Embracing The Beautiful Dark Abyss Of Your Imagination

image: JLambus

Though I may come across as pretty easy going, even confident, I’m actually one the most fearful little scaredy-cats you’ll ever meet.

When it comes to horror films I jump behind the sofa at the slightest sight of blood or gore. And not my own sofa, a sofa on the other side of town where the monsters and bad guys can’t possibly reach me.

I rarely bother going to fairgrounds or amusement parks because the only rides I feel safe going on are usually packed full of five year olds. (I love those little electric cars, even if my knees ARE around my ears when I sit in them.)

Even in a regular playground I have to get off the roundabout if it goes too fast, and make sure if I do summon up the courage to go on the swings, I don’t go any higher than my own height. My waist height, that is.

When my father was critically ill in hospital a few years back, I went in to see him with the intention of being the strong and supportive son. A few minutes after entering his room, all I remember is a kind nurse helping me to a chair, loosening my clothing and offering me a wet flannel for the bump on my head.

I’d fainted, colliding with the edge of dad’s bed on the way down. Real tough guy eh?

But despite these cowardy custard like traits, it doesn’t mean that scary creative stuff doesn’t exist inside me. That’s what I want to talk about here.

I’ve only seen a handful of horror movies, but in my head I have ideas and images that are far more disturbing than any I’ve seen or heard of. By a long way.

I don’t think I’m alone.

I believe that most of us who create have wildly inventive imaginations. It’s part of the deal, it’s what you get at the entrance gate.

Fiercely active imagination? Check.

Desire to create in at least a dozen different forms? Check.

Strong inclination to sabotage one’s self and creativity? Check.

You know the story. You came in the same entrance.

With this incredible imagination comes a pay off though. Or at least what we think – or are told to believe – is a pay off.

You can’t set your creativity and imagination to “fluffy bunnies and pink candy floss” only, and then forever more create gentle, beautiful work in pastel shades that will charm every grandmother in the land.

Sometimes, the thoughts and ideas you have are dark. Pitch black dark.

So dark that if someone else told you about similar thoughts, you might question whether they  were allowed to be near animals, small children, or even loose in society at all.

They might arise in the form of nightmares sometimes, or just as thoughts and ideas in broad daylight. Either way, they can absolutely terrify us on two levels.

First, we get scared of the content of these ideas themselves.

We don’t like scary movies on the big screen, so why would we want them played in our own minds?

Second – and this is where we get to the crux of this whole post – we’re even more terrified that these kind of ideas, thoughts and images have originated from our minds.

What kind of disturbed, imbalanced or insane individual are we to be able to conjure up such dark and deeply disturbing thoughts once, let alone on a regular basis?

Should we turn ourselves in to the nearest authority and make sure we’re locked away from public society, for their safety?

I think if that was the accepted procedure, there wouldn’t be an artist alive who was still freely walking the streets.

These imaginations of ours – however deep and unsettling the images and ideas they produce sometimes – ARE ours. They’re not an external source we’re plugged into. They’re a part of us.

More than this, they’re the same part of us from which ALL of our amazing creativity springs from.

And because of this, those less than cute and cosy thoughts should be accepted and embraced. They’re a sign that your creativity is alive and fertile.

Their presence is a reassurance to you that today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life, your creativity will flourish, and endlessly spill wonderful, vivid new ideas.

Of course it’s up to you whether you choose to develop or explore any of these thoughts from the beautiful dark abyss of your imagination, or to let them float on by and choose to focus on the more friendly, cuddly ones.

I’m just saying accept that they’re there, and that their presence is a good, positive, healthy sign.

Embrace the existence of your dark side without judgement, even if you don’t develop its ideas. It’s a vital and wonderful part of your inert creativity, something to celebrate and cultivate, not something to run from or be ashamed of.

I’ve written this post based on a few conversations I’ve had with artist friends who have similarly dark thoughts and vividly disturbing images, and have been scared of admitting to them, let alone exploring them.

I’m confident we’re not in a minority and that we all have this side to our creativity and our imaginations.

What do you think?


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7 thoughts on “Embracing The Beautiful Dark Abyss Of Your Imagination”

  1. You’re certainly not alone, Dan.

    We all have a shadow side. I agree that a lot of our creativity springs from what Jung called this “positively dynamic dynamism”.

    Jung also implied that it’s important to accept the shadow, as you say say above. Understanding, and hopefully integrating, all parts of ourselves, keeps us in balance. The chances of rejecting our darker, scarier elements is much stronger without this acceptance and understanding.

    Great thought-provoking post! Just what I wanted to read after a mad, scattered weekend. Thank you.



    1. Thanks for your take on it Nicola, yes shadow side is a good way of putting it. And I agree that, as with most things, if you demonise them, make them out to be a huge unknown scary monster hiding in the dark corners, it just gives them more energy, more power. Whereasif you embrace them, shine a little light on them, you’ll see they’re just another part of us, and nowhere near as scary as we thought they might be.



  2. I don’t think there is anyone, artist or otherwise, who has only sunny thoughts.
    I don’t necessarily think everyone has horror fantasies, specifically,though many, many people do. No one should consider it degenerate somehow.
    There are so many images of pain in others to which we are exposed in life that naturally ripple into personal pain, even if a person himself has not been abused in any respect. If sadness and pain count among your dark thoughts, there is not a person, artist or not, who doesn’t have those thoughts.
    I think dark images in art also have more popular appeal than bright sunny images across age groups. Think of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson for the very young set.


  3. Fritzie, I wonder if we were somehow shielded from dark images and stories from a young age whether it would lead to fewer – or none – in our thoughts as adults?

    Also as artists I think it’s easier to express feelings of pain, sadness, regret, loss and so on, much more authentically and effectively than it is to convey happiness and elation. Look at how many great songs about lost love there are compared to “happy ever after” ones, and how genuine each of these two feel. Maybe that’s an influence too.

    Thanks as always for your intelligent and thought provoking comments. 🙂


  4. I don’t think it is possible to shield people from painful images, because even babies have physical pains before they understand why, or why Mama cannot make them go away. A baby learns that there are pains a Mama cannot eradicate. It is an inevitable dark image.
    I think it serves humanity best that we look at pain where it is authentic rather than looking the other way. I think when people are shielded from those images,our world as a whole is worse off. Consider people in a country with peace on its soil who do not understand the human impact of military decisions that have their first effect a few thousand miles away.


  5. I can totally relate to what you’re saying. I have once dropped a story I was working on because it turned out too dark and disturbing. It started to feel icky, I lost the appetite of working on it and, as you point out, found it a bit worrying to see all of this originate in my own mind. It’s nice to see your viewpoint on embracing the darkness, it makes me wonder whether I should take that story off the shelf, review it and see where it takes me.


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