Friday 30 August 2013

Artful Reading Challenge - Owning Your Own Shadow

It's the last Friday of the month, which means Darcy's Artful Reading Challenge! Please click HERE to find out about this opportunity to discuss what you've read over the month and to make art inspired by it.  I had actually intended to review another Steven Amsterdam novel this month, but although I thought his novel, 'Things We Never Saw Coming' was interesting and well written, I was not inspired to create art on its post-apocalyptic theme which, despite the humour, I found depressing. Then I saw a book my husband had left lying around. It was called 'Owning Your Own Shadow' by Robert. A. Johnson and I really did just pick it up and start reading it and then found myself drawn in!
Johnson is a Jungian psychologist, but the book is really easy to read. Basically the author explores the idea that we all have a shadow self, a personality that the world does not see to which we consign those aspects of ourselves we are not happy revealing for different reasons. At first I thought this was going to be about how we hide our bad qualities and that we should confront what we do not like about ourselves. Well, there is an aspect of this, but the author also points out that we can sometimes consign perfectly good qualities to our shadow-self like courage or nobility! He calls this the golden part of our shadow. We might be able to show these sides of ourselves to the world if we were less timid or not so worried about what others thought of us, or if it were easier for us to do so culturally and so on.
Johnson does also point out that if we do not confront our less socially acceptable emotions like anger, greed, resentment and so on, and if we go into denial about our shadow, this can also have destructive consequences. He points out that parents who have not dealt with their darker side can then project a shadow onto their children or that whole nations or social groups can project a shadow onto ethnic groups and this can result in persecution and genocide, as with the Jewish people and Hitler during WW2. What whole nations are often seeing is a projection of their own fears about themselves - fascinating! I was reminded also of the Salem witch trials, when the fears and insecurities of a deeply conservative group, clinging to the traditions of the land they left behind were projected onto members of their own community who they turned into scapegoats. This book made me think a great deal about my feelings of guilt that gnaw away sometimes and how important it is to be aware of the shadow side of one's character. Johnson encourages us not to neglect those aspects of ourselves we fear to show the world because when ignored they can be destructive. I also began to think about wholeness and to meditate on what that truly means. Around this time I found a little wooden rocking horse and rider that I bought nearly 30 years ago! This 'find' brought back memories of a very sad time in my life, but I felt a strong compulsion to alter this hand-crafted toy.  Here is the rocking horse as it was when I found it.
I painted it with Snowflake Fresco paint first of all and as I was doing so and thinking about how I would decorate the rocking horse I had to start dealing with a great many memories that I had  buried. I also started to think about how the toy was difficult to paint with its two sides: as the little girl rocked she had to rock in perfect harmony with her shadow self! This was a light bulb moment - this would be my art for the challenge, I decided, and it would illustrate 'Owning your Own Shadow, understanding the dark side of the psyche' by Robert. A, Johnson.
I had to apply quite a few coats of paint to my horse and rider after I sanded them down. I used warm colours of Pumpkin Soup, Smoked Paprika and a touch of  London bus on the horse and I decorated him with butterflies from some tissue napkins my crafting friend Kezzy sent me. I love butterflies and use them as often as I can. As well as being so delicate and beautiful I love their association in art with the idea of resurrection and rebirth. Johnson talks a great deal about the possibility of new beginnings if we don't neglect or deny the shadow-shelf. He tells the story of how Marie-Antoinette so wanted to feel connected to the earth that she had a beautiful milking shed built and the finest cows imported to Versaille from Switzerland. Her plan was to really learn how to be a milkmaid! However, when the moment came for her to properly get her hands all milky she found the whole activity distasteful and commanded her servants to do it! The Queen of France passed up her moment of possible re-birth, of connection with nature and the people and - of course - we all know where her continued detachment from everyday people led!!! The guillotine!
I don't know if Johnson really believed that if Marie Antoinette had milked a real cow France would not have experienced all the bloodshed and horrors it did; but - like much in this book - this anecdote focuses our thoughts on seeing life differently. I was tempted to hide my horse and rider, but by getting them out and decorating them afresh it made me think about the girl I was and try to reconcile myself with some painful past issues. Here is the girl and her horse on one side. Her dress is Fresco Blood Orange and her top Snowflake. I dotted her sash with Posca pen dots. The rockers are Treasure Gold Classic and White Fire. I used pearl beads for the girl and the horse's eyes. As I worked, it occurred to me that once I had integrated both sides of the altered toy and there was a unity, the toy could represent freedom. I die cut a little Tim Holtz bird from shrink plastic and gave to the girl to hold so that there is the sense of it about to take flight as she rides along in perfect unison with her shadow partner. We can't see the other side but the golden haired girl knows she is there.

Here is the other side! I have my rocking horse on a little shelf above the dining table where I often work to remind me of the need now to attend to the shadow me so that I can fly free as a bird, unhindered by destructive emotions or deeply buried, neglected issues. Johnson says that we must constantly overhaul our shadow, as we can easily become complacent about it. This was a very short book, but - although I am not entirely convinced by Jungian psychology - I do find myself drawn to its use of story-telling and metaphors, which can often give insight into life's problems. Now I must hop over to read some other reviews of books and the art they have inspired/1


  1. What an absolute treasure!! Just your art makes me want to read the book!! Great review and art!!

  2. A beautiful alteration & I have added that book to my reading list, it sounds very interesting.

  3. Great review, I don't normally read non fiction but this sounds a very interesting book. Love what you have done to your cherished toy!

