So, I’m having a hard time wanting to finish my diatribe about this book. I feel like Cameron demonstrates her bad habits in the book’s set-up, which I have already discussed in detail. I’d also like to move on to other projects – for example, I have an exciting co-blogging project coming up about another book which deals with creativity. Comparing the two books will be interesting, for sure. Perhaps reading the other book will be more satisfying. There’s a shorter book that I’d like to return to for review, as well.

What I am going to do, in this entry, is finish up the entire book – points that I generally disagree with, throughout the chapters, plus a few things I do agree with. As mentioned, I don’t always disagree with Cameron, but I do think her vague, spiritualist approach is unhelpful when actually trying to create new habits. I think what she deems “creative block” is actually a lack of education regarding various things, most notably 1) method (want to be a novelist? How does one craft a novel? There’s classes for that), and 2) preparation (how do you set  goals that are realistic for you?).

Anyway, so here’s some general run-down, without getting bogged down in all the repetitive negativity.

READING DEPRIVATION

In week 4, Cameron suggests an exercise called Reading Deprivation. It is exactly what it sounds like. Also, I don’t hate it. Here’s how she describes it.

Reading deprivation casts us into our inner silence, a space some of us begin to immediately fill with new words – long, gossipy conversations, television bingeing, the radio as a constant, chatty companion. We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static. In practicing reading deprivation, we need to cast a watchful eye on these other pollutants. They poison the well.

If we monitor the inflow and keep it to a minimum, we will be rewarded for our reading deprivation with embarrassing speed. Our reward will be a new outflow. Our own art, our own thoughts and feelings, will begin to nudge aside the sludge of blockage, to loosen it and move it upward and outward until once again our well is running freely.

The Seattle Artist’s Way classes actually have a media deprivation week – books, newspapers, the internet, television, movies. Anything that is a distraction is eliminated. A total, cold turkey fast. The only way you can entertain yourself is with your own mind.

I find that I love this idea. I’m not one to yell “We’re too media-saturated as a culture!” because I actually think it is a virtue of our species that we are so excited about expression, and expressing ourselves. While there are certainly downsides, the entire reason so many people are “constantly wired” is because we are communicative, social animals, and when we do something that is some form of communication – including creating art – we are rewarded with a small dopamine rush. Taking an interest in your fellow homo sapiens is a good thing.

Having too-constant access to these things, though, is the rough equivalent of fast food. I get that. So I completely understand the media fast. I hope to be brave enough to try it myself, someday. I do find that if I have easy access to distraction – Netflix Streaming has been my greatest downfall lately – then I don’t get creative work done. That means I have more hurdles to overcome when I have an idea that I want to commit to the page.

Now, when I’m directing a show, the only thing I’m doing during rehearsal is thinking about the script, working with the actors, considering their input, finessing the show. I am in a room with no distractions.

There’s a clear correlation between access to distraction and ability to work. The tough part is convincing yourself to eschew distraction. Putting yourself in a room with no internet access is one thing – simply avoiding the temptation at home is an entirely different prospect. It takes more willpower than I, I admit, currently have.

In chapter 6, “Recovering a Sense of Abundance,” Cameron says:

We have tried to be sensible – as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible – rather than see if the universe might not have supported some healthy extravagance.

I know she wants the reader to think that “healthy extravagance” is about their self-expression. However, I see this as a too-easy excuse to indulge in purchases to make one feel better – spa days, museum trips – that are nice, but have little to do with sitting down and doing the work. Buying a laptop and investing in an Intro to Playwrighting class are two different ways to spend roughly the same large amount of money. Guess which one is more useful in the long run? Guess which one will feel more extravagant?

Continuing with the theme of spending …

For those of us who have become artistically anorectic – yearning to be creative and refusing to feed that hunger in ourselves so that we become more and more focused on our deprivation – a little authentic luxury can go a long way. The key here is authentic. Because art is born in expansion, in a belief in sufficient supply, it is critical that we pamper ourselves for the sense of abundance it brings us.

What constitutes pampering? That will vary for each of us. For Gillian, a pair of new-to-her tweed trousers from the vintage store conjured up images of Carole Lombard laughter and racy roadsters. For Jean, a single, sprightly Gerber daisy perched on her night table told her life was abloom with possibility. Matthew found that the scent of real furniture wax gave him a feeling of safety, solidity, and order. Constance found luxury in allowing herself the indulgence of a magazine subscription (a twenty-dollar gift that keeps giving for a full year of images and indulgence).

