A Speech by Abigail B., A.R.T.S. Founder
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any medium and be lost. The world will not have it.”
– Martha Graham, 20th Century dancer and choreographer
Throughout history there have always been blocked artists. They are in all social structures and economic spheres, among the educated and uneducated, in all cultures, no matter what the language, religion or beliefs. Blocked artists feel hopeless. They are depressed, lonely, alienated, angry, and often suicidal. They struggle against internalized messages of fierce negativity that block their creative expression. They are unable to bring forth their gifts to benefit society.
Over 25 years ago, in 1984, A.R.T.S. Anonymous was started in New York City. Today the A.R.T.S. program of recovery stretches half way around the world, from Sydney, Australia to Stockholm, Sweden. There are meetings all across the United States, in Canada, Mexico, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Australia. Literature has been translated into French, Italian, German and Swedish. Collectively all these meetings and their members make up the wide circle of A.R.T.S.
The artists in A.R.T.S. Anonymous are in recovery. With group support, books can be written. Symphonies composed. Art created and exhibited in galleries. But none of it just happens. Newcomers must take action to change the way they think. The block exists because of what we came to believe as children. Yes, the child was a victim of circumstances, but the adult does not have to continue to be a victim. In A.R.T.S. Anonymous a thorough understanding of the Twelve Steps will overcome the child-dictated belief system. Fully conscious adults have a choice whether to become the artist they always dreamed they could be – or not.
A.R.T.S. stands for Artists Recovering through the Twelve Steps. The Twelve Steps are twelve universal principles that exist in all religions. They plainly speak of a basic spirituality that everyone everywhere can readily understand and accept. They sound deceptively simple yet when fully internalized, they can reshape a life from despair to great joy – from non-action to action. Recovery happens in Twelve Step Programs where none was possible before.
The nature of the creative block is severe and chronic avoidance. This psychological and spiritual disorder permeates deep into the psyche. It restricts life, narrowing it down, until the unlived life fills with desperation.
The huge and monolithic creative block can be compared to a gigantic iceberg, where only the frozen top can be seen. That the blocked artist cannot work is only the visible symptom of a much bigger and darker problem. Below the water line of the iceberg, there is an even bigger mass, perhaps even ten times as large, that scrapes the bottom of the ocean floor. Behind the creative block is a powerful hidden syndrome of crippling fears. This massive block which prevents the artist from action was calved from severe family trauma.
The medical community references this complex of fears as an Avoidant Syndrome. Artists who suffer from the Avoidant Syndrome often feel socially vulnerable, unsafe in many relationships, and at times unwanted to the extreme. Growing up in trauma creates the block, and the block is pathological, avoidant and phobic in nature. Medically this serious disturbance is known for its high incidence of attempted suicides and suicide.
Avoidance can suddenly shut down the artist at any stage of her or his professional life. A grand piano just ten feet from the couch cannot be approached and has sat waiting to be played for over ten years. A photographer is grieving because he is going blind. The dancer has chronic back problems. For both the photographer and the dancer finding a new art form feels impossible. The composer of numerous symphonies will not submit his work to competition for fear of critical rejection. The visual artist is too terrified to work alone, thus is dependent upon classes but can’t afford them. The singer continually loses her voice when performing because throughout her childhood she was unheard, invisible, and devalued by her parents. A comic who was the family scapegoat struggles with low self esteem. A writer continually recreates hostile work environments which prevent him from earning a living from his art — he grew up in an extremely violent family. The child prodigy now an adult can no longer play the violin. A painter shut down after art school. An actor is afraid to audition. A successful newspaper writer is unable to finish his book.
For all of these artists, their life is unmanageable. Deep down they feel helpless and hopeless. Their fears about moving forward are both complex and phobic in nature. But these blocked artists were not born with these fears and the fears must be addressed in order for them to move forward in their lives.
A.R.T.S. is the only Twelve Step Program where the members admit to being powerless over something positive – their creativity. Genetically gifted, the gifts will always be there — calling out for expression until we die. Artists cannot deny their gifts — thus they are powerless over their creativity.
The curse for the blocked artists is that they cannot give their gifts expression and this monolithic block has made their lives completely and totally unmanageable.
What we cannot do for our art and our life, will cause a wail of grief and regret. The heart does not want to listen as to why it cannot have the time and space to create. The Gifts are a Beloved and they will cry out forever for the passion that is rightfully theirs.
Others can never know what someone could have, would have, and should have been. Only the artist knows the life he or she was meant to live.
The option to follow one’s inspiration — to say “yes” to the calling and move to action, or “no” and imprison oneself in the block — is a choice. No matter which course is chosen, inspired ideas will continue to flow to the artist.
