The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (book review)
240pgs Available on Amazon for R110.00
The sub-title A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity gives a clue that this book will require a commitment from the reader to achieve any value from it. When spiritual growth is at stake we need faith and that is not easy.
The Artist's Way is now a classic in this genre of writing and has proven itself as a long term favorite for creative people. Julia Cameron is herself an artist and writer with a background in the Hollywood film industry and television writing before turning to teaching other artists how to overcome creative hard times.
The book is structured into a twelve week program that seeks to help artists face and overcome stumbling blocks in their creative journeys. Every artist will recognise themselves at some point in this book. Either the issue was overcome or remains in the way. The first goal for any artist is to recognise that they are not alone. The next step is to free themselves from self-defeat by becoming aware of the problem. For this alone I believe the book has value. Whether or not artists work through the book and grow from it remains a personal matter. However no artist should be without this book. Treat it as a reference manual. Select a chapter once a week or read it through from start to finish. There will be a benefit from this process. Can we ask for more?
The 10 Sacred Circle Rules mentioned in the book:
1. Creativity flourishes in a place of safety and acceptance.
2. Creativity grows among friends, withers among enemies.
3. All creative ideas are children who deserve our protection.
4. All creative success requires creative failure.
5. Fulfilling our creativity is a sacred trust.
6. Violating someone's creativity violates a sacred trust.
7. Creative feedback must support the creative child, never shame it.
8. Creative feedback must build on strengths, never focus on weaknesses.
9. Success occurs in clusters and is born in generosity.
10. The good of another can never block our own.
An Artist Empowered
by Eden Maxwell, avaialable as an e-book on Amazon.com
For every artist the questions will arise at some point. The questions that go to the heart of the artist's sense of self and meaning. The questions that will challenge the ego in its most primitive form.
The questions are:
1) Why am I an artist?
2) Where does my art come from?
3) What is the intrinsic value of my art?
The artist may be able to answer these questions. When or how such answers will come is unknown. When they are truthfully answered the artist may find fulfilment.
Eden Maxwell is a profound thinker and artist. He has also written an astonishing book.There is no point in denying that The Artist Empowered is a singular achievement. A giant work that will take time to read and digest, but will leave you better for it. Maxwell has had a long career and has seen that world from it cruelest to his enlightened present. He has experienced corporate America and rejected it. He seems to have made peace with his calling to create art. Yet there is no arrogance about Maxwell. He shines light on questions we need to answer for ourselves and he is not judgmental in his writing.
A central theme in his work is how an artist will have to deal with rejection, the opinions of others and our view of ourselves as artists. He rejects the idea of the starving artist as no more than social conditioning. An artist can live a good and honest life like anyone else. Genius is dedication - remain true to yourself and follow your calling in whatever way makes sense to you.
I spent a considerable time completing this book. It is substantial, but compelling too. I found that I had to put the book down often to make notes or simply to think about what the author had said. So much rang true - how fear is a part of our ego and that all great art is self-taught since nobody can teach you to be original. Follow your intuition not your ego. Your intuition is always positive, but your ego can destroy you. If you are interested in the artist's calling and are seeking a path to find meaning then this book may hold the answer.
"How do you know if you are meant to be an artist? If someone can talk you out of being an artist then don't be an artist."
To listen to a recording of an interview with Eden Maxwell where he explains his ideas follow this link.
First published 1923. Available as paperback from Kalahari.net for R198.00
Is there an antidote for the cynical world we live in? How many times do you second guess yourself, your art and your choice to paint?
As an artist I can relate to the need for calm and self-affirmation. It will be OK. Keep on creating. In this reflective moment I find the writings of Robert Henri in The Art Spirit a comforting reminder that artists have asked these questions for a long time. It is a reminder that art is timeless. The Art Spirit is indeed a record of the human spirit triumphant.
The Art Spirit records Henri's anecdotes, philosophy and practical art knowledge. Robert Henri (1865-1929) was a famous French artist and teacher who setteld in America. In his time he came into contact with many famous masters and passed on his knowledge by teaching to many others who in turn went on to become masters.
"There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge."