  4. Hey Julie Ann - I can see that you have really been deep in thought. I read that book many years ago and two others Mr. Johnson wrote - HE and SHE. It does indeed look like you worked through some issues and have put a positive spin on painful memories with your little bird flying free.
    The book club sounds fun - I love to read. There is just not enough time to do all the things I want to do. Please keep us informed about the books you read especially if they are really good. I am reading a novel now that has a great deal of information in it about Monarch butterflies. The title is FLIGHT BEHAVIOR by Barbara Kingslover. I did not mean to get so carried away her but I was responding to your post.

  5. It may have been a short book but a MIGHTY message,I'm so glad you shared all of this,making yourself vulnerable which is courageous, I spent a lot of years healing myself now I too can fly, don't you just love that:O), reading this has made my heart sing,your post is beautifuly, transforming,the little rocking horse is beautiful and the meaning so powerful, thanks for sharing my magpie sister, Namaste to you... Hope you have a grrrreat weekend... Oh I can't wait to see your fairies.....

  6. Although my Ph.D. is a form of psychology, I had never heard of Robert Johnson. Of course, I had read some Jung, but was never quite drawn to his work. You KNOW how much I love that little rocking horse, and now it has such special meaning. I admire how you have dealt with your past and your shadow self.

    I'm in the US, and our history, although much briefer than Europe and Asia, we are really quite violent. You mentioned the Salem Witch Trials, but there is WWII injustices just as bad. After all, we (my country, not me since I was not born) rounded up all the Japanese Americans and railroaded them into concentration camps. Granted, they were not genocide camps, but prison camps, just the same. And look how we treated the native Americans. First, we tried to kill off all the buffalo so they would have nothing to live on, then we rounded them up and forced them onto lands where we could keep track of them. Such a pitiful way for a new nation to act. Talk about shadow selves, sometimes I worry about where I come from. And don't even get me started on the African Americans, who were taken by force from their lands and turned into slaves for a few landowners to have cheap labor.

    You have presented a powerful message here, dear. I adore the rocking horse, too, with the blond and brown hair. You knew I would love it, though, so I'm going to stop now, and answer your fussy cut question in another comment.

  7. One time I wrote a long message to one of my blogger friends, and blogger sent a message saying the message was too long. That's why I decided to answer the fussy cut question here.

    Fussy cutting is simply cutting on the lines. You follow lines, like I did with the feathers on the birds. Some people have little scissors, some have tiny ones that have curved ends. I don't have. I just use a pair of thin scissors and move the paper, not the the scissors. I'm not sure I answered your question, but I hope it cleared things up a bit.

    Note the butterfly. I cut around it, leaving a bit of edge. I only did that because it was a transfer. Had I been cutting it properly, I would have fussy cut it, then added the antenna using a pen. Instead, I cut around those images. Not the same with both birds. They were cut exactly as they were on the wallpaper.

    Never be afraid to ASK. It's how we learn. And if you're still not sure I explained it properly, feel free to ask again. I'll try another way. I was once told you should be able to answer a question three ways in case someone didn't understand what you were saying the first two times.

  8. What a fabulous review and project! I don't think you could have found a better way to illustrate the theme of this book. Wonderfully done :D XXX

  9. This book sounds absolutely fascinating. I think I'm going to search it out. The reason I do my Rocking Friday post is because of that side of me that tends to dwell on the dark side. Rocking Friday is training me to think more positively than I might have done in past years. I really love what you created and feel privileged to see it. Thank you for sharing.

  10. What a lovely post! So informative and well written.
    That was the Mother/Teacher side of me...........
    Love that rocking horse and your explanation of the why's and wherefore's. She will be such an inspiration to you as she sits on the shelf.
    Bishopsmate #77 Betterlatethannever!

  11. So enjoyed reading your review. I think it is very beneficial to have a close look at personal issues every once in a while as it is surprising how much they can hinder our progress if not dealt with. (Been there, got the t-shirt!). Beautiful decoration of your girl and rocking horse and a valuable cathartic exercise for you in its making.

    Janet xx

  12. What a fascinating review of what sounds like a very thought provoking read - and your little girl rocking with her shadow self is positively tugging at my heart strings, as all the best art should, excellent stuff

  13. So moved by your review and your art work. Any book that can inspire like this one is worth a look. Love your girl and her shadow on the rocking horse, such a meaningful piece. Thank you for sharing it.
    Jen x

  14. What a fabulous review...I must find that book. The artwork it inspired is wonderful.
    Hugs xx

  15. Gorgeous little horse and rider, I just knew that Elizabeth would love it. You did a fantastic job of combining both parts of the personality. A wonderful way to transform something from a sadder time to something which hopefully now can make you smile.

  16. Love your delightful double horse-riders - what gorgeous colours and details, and a lovely, thought-provoking post too.
    Alison x

  17. Wow Julie Ann, very very powerful but also so positive. This has truly made me think, it certainly sounds like a soul searching book. I love how you have coloured the little girl different on both sides, truly inspirational thank you, you amaze me with your awesome talent and meaningful insight. Hugs Kezzy :-) xxxxxx


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