EUGH. Such awful consumerism!

Now, really, think of beautiful art that was created in the lap of luxury. Really. Give it a second.

Blues music was not created in the lap of luxury. Lavish religious icons were painted by monks, who intentionally deprived themselves of food and wealth. Several writers wrote because they needed, they hurt, they strove for, but did not simply have.

Also, these two paragraphs contradict her “reading deprivation.” What if I decide that the only way I can get a sense of artistic expansiveness is to buy a new book every week, and read it? When reading deprivation week comes around, my coddled self will suddenly be stunted, because the crutch I leaned on is gone.

Curiosity, passion, experience – these are all necessary to be an artist. A new-to-you pair of pants that makes you feel sexy? That’s a distraction that cost you valuable writing or research or planning time.

I also find it interesting that, in these paragraphs about indulgence, three of the four fake people Cameron lists are women. Women are the target demographic of most advertising. Women spend more money, on average, than men, even though they still make less in the United States. Women are often approached, through advertising, as being “worth it.” This is because the culture tells us that we are worthless unless some outside influence tells us that we have worth. The most common examples of this is the Handsome Prince myth, but product advertising is a huge culprit as well. If Snuggles the bear sniffs your laundry and smiles, then you are good at laundry.

I say fuck that shit. Just doing the work shows that you have some kind of awesome going on. Good job.

And here’s an interesting bit of hypocrisy:

For the next week you will be discovering how you spend your money. Buy a small pocket notebook and write down every nickel you spend.

First entry, “Bought small pocket notebook – $3.”

Chapter 7, “Recovering a Sense of Connection,” has this gem:

Once you accept that it is natural to create, you can begin to accept a second idea – that the creator will hand you whatever you need for the project.

Nope. If you sit around and wait for a creator to hand you crayons, you’re going to be waiting for a long time. But if you get off your prayer mat and go to the dime store, I bet they will be willing to sell you some really shitty crayons.

Cameron does note some interesting things about jealousy. Jealousy is a very interesting topic for me. A book that has done a lot to shape my life – “The Ethical Slut” – says that jealousy is actually the byproduct of insecurity. When we’re jealous of someone, it is really because we don’t feel good enough.

Cameron has a roughly similar take, which I appreciate.

Jealous is a map. Each of our jealousy maps differs. Each of us will probably be surprised by some of the things we discover on our own. I, for example, have never been eaten alive with resentment over the success of women novelists. But I took an unhealthy interest in the fortunes and misfortunes of women playwrights. I was their harshest critic, until I wrote my first play.

With that action, my jealousy vanished, replaced by a feeling of camaraderie … Jealousy is a mask for fear.

This is useful. Jealousy as a map is a great way to start. If you are jealous of someone’s success, then figure out how to be successful.

In chapter 8, “Recovering a Sense of Strength,” Cameron tackles criticism. Sort of.

The criticism that damages an artist is the criticism – well intentioned or ill – that contains no saving kernel of truth yet has a certain damning plausibility or an unassailable blanket judgment that cannot be rationally refuted.

Yes, it’s true. And yet, art is subjective. Some people will love what you do, some people will hate it, and some people will be like, “Meh, it’s not my favorite but it’s okay.” The people who are all “Meh” about your work are not your target demographic. People who hate your work might have something valuable to say – but then again, it is your right as the artist to throw out criticism that does not help you grow as an artist.

I’ve had a hard time with this. Reading reviews of my work hurts. Earlier in my directing experience, it hurt worse. I often didn’t feel authoritative enough to be a director, so I lost control of actors. I tackled scripts that were too big for me, without a clear vision, and the decisiveness to cut parts that weren’t working. I had a hard time getting actors for some shows, and let that get to me. I worked for a long time with a company that I didn’t feel good about.

These days, I do my best to eliminate bullshit. Some bullshit must be suffered through for the experience, and I see my early 20’s very much in that light. But, the more I am able to work on projects and with people that make me happy – which required the hard work and suffering of my early 20’s, both to build a reputation/resume and to learn what I didn’t want to do anymore – the more I am able to create better work.

