The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle
Non-fiction, 167 pages
"The War of Art" like Sun Tsu’s similarly named, “The Art of War,” is about winning battles. Both brief volumes address their themes through a series of short chapters which build upon and clarify earlier chapters.
While Sun Tsu addresses war on the battlefield, Steven Pressfield addresses the artist’s battle against resistance. Although artists, particularly writers, comprise Pressfield’s primary audience, the problem of resistance is universal. Resistance can prevent anyone from achieving life’s higher purposes, whether those be artistic, altruistic, educational, entrepreneurial, healthful, moral or spiritual. Resistance is a force that inhibits those activities which lead to personal growth but not activities performed to appease our lower nature. Some of these activities (think instant gratification) are themselves symptoms of resistance.
Symptoms of resistance include: procrastination; instant gratification, through abuse of alcohol, junk food, television, etc.; attention getting through trouble-making, grandstanding, etc.; creating life complications by creating personal dramas, playing victim or martyr, etc.; and being cruel to, or critical of, others. Procrastination is resistance’s most typical symptom. Resistance’s closest ally is rationalization; procrastination is extremely easy to rationalize. Once rationalized, procrastination becomes habitual. We may even find ourselves believing our rationalizations.
Resistance causes personal dissatisfaction; a sense of boredom, antsiness, listlessness, joylessness and self-loathing. As resistance mounts, bad habits and mood or behavioral disorders begin to emerge. Our consumer culture further complicates the resistance problem. Consumerism fans the flames of resistance while selling us panaceas offering temporary relief.
Fear underlies resistance, and though, Pressfield doesn’t dwell upon it, it also underlies consumerism. We fear no one will like us if we don’t buy the right deodorant or laundry soap. We fear boredom; that’s why the radio and television are always on. We fear being alone; that’s why we take our cell phones everywhere.
We fear many things. We fear rejection. We fear failure. We even, and especially, fear success. Fear, in all its forms, drives resistance and resistance prevents us from achieving personal growth. Borrowing from Jungian psychology, Pressfield considers the self to be the source of creativity and personal growth, while the ego is the source of resistance.
Resistance can be countered through the act of “turning pro.” The difference between a professional and an amateur is that for the amateur the stakes are small making it easy to rationalize procrastination and other forms of resistance. The professional treats his art like most people treat their jobs. People may not like going to work every day but they go anyway, arriving on time and staying the entire eight hours. Professionals don’t permit themselves excuses when it comes to their art. They stick to their art regardless of criticism, lack of remuneration, and setbacks. They stick to their art out of love, because it’s important to their self-development, and they stick to it even when it’s unpleasant and difficult.
Pressfield’s book is more of a ‘challenge’ than a ‘how-to.’ It’s earthy, and it de-glamorizes the artistic life. Still, Pressfield’s arguments make sense, and his style is engaging. “The War of Art” is well worth reading.
*Title is a quote from Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip