THE WAR OF ART (A Book Review)

This is the 2nd of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram (& Twitter) with the hashtag #read25in25.

The back jacket of this book reads…

DO YOU: 

  • dream about writing the Great American Novel?
  • regret not finishing your paintings, poems, or screenplays?
  • want to start a business or charity?
  • wish you could start dieting or exercising today?
  • hope to run a marathon someday?

IF YOU ANSWERED “YES” TO ANY OF THESE QUESTIONS, THEN YOU NEED…THE WAR OF ART.

Pressfield notes early on in The War of Art  that most of us have 2 lives––the one we live, and the one left unlived within us. He goes on to claim what stands between the 2 is the Resistance.

Being a successful writer, Pressfield writes as a man intimately familiar with the creative process and all that wars against it. Being a seasoned writer, he writes with a perspective of great value to the rest of us, in that he’s won countless battles in this war of art-making and can share his learned wisdom from that experience. Still doing his work daily, he writes in solidarity with the rest of us.

Speaking of solidarity, one of my favorite parts about this book is that its audience is not limited only to creative professionals. As you read in the excerpt from the book jacket, Pressfield explains that we meet Resistance basically when we attempt to do anything good in the world–anything that will improve the quality of life for yourself, others, the environment, etc. Therefore I don't only recommend this book to those of us who are in professions that are considered to be “creative,” but to anyone anyone trying hard but feeling stuck or lacking motivation and/or just anyone who has felt stuck before (because let’s be real…chances are you will again).

Defining the Enemy 

Pressfield spends the first 50 pages or so defining the characteristics of Resistance in great detail. Reading it was like an avalanche of accurate articulation for all sorts of things I’ve experienced to be true, just couldn't really name. (Sidenote: This is one of the most valuable things we get from reading I think…the gift of being able to name reality in new ways that spur us on to heal, grow, correct problems, and engage in our lives more fully.)

Some of the key characteristics of Resistance

  • Resistance is invisible.
  • … is internal.
  • …is insidious.
  • …impersonal.
  • …infallible.
  • …universal.
  • …never sleeps.
  • …fueled by fear.
  • ...leads to self-dramatization, self-medication, and playing the victim.
  • ...tries to influence our choice of mate.
  • ...causes us to criticize others’ lives out of discontentedness with our own.
  • ...is directly proportional to love.
  • ...presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for reasons we shouldn't do our work.
  • ...can be beaten.

Fundamentalist vs. the artist

One of the most interesting sections to me was contrasting the fundamentalist’s point of view versus. the artist’s. He begins by saying that both confront the same issues, namely the mystery of their existence: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? (33) He goes on to explain that these are difficult questions because for the majority of history humans have not lived in such a way where we could ask these questions as individuals. We’re wired tribally, to act as part of a group (33). Evolutionarily speaking, the individualization we know in today’s society has not been around long enough for our brains to adjust entirely (which I might argue is a good thing), and therefore a great tension surrounds the attempts to answer these questions for ourselves. Here is what Pressfield offers us about 2 different ways of approaching these questions:

“The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it…He has a core of self-confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world.

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed…The fundamentalist (or more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats into the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction…

The difference is that while one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.” (34-35)

May we wholeheartedly adopt the viewpoint of the artist in everything and everyone we encounter. May our faith be that of the artist, not the fundamentalist. May we look forward to imagine and create restoration for humanity, for our communities, for creation, and for the fundamentalists of any kind…

Combating Resistance

Much of the middle of the book is dedicated to sharing practical ways in which we can actively overcome Resistance. Pressfield calls combating the Resistance turning pro–which essentially is committing and showing up to do your work every day no matter what. Here are just a few characteristics of the professional:

  • The professional knows the difference between what is urgent and what is important, doing what is important first.
  • ...is patient.
  • …seeks order.
  • …demystifies.
  • …acts in the face of fear.
  • …accepts no excuses.
  • …is prepared.
  • …does not show off.
  • …dedicates himself to mastering his craft.
  • …does not hesitate to ask for help.
  • …does not take failure (or success) personally.
  • …endures adversity.
  • …recognizes her limitations.
  • …reinvents herself.
  • …is recognized by other professionals.


The Higher Realm

  “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it” (12).     This is snapshot of a check list of 31 songs that I’ve written over the last 3 years that almost no one has heard…because the Resistance has been beating me in all of the classic ways. Grateful (and terrified) to report I have a friend keeping me accountable to making demos of these and moving toward sharing some with you fine people.

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it” (12).


This is snapshot of a check list of 31 songs that I’ve written over the last 3 years that almost no one has heard…because the Resistance has been beating me in all of the classic ways. Grateful (and terrified) to report I have a friend keeping me accountable to making demos of these and moving toward sharing some with you fine people.

In the final portion of his book, Pressfield acknowledges that “as Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it” (107). There is discussion of invoking the muses and angels and the geniuses that aid us in our work–very different from the way our current Western culture puts an inhumane sort of pressure on seemingly gifted people calling them “geniuses” themselves. Click here for a candid talk from writer Elizabeth Gilbert on just that.

There is a brilliant discussion of the Ego and the Self which I have thoughts about that I will have to share at another time, as I started to do it here and realized it would almost double the length of a review that is already too long.

There is contrasting of hierarchy and territory and how both affect our endeavors. And finally there is mention of:

 

 “the third way proffered by the Lord of Discipline, which is beyond both hierarchy and territory. That is to do the work and give it to Him. Do it as an offering to God…we are servants of the Mystery. We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be through us.” (161-162)

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Thanks, as always, for reading! This is in no way comprehensive and in every way longer than I expected it to be, but I hope enlightening and encouraging in some way.

Now let’s all get back to the work…back to the war of art. Where has the Resistance been beating you? How will you combat it?

sd.