There’s a foundation of hardship there. I learned from my mistakes. I didn’t take criticism well, but these days, I seek it out. And I don’t listen to bits of advice that don’t work for me.

Good advice in chapter 8:

As a rule of thumb, it is best to just admit that there is always one action you can take for your creativity daily.

YES. YAY.

She also talks a lot in the chapter about putting in the work, which I only have one complaint about: Why did she have to put in all the crap about God and prayer and synchronicity?! These two things contradict each other. Either you have a deity magically offering you opportunities, or you work to find those opportunities yourself. No in-between.

And then, in chapter 9, she goes back to the wishy-washy.

By its very nature, discipline is rooted in self-admiration. (Think of discipline as a battery, useful but short-lived). We admire ourselves for being so wonderful. The discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point.

… Over an extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us.

ACK. What? If discipline is not the point, then why do the morning pages every morning? Why not do them when you damn well please?

Discipline is not the point, actually, it’s true. Discipline is the tool to get to the point. It takes enthusiasm to be an artist, but it takes discipline to be creative on a regular basis.

In chapter 10, there are, surprise, more contradictions.

The point of the work is the work. Fame interferes with that perception. Instead of acting being about acting, it becomes about being a famous actor. Instead of writing being about writing, it becomes about being recognized, not just published.

The desire to be famous, I find, is about wanting people to approve of you. That won’t happen, and it does not happen to famous people (Perez Hilton, helllooooooooo). The reality of being an artist, famous or not, is that if you put your art out there, you will receive a huge amount of criticism, and some small amount of praise.

I find that this paragraph demands this question: Why put your art out there at all? If the point of art is art, then why not just be an artist in the privacy of your own home?

If you have the audacity to want to do this professionally, then it is not just about the work. It is about identifying, completely, with being an artist. It is about believing that payment for your work is a natural extension of the effort you put in. It is about believing that your art is worthwhile and there will be people who like it and you will garner fans and possibly some local fame. The work is about the work, but putting your work out as a professional is about believing that your work is worth recognition.

If you don’t put your work out there, you are a hobbyist.

Chapter 11, “Recording a Sense of Autonomy,” talks about the importance of exercise, then the importance of an altar built to your inner artist. My general reaction to this is: “What is this I don’t even.” Exercise is great, yes. Being physically in shape will overall make you feel better about yourself and help your mood. But an altar? Safe spaces, sure. An altar? That’s a further bit of sneaky consumerism. I’m on to you, Cameron.

I tried to find something worth talking about in Chapter 12 – the last chapter of “instruction” – and failed. It didn’t even sum up the experience of the book very well.

The Epilogue and the Artist’s Way Questions and Answers are rehashing of the things I’ve already taken issue with.

In “Creative Clusters Guide,” Cameron offers this gem of a lie:

I chose not to franchise The Artist’s Way but to offer it as a gift, free of charge.

Riiiiiight. So when Cameron said earlier in the book that she taught classes on how to free up your inner artist – I take it that was for free? Like, at a community center or something? Also, there’s 12 books related to The Artist’s Way when I do a quick search on Amazon, all written by Cameron. They all cost money.

So apparently she has some deal where her publisher gets her royalties, and she’s making no money off the sale of any of these books.

Yeah, I don’t think that’s true either.

I’m just … done with this. Cameron is a hypocrite guru like all the other charlatans out there selling snake oil. She can’t even keep her advice straight.

This book is terrible. If you want to be an artist, you’re better off following your own advice, even if you’re a total novice.

2 thoughts on “The Last Chunk of “The Artist’s Way” Criticism

  1. Great post. I was years doing the morning pages made all those contradictory ideas my own. Just did an impulse buy of The Vein of Gold follow up to the Artists Way and I fear the loss of my self direction all over again. Most of the stuff is pretty helpful, but I don’t like how its all sold as this kind of “program” which she created and the implication that you really need the Artist’s way or you’ll get blocked again. Anyway, thanks for posting the critique. All the best.

  2. This series has been a brilliant criticism. Someone lent me the book and I’ve been trying to get through it. This was hard but I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with it (beyond Cameron’s infuriating insistence on superstitious ideas and terminology). You have outlined a number of specific and verifiable faults in her writing. Thank you for posting it.

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