The Wounded Artist

the wounded artist

The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.  — Oscar Wilde (De Profundis )

In the recent past, the naivete and idealism of my artist collided with avarice and duplicity. Grappling with and moving through the metabolic stress and bitter cynicism incurred by this predicament, catalyzed critical shifts creatively and emotionally.

The disillusionment I faced as a playwright and creator of therapeutic theater has been instrumental in understanding the injuries incurred by the artist, the traumatic wounds awakened and the process of recovery.

Accordingly, my experiences as a creatively driven person who provides therapy to a multitude of diverse artists in NYC compels me to share about the painful hurdles the artist encounters and the psychic toll and resultant wounds incurred.

Likewise, I also want to identify ways to champion the artist, so that these struggles and wounds can ultimately morph into wisdom, power, and success.


Author of “The Artist’s Way” Julia Cameron, said to create is to surrender. From this place of surrender, the artist aligns with a higher will.

Cameron expounds that art is a mystical transaction which unearths within the artist his purest essence. To risk bringing to life ideas of personal beauty and meaning and to bravely share one’s artistic work is to reveal vulnerable aspects of one’s deepest Self.

Concomitant to Cameron’s metaphysical description of the artistic process is the archetypal reality of the struggling artist.

In NYC, artists are often lacking resources to create their work. The cost of real estate, labor and materials, make it exceedingly challenging for artists to thrive. Variable forms of treachery encountered in the dark underbelly of the art world injure the artist’s soul.

The rigors of fame, public humiliation, copyright infringement, theft of intellectual property and corporate theft of one’s work where higher ups regularly usurp and take credit for the work of the peon artist are common occurrences.

Accordingly, high-minded goals and creative ambitions are typically dwarfed by these difficult challenges. To survive, working artists may cobble together sundry art related jobs or take on a day job in a completely different sector.

Balancing work with familial responsibilities may require relocating and/or giving up on artistic pursuits that require touring or long hours in a studio.


Artistic agency and idealism may need to be subordinated to accommodate those who finance artistic expression. This may take the form of private collectors, producers, directors or corporate organizations. Endeavors to exercise entrepreneurial aims may reveal unethical narcissistic motives infiltrating these collaborations. Successfully navigating this complex social and political terrain requires savvy, healthy pride and formidable humility.

However, many artists are not equipped to withstand these challenges. The injuries incurred by showing or merchandising one’s art can catalyze creative stagnation, blocks and traumatic enactments rooted in childhood.

Vulnerable to having revealed personal truths through one’s artistic work, the artist can be swept up by primal needs for admiration and approval. Deep-seated longings to be ‘special,’,perhaps to compensate for and master unresolved betrayal and rejection, can set the artist up for a proverbial fall.


Artists who are victims of disordered parents may carry an insidious inescapable shame, which enforces the edict that one’s gifts are a threat, responsible for instigating feelings of resentment, inadequacy and envy. Envied and perceived as a threa,t the artistic child may be forbidden by the PD parent to play music, draw, perform or express his creative gifts in any capacity.

Parental Abuse

Parental prohibitions and shaming of children sends an implicit message about actualizing potentials. Having learned that any indication of happiness, accomplishment or admiration results in contempt and myriad forms of emotional violence, these latent artists may hide in the shadows, having lost sight of their innate endowments or simply too fearful to expose those essential parts of themselves.

Alternatively, unable to tolerate human flaws and thus driven by perfection, they may identify with the aggressor and perpetrate the cycle of abuse they endured by deriding and diminishing others. Like their parental abusers, they may abide by self-defeating perfectionistic ideals as a defense against perceived inadequacy.

While personality disordered parents are notorious for perpetrating continuous sabotage and deprecation, their egomaniacal fixation on status and personae may result in maligning the artistic child for his gifts and concomitantly vicariously exploiting him for narcissistic supply, so as to aggrandize the PD parent’s stature and self-importance.

Henceforth, when these artists have their creative work usurped, repackaged and exploited with no recognition or accreditation, memories of dehumanizing parental abuse are triggered.

For the artist who acquires fame, being a narcissistic extension for industry moguls in the guise of caring and admiration and contending with the parasitical demands of a fan base, may replicate the trauma of being objectified and used by narcissistic parents.

Ultimately, in a subconscious effort to master psychological and emotional injuries traumatic patterns will be enacted with those who either embody the traits of one’s parental abusers and/or the scorned victimized child.

The wounded artist will need to undertake an emotionally and psychologically taxing exploration of a painful history, so as to bring into consciousness destructive patterns and potent projections ignited by similar dynamics encountered in the art industry.

Only then can he mourn his losses and establish a grounded realistic commitment to his efforts to flourish creatively and financially as a professional artist.

Healing Wounds

Healing these core wounds can afford the artist a more formidable ego and perspective as he contends with the logistics of navigating the vicissitudes of the market and popular culture. Ending toxic collaborations while rebuilding a network of trustworthy cohorts is a critical part of this process.

The professional artist will need to acquire a basic understanding of legal rights and may need to procure legal representation sensitive to the plights of artists when negotiating contracts and selling one’s work. Restoring one’s artistic integrity and authority may require taking legal action with those who exploit ideas and labor.

While protecting one’s work is an act of self-respect and a critical part of upholding one’s artistic integrity and aesthetic, it is also integral to strategic marketing. Knowing who one is as an artist and how one’s artistic identity coincides with cultural and economic trends influences branding and developing a viable customer base.

To sum up, surviving the dark descent into childhood betrayals, traumas and defeats and the parallel battlefield of promoting one’s art lends itself to cultivating a greater capacity for discernment and discrimination so as to create the space to boldly and fearlessly return to one’s artistic process and wash away from the soul the dust of every day life (Picasso).

The emboldened healed artist, able to face core injuries and attain a sensible and balanced outlook, can safely traverse the art industry and fully engage with his gifts from that mystical place of surrender where his creative spirit resides.


The Wounded Artist

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2016). The Wounded Artist. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Aug 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Aug 2016
Published on All rights reserved.