Book Review: The War of Art

Book Review

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Reviewed By

Erin M. Hartshorn

Copyright © 2011, Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved

 

 

Have a project you're having trouble finishing? Or one that you can't quite bring yourself to start? Do you hear the voice inside telling you it's pointless, it's worthless, you're not good enough, you should go find something that's more your speed? Welcome to the battle -- the war -- for your innermost creative self.

Who are you fighting? The Resistance.

In part one of The War of Art, Pressfield discusses Resistance: its forms, its activities, and where it comes from. He says that Resistance will arise in response to "any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity." I don't agree with his entire list of activities that most commonly elicit Resistance; I didn't have any hesitations about marrying when I found the right man and he asked me, while education has never been something I shied away from. However, most made sense.

What is Resistance? Invisible, internal, insidious, and implacable. It's everything you think and hear around you that asks why you want to open a new restaurant, paint a picture, choreograph a dance, lose weight, work in the inner city, or write an epic novel. It's "I'll start tomorrow." It's sitting down to watch TV with a can of Pringles. It is angst and guilt with no cause.

Pressfield also says it's chronic illness, victimhood, and drama. I've known too many people affected by everything from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to cancer to believe that it's all them forcing themselves to be sick so they don't have to make a difference in the world. I can see where it's easier for him to believe this; if he believes any difficulty in his life is just an excuse, he feels free to ignore it and do his work.

Not everybody may appreciate the views expressed by Pressfield in this book. He takes on fundamentalism and says that it is, at its heart, opposed to art, that only the humanist who believes humankind is called upon to co-create the world with God can truly accept freedom and art. "Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art." Support and healing also get short shrift in this book, being characterized as yet more faces of Resistance.

On the other hand, I found some gems of wisdom in here. "The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death." Fear, he says, is Resistance at work and thus an indicator that this is the direction you need to go. Do you think that new idea is too much for you to take on right now? Believe maybe you should get some practice novels under your belt first? Then that's the idea you should tackle now.

The biggest idea of the book, though, the most crucial to understand, is that Resistance can be beaten. Resistance stands between you and getting your tasks done, but you can get past it and do the work. The first step to getting done is to commit, to be professional about your creativity, and show up and work. It's the same old advice we've heard before -- "butt in chair, hands on keyboard." You're not going to get anything written if you don't write. You can't start a new business if you don't create a plan and get the materials you need. You can't sculpt without your raw materials. If you want to beat Resistance, in Pressfield's words, you need to "turn pro."

Part two of this book is all about what it means to be a professional, in whatever field. It's about acting in the face of fear, setting aside pride, and not accepting excuses. One of the pieces that really resonated for me in this section of the book is titled "A Professional Does Not Take Failure (Or Success) Personally." That's right -- rejections aren't personal. Nor are acceptances. Both are judgments of the work and how it fits a market, not of the artist. "The professional ... does not forget that the work is not her." It's something that I need to remind myself, especially after reading reviews of my work.

The final portion of this book, "Beyond Resistance," talks about our allies in the fight against Resistance. You can, as Robert McKee does in his foreword, conceive of inspiration and the muse as talent within yourself. Or you can accept Pressfield's argument that the Muse is external (an argument similar to Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk). This is the flip side of the second part -- listening for the creative voice. Pressfield's argument is that if you are professional and show up, the art will be there. He talks about Ego and Self, about God and more. Whether you agree with his personifications or his external source for creativity, there are ideas worth exploring -- fear of success, hierarchy, and territory. The quote from this section that stuck with me is "A territory can only be claimed by work." If I don't write, I'm not a writer. More specifically, if I don't write the stories that call to me, I'm not displaying the unique map of my territory, my view of the genre and life and what's important in the world. But to claim that territory, I have to write it.

Overall, I think this is an excellent book that shines a light on all the ways we block ourselves from creating and helps us face what we need to do to go forward. I may not agree with the way Pressfield said everything, but I do feel this book is a good addition to anyone's library, no matter what kind of creative task they have set for themselves.

It is also worth noting that recently, Steven Pressfield released Do the Work, the sequel to The War of Art. It's a good sequel, with practical pointers on facing down the Resistance. Before picking it up, however, I strongly urge you to read

The War of Art.

 

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield Rugged Land, LLC ISBN 978-1590710036 (hardcover),

ISBN 978-1-60-746433-4 (e-book) Warner Books

ISBN 978-0446691437 (paperback)