Over the last few days I’ve been reading a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Someone recommended it to me a couple of years ago when I was going through a particularly bad dry spell creatively but I didn’t actually get around to reading it until now.
Pressfield, an American author and screen writer basically uses the book to impart his particular brand of wisdom for the struggling creative and aspiring professional, be they an artist, writer, musician, photographer, whatever. The main message being about the overcoming of what he describes as Resistance, a force, internal and external that keeps us from creating and reaching our full potential. There’s a lot of insight that makes sense in the book and I’ve personally already found helpful in beginning to overcome my own, largely internal resistances being a constant and habitual procrastinator.
He talks about motivation and how we as artists should always be aspiring to create simply for our own happiness and our drive to create (including as professionals), it’s once we try to create purely to please others and rely only the feedback of others for validation that we become the hacks we fear we are. A hack can make plenty of money if they do it right of course but it’s at the cost of their own creative soul, something that even professionals should aspire to nurture for the sake of their own inner happiness.
It’s when Pressfield begins ascribing all creative success to a higher power, the literal muse whispering in Beethoven’s ear for example that I think it needs taking with a grain of salt. For me a muse is simply a metaphor for inspiration, some external or even internal thing that sparks an idea, an idea that’s still our own. Pressfield hands over the credit for such ideas to a higher power which I think robs us as artists of something wonderful. What we’re capable of as a race is astounding so I definitely cannot agree with him in that regard.
And with all the good there’s a few things that left me a little troubled, his describing mental and physical illnesses (especially those that have only recently been accepted by the medical community at large like social anxiety disorder) as a way people create a little drama in their lives and simply needs to be pushed through is problematic to say the least, he is effectively erasing and invalidating very real issues and I think it speaks of someone who perhaps hasn’t had to struggle with such conditions himself thus has very little real understanding of them beyond a vague, very stereotyped view.
If you’re in need of a bit of a mental kick up the backside I’d definitely recommend The War of Art as a quick and largely insightful read but I’d very much suggest not taking everything discussed completely literally.