The Screwtape Letters, written by C.S. Lewis in 1942, is a series of wickedly funny and ominous letters from a higher demon, Screwtape, to a sub-demon, Wormword, who is in charge of corrupting a human soul or “patient.” Of late, it has been fashionable to read of “gremlins” who want to steal your creativity, block you, and so on. I’ve never been fond of the word gremlin. It’s actually a 20th century coinage used for mechanical problems on airplanes, and is “imaginary.” It trivializes and reduces temptation to a cute, manageable, pet-like critter and whitewashes the tempters’ fierce battle for your art.
Artists deal with the shadow; it comes with the territory. But I think we need to correctly name our underworld enemy, and honor it with a measure of gravitas. In this spirit I have hacked the cosmic mailbox to expose some new Screwtape letters for artists, written to a certain Wormseed, who has been assigned the soul of my art. Read the original: it’s a fresh as ever today. I write these to discover what I might have to say to myself about my life and art.
My dear Wormseed,
I see you have been making good progress with the Artist. She’s slowly slipping into a low-key despair, which is always a highly desirable state. Since the advent of the Internet, which I had a large role in creating, your job is so much easier! In some senses, the progress from the medieval artisan to the 21st “artist” has been our major achievement in the Arts. Ironic, isn’t it, that those stone masons, as hungry and poor as they were, accurately carved our likenesses as gargoyles. Portraiture was not dead! Despite oppression and all the fabulous corruption of that Church, they were often closer to escaping us than the sleekly fed, well-medicated artists of today. The Cathedral of Technology holds so many new opportunities for us!
But I digress. I see she’s starting a new project. This is your chance to make more progress. Please amplify the level of distraction in her life. A turn to “reality”– money, job, status, looks, and so on– is one of the best methods we know, because it is so supported by the society at large. Involve her in her own reality show drama, as opposed to her actual life. By all means, keep her from daily walks and home cooked meals, as these fortify her, stopping up those wonderful chinks and holes through which we enter. And DO NOT LET HER OPEN JOURNALS OR SKETCHBOOKS. As soon as she creates even one word or line, our power begins to ebb.
If you keep her in this state of stasis, you will soon see a satisfactory decay. Best of luck to you. Sorry about the turn to non-toxic materials in her studio. You can’t win them all.