I don’t get “The Artist’s Way”

I’ve been seeing less theatre and blogging a lot less because my life has exploded in a lot of ways on a personal and professional level this year. This has been mostly exhausting, although fantastic on many fronts – I’ve made a lot of professional connections, I no longer work for the 5th Avenue Theatre and am now a writer for a professional blog with (mostly) my own schedule, and I have been in overlapping rehearsals from about February to about June, which meant I was getting a lot of artistic work pumped out. I’ve been struck with inspiration and had that inspiration backed up with support from friends and colleagues, whose opinion I regard very highly. I have a lot of work to do yet, but I feel amazing about what I’ve done so far, and the opportunities I’ve been offered this year.

That doesn’t have a lot to do with the title of the post. The title of the post is about “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, a book that spawned a series of classes globally. Despite Cameron’s warning in the back of the book, one could in theory train (whatever that entails) to become an Artist’s Way instructor and teach the classes for money.

I’ve heard a lot about The Artist’s Way. Several colleagues I respect, as well as some friends, are intimately familiar with The Artist’s Way and speak very highly of the program. I’d been considering shelling out the money for the classes, mainly because I like most of the people involved. Then, a friend of mine said she’d read the original book, and I should read that before considering the classes, which are hundreds of dollars.

So I thought, I want to dip my toes into this before I get my hair wet. I want to continue my roll of great self-created inspiration, and I’m too busy to even think about scheduling another class or meeting. I bought the book instead.

There’s a lot I want to say about it, but the main thing is … I don’t get it.

I realize that I don’t get it because I’m a skeptic and an atheist. While I’m accepting of spiritual and religious practices, for the most part, I don’t understand them. They don’t work for me, they’re not how I get a sense of connection and awe.

Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” basically peddles a flimsy DIY spirituality, along with neurotic capitalist impulses. When she’s not advocating that the reader build god in their own image, she’s advocating that they run to the nearest store and buy something to make them feel like “an artist.”

Not everything she says is useless. There’s about 10 pages of good advice, out of 224 pages of the book itself. And who knows, maybe the classes are different. I don’t know, I’ve only read the book, and I strongly disagree with it.

So I’m going to start tearing it apart. I’ve been meaning to for months, but life happened, artistically and personally.

In the meantime, here’s some things I found while researching to tear this book apart.

“Zen and the Art of Self-Satisfaction”
This is a review of “The Artist’s Way.” And a very brutally honest one.
Favorite quote:

Duplicitous philistinism is, of course, a typically American vice, and notwithstanding its Mt. Fuji cover, The Artist’s Way is a very American book. Like most self-help gurus, Julia Cameron has an American belief in the efficacy of individual action coupled with an even more American contempt for the individual: everyone, she argues, can learn to be successful, because everyone is a failure to begin with. “[W]e are all creative,” she tells us in one breath, and then in the next, “all of us are [blocked] to some extent.” We are all, in other words, failing to live up to our full potential as artists, much as welfare mothers fail to live up to their potential as entrepreneurs. This, naturally, is where Cameron’s book comes in—job training, as it were, for the aesthetically underprivileged.

“Today I want to rip apart and put to rest 7 awful myths and misconceptions about art!”
Favorite quote:

5. The purpose of creative writing is for me to express myself.
Writing for personal self improvement is a private thing while writing for the public is an artistic thing – The purpose of public writing is to communicate with others, not to unload personal feelings.

6. Artists are random and abstract thinkers. They don’t think in order or sequence.
This is a big wuss-out from people who want to appear artistic but aren’t necessarily interested in doing the real work. In addition to creating art, artists also organize, revise, and hammer out their art to make it more understandable, An artist with strong revision skills means he has organizational skills, understands structure, and a works hard.

“How to Wire Your Brain for Religious Ecstasy”
Yeah, I don’t have that. But give me “Cosmos” and I will!

“Extinction Burst”
Single best self-help-esque article I have ever read. Understanding that our brains fight against us when forming new patterns has helped me immensely in the last year or so. It focuses on dieting, but really, this article is about everything.
Favorite section:

When you expect a reward or a punishment and nothing happens, your conditioned response starts to fade away.

If you stop feeding your cat, he will stop hanging around the food bowl and meowing. His behavior will go extinct.

If you were to keep going to work and not get paid, eventually you would stop.

This is when the extinction burst happens, right as the behavior is breathing its final breath.

You wouldn’t just not go to work anymore. You would probably storm into the boss’s office and demand an explanation. If you got nowhere after gesticulating wildly and inventing new curse words out of your boss’s last name, you might scoop your arm across his desk and leave in handcuffs.

Just before you give up on a long-practiced routine, you freak out. It’s a final desperate attempt by the oldest parts of your brain to keep getting rewarded.

(But seriously, read the whole thing)

“Habits: How They Form and How To Break Them”
You might be able to tell that I was doing a little research on habit-breaking after I finished “The Artist’s Way.” The book focuses on ways to form new habits – namely rewarding yourself – but it does not address that sloth, when it comes to artistic habits (which are basically new work patterns you have to form for very little immediate reward unless you’re a pathological narcissist) is a habit that needs to be broken. Reward yourself as much as you want, but the day that you stop doing your morning pages – BAM. You’re back to laziness. And then you feel guilty. So now you’re depressed and you have a negative association with your notebook. And you feel Julia Cameron’s squinty, filmy eyes glaring down upon you from a posh Los Angeles suburb, and you just want to stab yourself in the eyeball with a spork. But you don’t because it’s easier to continue to go to your dead-end job that makes you unhappy and get paid and then go drink your weekend away.

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything … Ahem.

Anyway, I have my own theories. And I’ll explore them in a little more depth soon-ish, but no promises because life exploded. But I want to, so that helps. In the meantime, read the book, do some research, and draw your own conclusions.

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