In a previous Artist Strong post I discussed how I inadvertently cultivated fear as part of my creative practice. It reminded me of how it is oh so easy to return to a fearful or blocked state. It was a good reminder, because when you constantly write about breaking blocks and haven’t remembered that experience, well, how authentic is that? I am, however, thankful that a dear friend recommended a book to me. He suggested it several years ago but I kept putting it aside. Well, this past month was the perfect time. And I’m ever so grateful for his recommendation. And I love Kindle and Amazon for helping me stay connected to things I want to read even when I’m traveling and living all over the world! (I promise, this comes from me, no paid for advertising here! Hehe.)
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I knew it was about returning to your creative practice and dealing with the fears associated with it. (I’m pretty sure you all can figure that out from the title alone, but just in case, there is a very clear subtitle). The War of Art is definitely a book of the self-help genre. Pressfield speaks directly to the reader as a member of a team, all of whom are struggling to do the same thing: make art.
Take the time to read the foreword by Robert McKee, who gives you an engaging personal story about his own creativity and block and how Pressfield has helped him. His straight forward, no BS talk is refreshing and humorous. It lays out the entire book while also injecting humor and some of Pressfield’s language into your vocabulary before you start page one.
How the Book connects with Artist Strong Goals
Pressfield opens his book with a call that completely resonates with me and my goals for Artist Strong. I believe every person on this planet has some kind of creativity they should be sharing with the world. Some manage to find it and do it as a hobby, some teach, some become professionals that allow them to practice this creativity every day… but there are many who claim to be without a creative bone in their body. If that’s the case, then let me never meet them, because they are a person who can’t dream! The War of Art posits that everyone dreams of the idealized person they can be, who runs those marathons, or who cooks wonderful meals, or who finally learns how to sing. But often we are stymied from realizing these goals because of blocks we create for ourselves. As Pressfield found his way out of a block, these were the strategies and ideas that came to him to help him prevent future creative block and encourage him to make his art.
The nature of Pressfield’s writing
The author makes this an easy read. It is divided into four books rather than chapters. Within each book there are subheadings for everything you read by topic that build into his larger ideas, which ultimately come down to: “shut up and do the work.” He gives our common obstacles and paths to creativity capitalized names, as if each word embodies a living thing that works for or against us. Pressfield shares anecdotes from creatives and characters within literature to help guide his claims. For him, it is a war and these terms, such as Resistance, helped him navigate how to win this war and make his art.
I felt like Pressfield was speaking to me directly when I read this book. I love how he has a clear, direct voice; it enhances his authority and thus reinforces his message. I agree with him that when you are blocked, it can definitely feel like a battle to start making art. And yet, I wonder how much we elevate the power of something like creative block when we suggest it is a huge battle. How hard is a battle to overcome? We create clear associations with such language, which might make it more difficult for some creatives to embrace their work. Despite this, I finished the book feeling completely empowered and ready to make some attitude and behavioral changes to better my artist practice. He navigates the war analogy well, using it as a thread within each book without overdoing it.
Will everyone like the book?
There is one constituency I think that may find trouble relating to the book. Atheists or agnostics may feel there is a lot of talk about a greater power or God being a reason for our creativity. Some may object to the power being taken from humanity while others who feel blocked and don’t believe in a higher power may continue to feel disenfranchised from their artwork. As someone who believes in free will, I worry that giving it up to some greater power removes my own authority and responsibility for the act of creation. People with an external locus of control feel the world happens to them and they have no control over the life happening to them. If you are blocked, this kind of attitude will be extremely harmful. My take on Pressfield is that he uses this interpretation much as Elizabeth Gilbert mentions in her TED Talk, as a means to push himself towards action, and more that he sometimes feels like his body is a vehicle for ideas. People who are completely against notions of spirituality and faith may find this hard to digest.
I am so very grateful to my friend HL for suggesting this text. I keep it on my phone now so that where ever I go I can have a quick fix of whichever section of his Book resonates or applies to me while I’m on the go. If you are a creative looking to better your practice I highly recommend reading this book. If you decide to purchase it from this link here some of the earnings will go to Artist Strong and help me continue to spread the creative love around, so thank you.
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