Sadly, blocked artist will often tell themselves and others that their gifts are frivolous, unnecessary, inadequate, and transient. Yet despite their crippling beliefs they will spend a lifetime yearning for the writer inside themselves to come out. Tragically, it was they who never let that artist out. It was their choice. Deep down, the blocked artist knows that their block is a choice even though they cannot stop themselves from saying “No.”
Blocked artists willfully say “NO” again and again to their inspiration. And, if they are successful with their “NO”, then all they win is a meaningless life. Fortunately, creativity can never be killed off no matter how many times the artist says “NO”. Ideas and inspiration continue to come, calling out again and again to the artist to give them life.
It is not unusual for the newcomer to A.R.T.S. to burst into tears the first time they share in a meeting.
Most Twelve Step Programs ask that members not pick up their addictive substance; that they not behave compulsively. A.R.T.S. members are asked to pick up their creativity. Bottom line sobriety in A.R.T.S. is for each artist to do five minutes of art every day. This humble act of five minutes will often magically open the door to hours of work.
There is a saying in A.R.T.S.:
Five minutes every day keeps my art alive.
Five minutes every day keeps the block away.
To artists who are not blocked this may seem easy, but for the blocked artist doing even five minutes can seem impossible.
In recovery A.R.T.S. members learn how to say “YES” to inspiration. How to say “YES” to opportunity. How to willingly follow the Muse when it comes calling. To accept that the Muse always “knows” the way forward. When spiritual awareness enters the mind it also enters the heart.
The Twelve Steps of A.R.T.S. Anonymous offer a recovery path out of darkness. They are the means whereby past traumas and life problems can be overcome. The Twelve Steps accept that nothing about the past can be changed — but people can separate from their past. The Steps spiritually change the fear-based personality.
The Twelve Steps also strengthen the artist’s moral resolve to create a new life…and then they show the way to do it. Each Step builds on the one before, principle upon principle, awareness upon awareness. One could no more start at Step Twelve and work back-wards than jump to the moon. The changes come with each Step and each Step has to be viscerally understood before the recovery can take hold.
In all the Twelve Step Programs, all members are guaranteed the respect and the privacy to define “God” in their own personal way. This is the reason why the Twelve Step programs are in every corner of the world. They work with all faiths. They are not Protestant or Mormon, not Jewish or Islamic, not Russian Orthodox or Catholic, not Buddhist or Hindu. The Twelve Steps will even work if someone is an atheist or an agnostic. A spiritual recovery does not have to have a traditional Faith in the God that most people understand – but a spiritual recovery will not work without Faith.
The Twelve Steps bring hope and the promise of a better life in a new tomorrow. They bring about joy, comfort, love, healing, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, wonder, mystery, rapture, beauty, revelation, courage, and much more. Half way through Step Nine, doors will open that were never there before.
When artists allow their gifts to flow, their gifts benefit all mankind. The poetry of Turkey affects the reader in New Zealand. The great Italian opera singers sing all over the world. The Classics speak to everyone. The satellite Hubble shines down on all of us. Mankind’s inspired work is our collective social contribution to this world. What we create and share with others we will have a relationship to someone no matter how far removed that person is from our day-to-day conversations.
The gifted are everywhere; in sports, science, medicine, the arts, farming, designing, manufacturing, etc. There are people all over the world who have a vision that they are striving for. The creative process abounds wherever people live and all people everywhere are blessed with great gifts.
As artists we have a contribution to make to humanity. Each of us has something special to give to the Now. This is the message of A.R.T.S. Anonymous and it reaches into all corners of society. A.R.T.S. members learn how to let their gifts flow so that their life will become a fountain of giving. There is another saying in A.R.T.S.:
We were given gifts so we would have gifts to give.
At the end of every A.R.T.S. meeting this secular prayer is read:
THE A.R.T.S. CLOSING PRAYER
In closing, I would like to say that no matter how distanced we feel from our creative sources, no matter how long it has been since we were in touch with our creative spirit, or how feeble our creative impulses may seem, we are reawakening in our Higher Power’s time, though this program and through our actions, no matter how small or how simple, a day at a time. I may not be able to see my own growth, or even to see my creations as beautiful, but I am able to see yours as inspiring and enriching my emotional, spiritual, and physical world. We are not recovering merely to hide our light under a bushel. Our creative gifts are a Gift. To celebrate them, we humbly apply ourselves, sometimes to the work of art and sometimes to play. May A.R.T.S. Anonymous teach us that our art, celebrated, will benefit and feed our own soul first, and the world’s second, for the world hungers as much for this beauty as for food. We meet here together to feed this deeper hunger.
(Downloaded from artsanonymous.org/literature. Emphasis is mine.)