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Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, Reviewed

Subtitled A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self and A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, this is not merely a book, but an instruction manual about how to become the artist you truly are.

Okay, so I may already have alienated the pragmatists and those for whom the idea of artistic creativity is anathema. But stay with me. You, too, will benefit.

The book is the culmination of a number of years of work Julia has undertaken first to release her own creativity and then that of friends, and, ultimately, paying students. She is, of course, a well-known film director, amongst other talents. She lives in a world populated by people who use their creative talent to earn their living and to produce many of those things we take for granted in our daily lives. Creativity is not the sole preserve of the isolated artist living in a dream, after all. It is an element in the everyday experience of most of us, if we’re willing to discover it. So, there’s something here for everyone. And I do mean everyone, regardless of the type of life and the nature of the work undertaken.

The book guides the reader through a series of exercises and explorations of self over a period that is suggested to be 12 weeks. I took a little longer, as I had 2 weeks of holiday already planned and those weeks interrupted the flow. The exercises, or tasks as she calls them, are essential to the course.

Before you make a decision to experience this book - it is more an experience than a reading exercise - I should warn you that you’ll need to approach it with commitment. A partial, casual approach will not work. You must be willing to immerse yourself in all that it entails, if you’re to gain from it the lasting and increasing benefits it promises.

As you proceed, you’ll find all sorts of excuses not to do certain things, all manner of reasons why you, in particular, shouldn’t bother with some aspects. You’re too experienced, you’re too creative already, you’re simply too busy, you’re above such considerations, you don’t have that sort of problem, etc, etc. But allowing yourself to fail, permitting yourself to face those fears you have buried, will, if my experience is any guide, free you from self-destructive influences you’re unaware you have acquired.

I learned a good deal about myself during the course of the weeks. Not all of it was good. But most of what I learned was positive in its influence on my development. There were painful recollections, shameful admissions, abortive attempts at justification and some unexpected unpleasant revelations. But these are all part of the healing process that permits the inner artist to develop and flourish in the materialistic age we live in. To compensate for the unpleasant, there were many unexpected plusses along the way. I discovered really good things about myself, came to understand why I have held certain beliefs, why I have been unable to take full advantage of my gifts and talents, why I have rejected certain helping hands, why I have wasted so much time and effort; even, perhaps, why I became ill for so many years.

Sound a little over the top?

That’s what I thought when I started. But I grow daily more certain about what I’ve learned during these few, important, weeks of my life. I’ve discovered that I have true gifts, real talents, a fantastic imagination, a unique way of seeing and being. Sometimes the journey has been frightening, sometimes it’s been tedious, but often it’s been exhilarating, exciting, vital, and full of fun.

I never considered myself a ‘blocked’ artist. I seemed to be moving along with my creative life quite nicely, thank you. But the honesty this course forces upon its students woke me to the real reality (yes, I know, a tautology, but a deliberate one). We spend so much of our lives under the cloud of self-deception that escape is not only considered difficult, for many it is never considered at all, since these individuals have no consciousness of their self-imposed imprisonment.

I think it is clear that I would recommend this book to everybody.

There is a ‘but’; there is always a ‘but’.

One aspect of the narrative and underlying philosophy of the book threatened, from the start, to undermine the effectiveness of the course for me. I am a committed and self-defined, one might almost say passionate, agnostic. I’ll explain what I mean by that, since it’s important to your understanding of my position and argument. I believe that if there is a God, such a force, being, presence - call it what you will - is so far above our understanding as to be incomprehensible. I believe any attempt to define a God must, by definition, be an insult to such a concept and result in a counterfeit rather than the real thing. Since I understand the concept to be ineffable, I am left with the only logical alternative; i.e. I remain open to the possibility of a God but can make no description of such a power and, by logical extension, cannot accept any of the orthodox deities currently worshipped by the many religions that exist. These are, patently, constructs of man in a quest to answer the unanswerable questions and, no doubt, serve a useful, if often divisive, purpose in providing a sort of comfort for those who prefer not to think about such issues for themselves.

So, when Julia Cameron talks about accepting that there is an external creative being, that she calls God (using the ‘Good Orderly Direction’ tag to reduce the objections of the sceptics) I find myself resistant. Initially, this very insertion of the idea of faith into the course formed a barrier for me. But I persevered, putting that aspect on the back burner until I could examine it and find a replacement philosophy. And I’m glad I did that. Persevered, that is. Had I allowed my objection to stop me completing the course, I would have missed out on a very positive experience and failed to arrive at the new place I now find myself, creatively speaking.

As to what alternative philosophy I discovered along the way to replace the God aspect: this isn’t the place to detail it. Suffice to say that I found such a concept and am happy to employ that in place of the God facet.

So, again, would I recommend this book? Only to everybody on the planet. Go out and buy, borrow, or beg the volume. Make a commitment to do the tasks and exercises. Make a commitment to complete the course, however long it takes. If you follow it with the required open mind and the necessary effort you will come out on the other side a more creative, balanced and happier person. 

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