The Artist’s Way

Morning pages, every day.

Artist dates, every week.

Julia Cameron has touted these two primary tasks for years in her books and workshops on creativity. In the podcast I often listen to, Andy J. Pizza’s Creative Pep Talk, Andy and others have mentioned her book as a great resource. (Andy takes care to explain that recommending a resource doesn’t necessarily indicate he agrees with every single part of it, and I’m glad he said so, because I feel the same way about this book so far.)

The Artist’s Way is a 12-week guide inspired by her workshops. It’s an international bestseller that has earned acclaim and criticism over its 25-year existence.

And one chapter into the book, I already see why.

Informed by the workshops, this book has special value:

  • She anticipates the resistance, questions, and reactions I’m experiencing in my inner voice as I read, thanks to hearing these comments from her workshop participants. In this way, she engages me deeply by answering my questions as I go along.
  • She provides examples of other artists who participated in the workshops and the challenges and successes they faced. I see bits of my journey in the examples she shares and almost feel as though I’m going through this workshop with others.
  • She uses elements from the workshop in the book, such as signing a Creativity Contract.

She provides practical tasks and creative ideas. I especially loved the Creative Affirmations–a set of 20 statements to help orient and confirm our sense of purpose, ability, and connection with God. The quotes throughout from a wide variety of artists, not only authors, added pithy moments of profundity, humor, and corroboration to her words. It feels like she’s coaching me through the book, and I find myself motivated, encouraged, and very “seen” with the challenges she describes in becoming an artist. I believe that by engaging in morning pages (3 pages a day to unblock creativity, on any topic, no editing or rereading them) and artist dates (playing, going somewhere new) I can develop a more consistent habit of creativity. I’m going to try it for the next 12 weeks (ok, I’m notorious for starting things and not finishing them–anyone else like that? And November seems so far away from now…) to the best of my ability and have set calendar reminders. I am eager to see what Week 2 holds.

And yet, even the opening paragraphs feel somewhat defensive, akin to a chapter on apologetics. Cameron expressly describes creating as a spiritual experience (yes!), then tries to gently wade readers in by thinking of the universe as a “vast electrical sea,” then states there is a higher spiritual power. She writes, “Christ said, ‘Wherever two or more are gathered together, there I am in your midst.’ The god of creativity seems to feel the same way.”

2 reactions to this:

Maybe that is a particular version of the Bible, as there are many which vary, but in the English Standard Version I typically prefer, the statement is, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” In her version, it’s slightly misquoting to leave out the “in my name” bit. I checked this in a few other versions and that does seem to be a consistent element. Splitting hairs? Maybe. But to me, the essential difference is that when people gather in Christ’s name, He is there, not necessarily at every gathering of people. Commentaries like this one and this one on the importance of context of this verse aver that this verse specifically relates to church discipline and how Jesus would be present in those difficult conversations. I’ll leave it to the theologians as to whether the “in my name” is critical axiologically and whether this can be applied more broadly to creativity as well as church discipline, but for me, it seemed she’s using Biblical quotes while conveniently dropping the part that points back to Christ and taking this quote out of context. All the same, she wouldn’t be the first.

Secondly, it’s interesting to quote Jesus, who Christians view as the one and only God, and then to state “the god of creativity seems to feel the same way,” either implying a lowercase “g” god who is not divine but rather a concept, or another god who is separate from Jesus and has authority over creativity. She’s had the challenge of teaching this spiritual approach to both Christians and non-Christians, and the effect seems like a bit of pandering to both in order to smooth over the edges and find some murky middle ground, where we all recognize that spiritual creativity is mystical but there is a creator with whom you can have a relationship. She says, “Again, I do not ask you to believe this. In order for this creative emergence to happen, you don’t have to believe in God. I simply ask you to observe and note this process [moving out on faith] as it unfolds.” Maybe that’s fair enough.

As a Christian who believes that God is a distinct being and definitely the God of creativity, the Creator of all things, her approach semi makes sense to me even as it’s off-putting with the backpeddling that you don’t need to believe in God and, as she suggests in the Introduction, can instead insert an abbreviation, “good orderly direction,” or “flow,” each time you see the word “God,” to help you tolerate her mention of God. Eh. It feels as though to try to wrangle the vast spectrum of beliefs she’s speaking to, she’s trying to acknowledge the challenge, offer a buffet of bland options to appease all tastes, and ask you to shovel it down quickly so we can get past it. I trust that she’s done this workshop enough times that she feels it is necessary to do it this way so we might progress past an endless philosophical, religious debate that spans lifetimes and march into the program’s actual start. At the very least, it’s probably good she does this right in the Introduction so that if it is upsetting enough, people will stop there. For me, as a religious studies major with a fair amount of experience seeing people attempt diplomacy on the subject of God to a diverse audience and the knowledge that I can absolutely learn from people who have substantially different beliefs than my own, I am able to move on to see what can be learned from the rest of the book, but it did suspend my engagement enough as to react in this blog post.

Overall, notwithstanding the Bible quote roadbump, I feel extremely encouraged by this first chapter. She has a veteran mix of motivation and tough love that I’m responding to. I didn’t expect to take on the 12-week challenge, but here I am, within the first week and doing my morning pages daily (ok, I missed Thursday) which are very satisfying and an artist date (taking off work Friday to participate in the ACFW virtual writers’ conference! Ok, that was preplanned, but it serves the purpose!).

And now, back to the writing…current project is finishing up Extinction Isn’t for Everyone!

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