This is not a book of glib soundbites. It is not a quick read filled with platitudes that can be glossed over. This is a book that must be read slowly and absorbed. Give yourself time to think about what Henri is saying. Read a page of two every day if you like to gain some calm and reflection over what art really means to you.
Despite the depth of ideas and sincerity in the writer I was moved by the similarity of concerns that artists experienced over a hundred years ago. Many issues are no different today. His advice is just as relevant today and a reminder that we share much in common with those who went before and thrived in struggle. Consider this quote:
"Just remember that the object of painting pictures is not simply to get them in exhibitions. It is all very fine to have your pictures hung, but you are painting for yourself, not for the jury. I had many years of rejections."
Would I recommend this book to an artist? Yes - read it and go back to it when you are in need of solace and calm. This too shall pass and there is much joy to be found when the human spirit triumphs over the banality of life. Art is merely the evidence of this journey.
Artist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures.
by Cathy Johnson
North Light Books. Available as an e-book from Amazon for approx. R98.00
Tired of the studio? Forget the TV and try journaling. No I have not taken up scrapbooking, but I do carry a sketchbook journal with me. Drawing is still the easiest way to keep my creative juices flowing without the pressure of oil painting. One of my recommended reads is the Artist's Journal Workshop by Cathy Johnson. The emphasis is on art and observing your environment. Most importantly we need to find beauty when it can be easily overlooked. Your cup of coffee, for example, can become a still life sketch. Take it further by adding watercolour and recording the process in a note. Not only is this fun, but it trains the eye and keeps the artist appreciative of life's little wonders. There's that gratefulness thing again!
This is an extraordinary book lavishly illustrated and filled with useful content. The author also gives examples of other journals kept by various artists to inspire you further. Johnson gives a clear explanation of why she journals, how it benefits her as an artist and how you can start the process yourself. The author also shows you how to keep up the process so that you do not lose interest. I personally find that sketching and illustrating provides me with ideas for paintings. It is also something that I can share with my family around the kitchen table! Give it a go yourself.
This is no lightweight book. It is extensive and well worth the investment and a resource that you can go back to when you need a little inspiration.
A book Review
Written by Steven Pressfield. Published 2002. 192 pages. It is conveniently available as an e-book on Amazon for about R65.00.
Ever considered dusting off the easel or ever wanted to start writing but never got around to it? Had yourself talked out of a creative pursuit? You have been taken out of the game by Resistance. This is the term used by Pressfield in his excellent book. The author divides his book into three sections. First is focused on Resistance. Second: Defeating Resistance and third: Accepting your muse.
Pressfield, a writer by profession, asks what stands between the life we live and the unlived life within us. The answer is Resistance. It is the toxic force that defeats us every time. It is that which stands between our calling or any creative endeavour that does not involve instant gratification. Resistance repels, it is negative, distracting, cunning, a liar and self-generated. The enemy within. You cannot bargain or reason with it. It is like a shark with you as its main course! Resistance is supported by its henchmen, Rationalisation and Procrastination. Be aware of them every day Pressfield warns or you will not stand a chance. This section of the book struck many chords with me and I must confess that I could not put the book down. Knowledge is power as they say and it helps to recognise the enemy within.
Part two was equally compelling. The author proceeds to tell us how to defeat Resistance. Go pro! By becoming a professional we can win the battle and pursue the creative process. By professional the author means that we have to change our mindset and approach. Failing that you will remain a hobbyist. A professional gets to work every day. It is full time. It is about committing for life because you love your calling so much. Resistance hates it when you turn pro! A pro does not wait for inspiration - he gets to work because that is when inspiration arrives. It is a daily process. I like what Pressfield says about the difference between what is urgent and what is important. Important comes first. Urgency is often Resistance in disguise. Your work is important so do that first.
Part Three is about listening to your muse. "The noble effect of heaven-sent madness". (Socrates)
The artist, relying on technique alone, will not succeed without the inspired madness of the muse. Without this mysterious heaven-sent inspiration would there be the Parthenon, a Fifth Symphony or Nude Descending a Staircase? Time can only harm our body, but not the immutable spirit within that inhabits the space between nucleus and electron - the universe beyond the material. Listen and answer. It is this third part of the book that will test your resolve. If you persist you will succeed.
Read this book. After three months read it again.