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06/05/2006 Archived Entry: "I wrap up "The Artist's Way" program"

I JUST FINISHED THE 12TH AND FINAL WEEK of The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Anyone who's been counting might notice I took 15 weeks (but then, anyone who's been counting might also consider getting a life). Times I was traveling or feeling out of focus I stretched one week out into two, taking time to get the most of it.

A surprising lot of people wrote to say that they had the book. An unsurprising lot added either that they'd never used it or that they'd used it for a while but dropped it (the typical fate of self-help books).

From the day I found it at a garage sale, I was also one of those people. The book sat on a shelf for several years. It looked to me like one more California-New-Age-Human-Potential-Airy-Fairy excuse to peddle (need I say dubious) self-improvement. But late last winter synchronicity opened it to just the right page when I needed guidance. Suddenly it felt different. Powerful.

Several people have asked me to keep them posted on the program's effectiveness. So here goes:

First, a quick overview of what The Artist's Way is and what it aims to do. It's a book, and a guided course, to help anyone overcome creative blocks. It's meant to be used by actors, dancers, poets, musicians, playwrights, novelists, painters, printmakers, potters, weavers, sculptors, or people who are none of the above but who feel a frustrated longing for their lives to be more creative and expressive.

The program consists of themed reading, an organized form of daily journal-writing, a weekly "artist's date" of scheduled creative fun time, and a selection of exercises, among which you can pick and choose.

Readers are urged "be kind to your inner artist." Yet at the same time, there's a refreshing "get real, get moving, and quit kidding yourself" practicality. The author, Julia Cameron,* has been there, done that, and knows full well how we can get a world of perverse satisfaction out of "Oh, poor me; I don't have the time or money or the skill to become an Artiste, so I have no choice but to wallow in self-regarding misery."

In art, as in freedom, doing nothing, or spending all your energy on the same old treadmill, is always easier than jumping off and doing something productive.

The overwhelming thrust of The Artist's Way is that the quest for creativity is a spiritual quest. Cameron talks about God. A lot. That's tough for hard-headed skeptics to swallow. But as she says at the beginning:

This may be volatile for some of you -- conjuring old, unworkable, unpleasant, or simply unbelievable ideas about God as you were raised to understand "him." Please be open-minded. ... Do not allow semantics to become one more block for you.

When the word God is used in these pages, you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about is creative energy. ...

By the simple, scientific approach of experimentation and observation, a workable connection with the flow of good orderly direction can be established.

You see, it is kind of airy-fairy. And is certainly not scientific in the sense of producing quantifiable, predictably reproduceable results. But the big question is "Does it work?"

And my answer, right here, right now, is yes it does.

I have to say that a lot of the book's effectiveness comes from the fact that I picked it up at exactly the moment I was ready for it (something Cameron would declare was not an accident).

But that said, here are a few of the impacts The Artist's Way has had on me:

Of course, the other big fly in the ointment of all self-help programs (aside from not using them at all, or using them badly) is that their effects tend to last only as long as we're actively immersed. Thus all those alcoholics who cling desperately to AA 20 years after they've drunk their last drink. Thus that perpetual and oh-so-lucrative market for more self-improvement programs ("That one didn't work -- but the next one will change my life, I'm positive of it!")

Some of my Artist's Way discoveries and recoveries will be permanent -- because they simply helped me further along in a direction I was already going.

In other cases -- the drawing, for instance -- the changes are fragile and could easily be lost. I haven't yet tapped into the real creative flow. I'm just experimenting while being besieged by all those nasty old voices: "Why bother? It's a waste of effort. You don't have what it takes and you never did." These are ancient demons to face and it would be easier not facing them.

Parts of the program fit me like a dancer's leotard. Other parts I struggled with but learned from. Other parts -- including the major concept of play (e.g. artist's dates) I just really didn't grok. Intellectually, yeah, I get it. But internally I just can't believe this big Capital-A Art is supposed to be enjoyable.

So what next? I finished the program up on Saturday. Yesterday I started in again. This time, I'm going to focus on getting the parts that eluded me the first time (I'm going to have fun at this, damnit, no matter how &^%$#ing sober-sided I'm inclined to be). And I'll also focus on getting, at a higher and clearer level, those aspects that came naturally.

On balance: The Artist's Way may not be a perfect book. It could be better organized. The exercises could be more clearly connected to the material in the chapters, and to each other. There could be a little less Capital G-o-d. Its not for everybody or for every moment. But if the book comes when you're ready for it, open the door and go through.


* A co-author credit goes to Mark Bryan, Cameron's partner in Artist's Way workshops. But it's clear his role in the book was strictly inspirational and advisory.

Posted by Claire @ 11:40 AM CST

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