The Heroine’s Journey: Reflections on Art Workshops

I always experience a workshop–whatever the time length–like a hero or heroine’s journey.  If you are familiar with Joseph Campbell you will know what I mean.  For anyone not familiar with Campbell’s “mono-myth” cycle, I will sum it up as an experience wherein one receives an “inner calling” to take a particular action. Heeding the call, the individual embarks on a journey, moving  beyond the known boundaries of his/her experience.  Along the way, she inevitably confronts a series of challenges which typically lead to a “dark night of the soul” experience: here one feels he/she has completely lost his way.  It is at this moment during the journey when a helpful boon typically occurs –one which leads the heroine out of her predicament, guiding  her safely home. Perhaps outwardly unchanged, the hero/heroine has, nevertheless, experienced an inner shift of consciousness leading to greater wisdom and self-awareness.

An example of this process is Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Her call comes after forces beyond her control land her in a strange land. The task before her is to find the Wizard of Oz who is the one individual who can help her return to her native Kansas.  During her incredible journey she collects wisdom, courage and a heart–and courageously defeats her greatest foe in completing the necessary task set before her by the Wizard:  killing the wicked witch of the west. Alas, Dorothy  then discovers that the Wizard is only an ordinary man who is ultimately unable to help her return home.  It is at Dorothy’s moment of greatest despair, as the wizards’ balloon floats off without her, when Glenda the Good Witch appears and advises Dorothy that she has had the power to return home all along.  Three clicks of her red heels, and Dorothy is back in Kansas.

Like Dorothy, we artists who heed the call and go to workshops embark on incredible personal journeys. We meet our inner demons of all ilk–and no doubt encounter a few wicked witches in the form of self-censure and self-criticism.  Our helpful boon comes when having persevered through our oftentimes hazardous inner landscapes, we learn that there is an art spirit inside glowing brightly which has been there all along.

As a teacher I am like the wizard–human and unable to grant magic powers. Like Glenda, though, my job is to remind you what you already know. I can hold up a mirror and reflect back that spirit waiting to be discovered; I can help you dust it off, polish it and release it joyfully onto the page and  into the world.

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