The monkeys of yesteryear


Whose voice does your monkey channel?

Remember Linda Blair in The Exorcist?  The devil in her spoke to the priest in his mother’s voice, freaking him the hell out. Who is your demon quoting? Maybe it was the first art teacher who said something casual and cruel: “Remember, most people don’t have talent. I’m sure you’re good at something.” Was it your mother who you overheard telling your dad, “He wants me to pay for that painting class. I gotta break it to him, it’s an utter waste of money.” Was it the dean of the art school who rejected your application? The boss who killed all of your favorite ideas? An article about the percentage of art school grads who now work at Starbucks?

For all too many of us, the monkeys of the past are victimizing us, holding us back. Your shrink will tell you that we just have to realize that those monkey ghosts are only alive become we resuscitate them. You can defeat the specters by making stuff, by asserting your talent, by ignoring the grey-bearded monkey ghosts rehashing childhood bullshit. Want to relive an ancient drama? Read Hamlet.

Tell yourself this and believe it: whatever voice you’re hearing, it’s just a spectre. Whatever sword carved the scars into your psyche, you have the power to move past it. As grownups, we have the ability to see that the affronts and critiques of the past are just puffs of air that have long since dissipated. Only we carry them forward, re-recording them in the deepest wrinkles of the brain, keeping them alive year after year. 78 to 45 to cassette to CD to MP3. Same old song.

Every cell in your body is replaced every seven years.  You are a completely new being from cerebellum to big toe nails. You have the power to override the rewrite, to define these ancient wounds as irrelevancies that do not bear on the wonderful creature you are today, an emerging artist with great strength and potential.

You can prove your legacy wrong. Oh, your father wanted to go to art school but wasn’t supported by your grandfather and had to become an accountant so he spent your childhood channeling his pain into squashing you? To hell with that. Whatever happened before Watergate has a statute of limitations and should not crush the dreams you had last night. (That’s a little-known federal law).

Time for a fresh start that’s bright and creative.

What disappointments and harsh words are you reliving whenever you think of making art? How can we help you get past them?

13 thoughts on “The monkeys of yesteryear”

  1. I love this post!

    When i was in first grade I thought it would be very artistic to write over my words so that each work had double lines, and depth. I loved it. My teacher hated it and mocked me – which was just awful.

    I’m throwing off that monkey – thanks for the insite into the Federal Law.


  2. I just finished reading your book” A Creative License” as well as a biography on Lawren Harris, a famous Canadian painter, once part of the Group of Seven artists. These books as well as the conversation happening here have shown me that every artist has his own monkey. Yes, I believe that for the most part we have to ignore him but what if he’s actually the one who spurs us on to bigger and better things? I mean perhaps to spite him, we are enrolling in art courses, taking chances and improving in our art just to prove him wrong.


    1. That’s a great point. Another aspect of the monkey is the usual function he plays in motivating us. Productive collaboration with our inner critic will be the topic of my next post on this topic.


      1. Danny, really this is an important point:
        My “monkey” (the inner critic…maybe it’s an appendix of my “real” father…?)
        brings me in a situation, which I call: “Creative Fury” –
        afterwards I’m feeling fine! 🙂


  3. Thanks so much for this!

    Lately my own monkey manifests as a procrastinator. “You don’t have time to draw today because these other things have to get done. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week.” I’m looking forward to your collaboration post. Thanks again!


  4. “What disappointments and harsh words are you reliving whenever you think of making art?”

    my monkey is saying:

    I better do those dishes because my drawing is not going to be seen or appreciate by nobody anyway,…after that maybe I could sketch a bit …especially because …(fortunately) I like the quick ones so I can squeeze couple before I pick up my son…but no, first I must do grocery and cook something quick because they can’t eat my drawing, can they? …ok…before bed I will have no TV (like usually) and is a quiet time for drawing…but why I don’t feel like doing it? am I tired? …what kind of artist am I if I get tired when I finally have time to do some art…etc…etc…

    Danny, you could be such a great motivational coach specialized on artists, illustrators, designers, etc…


  5. Nikita says “Danny, you could be such a great motivational coach”. For me, you already are. Your encouragement, and your willingness to share your demons, your inner critic, your life story, have touched me in so many ways. These days I am believing that I AM AN ARTIST. Thanks.


  6. Oh my! This post really hit home with me. My kindergarten teacher held up my drawing of our cow, Rosey, a pinkish brown Jersey cow who was like a pet. I colored her light brown with pink overlay. She said, “look at this: there are NO pink cows, they are brown or black and white.” I didn’t attempt to draw/color again until I was in my late 60’s.

    I still suffer from the “blank white page” syndrome. To counter-act this I joined Brenda Swenson’s 75 day challenge of one drawing per day., At the end you get your “Artistic License” from Brenda. It looks like a driver license complete with photo.


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