are my best work, not necessarily where my heart is. Is continuing to paint florals embracing the artist I am, or prostituting my talents? As I have been painting florals since 1977, there is now self-doubt as to whether I am capable of anything else. Will my envy of the landscapes and portraits of others take me back to a point when I refuse to paint? Is there a dark night of my artistic soul in the future, when a pile of flower paintings will be tossed into the fire? Will I burn my dreams and ambitions?



  1. what do you do when your self doubt has lasted so long you fail to create at all? This is something my hubby has been struggling with for years, all the while longing to create, but the dark night has not yet turned to dawn for him.
    What words of encouragement from others have helped you?

  2. In art school, we called that ANALysis paralysis, or the "Masterpiece syndrome." This is a bit different than dark soul moment, as far as I am concerned, anyway. The dark soul moment is one where you feel incredible futility about what you are doing. You feel voice-less, that what you are doing is not important, that no one wants it because it is not worthwhile. Masterpiece syndrome is more a fear of creativity and feeling that you won't be able to accomplish what is in your head and heart, that if a piece is not a sort of perfection, it is not worth doing in the first place. If are an artist, as I am, you have to conquer this. You have to believe that this is not futile. You have to believe that you will find your voice. You have to believe you and your work are very worthwhile, even if no one else is buying it. My attitude is always, that this was just a painting, just a piece of paper, I WILL get up tomorrow to paint again. Each painting is an opportunity for growth and greater understanding, of the techniques, of your skills and of your innermost being. If you practice this, you wake one day and find you are painting at a level you felt you would never achieve. I had this moment just over a year ago. Looking back on two years of growth, I sometimes ask myself how long that kind of growth can continue. The short answer is: The rest of my life.

  3. Your artwork is amazing an inspiring.