Book Review - The War of Art

July 04, 2020 |
Image taken by MJ while hiking in Ventura, CA

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen [sic], and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.” The first few pages of Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle” starts off by surmising that Adolph Hitler resisted pursuing his passion because it was easier for him to go to war and commit atrocities. The overarching theme of “The War of Art” reflects this comparison. People fortunate enough to have opportunities where they can pursue their dreams, do everything but. Pressfield describes this act as “Resistance,” and Resistance is the thing that defeats us. Resistance is something that sits within all of us, and it is up to us to come to grips with it and not let it control us. Taken from the book itself, Pressfield lists activities that cause Resistance to flare. 1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional. 2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise. 3) Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals. 4) Education of every kind. 5) Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves. The book lists 11 activities in total. All that I could relate to in some way. These activities all have something in common; they are activities that require delayed gratification. They require long-term growth, health, or integrity. When I was heavily involved in church, I remember everything bad being the fault of the devil. The way Pressfield describes Resistance throughout the book, it sounds a lot like the things I’d expect from the devil. The devil is doing anything in order to thwart us from being happy. The devil is stopping us from moving towards our dreams. If we can each keep the devil at bay, alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse. Cosmetic surgery and the pharmaceutical industry would be impacted. Prisons would be empty and there would be fewer wars. Of course, it isn’t that easy. In my own life, any call to action that I’ve had has been met with resistance so strong that at times it feels overwhelming. “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it,” Pressfield states in the chapter titled “Resistance Is Infallible.” In the chapter “Resistance Recruits Allies,” Pressfield brings to my attention that Resistance is not alone. When someone starts battling Resistance and progress is being made, Resistance calls in reinforcement. That reinforcement at times can be from the people closest to you. The reason why they are so easily recruited is because they are also struggling. Resistance has long since hidden them in her comfortable bosom. “The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can’t turn around for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire. The best thing you can do for that friend… is to get over the wall and keep motating [sic].” Resistance will whisper in our ears that we simply aren’t good enough to get things done. This is a great sign and one we should rejoice in when self-doubt arises. We know we are on the right track with dreams that are capable of changing the culture. Whether the change is in ourselves, our family, our neighborhoods, and as far as the world. Keeping things the way they are doesn’t require much effort on our part. So when you see that doubt creep in, keep going. Those that are wildly self-confident are usually fake. In “Resistance And Self-Doubt” Pressfield poses the question and answer of “am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?… chances are you are.” When we start battling Resistance and pushing towards our dreams, it is possible to inadvertently give Resistance ammunition to use against us. Pressfield writes that we should do our work because our work is important to us. The fortune, the fame, and the attention might never come. Pursuing our dreams for the sole purpose of money gives resistance something to throw in our face when the money doesn’t show. I fully understand that it is not easy pursuing dreams when other responsibilities are smacking us in the face. But the truth is, if we are putting our time and effort into making others money, then what was the point of it all? We must also do what is best for us. What our hearts push us towards. If only for 30 minutes a day, we must do what fulfills us. In the chapter “The Fruits Of Our Labor” Pressfield writes some things that relate to what I’ve read/listened to in other books this year. The act of doing our work for the greater good. “We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be, through us.” We are but here for a small fraction of time. Let the work we do leave something that will inspire others to carry it on. Vincent Van Gogh died in 1890 only selling one painting during his lifetime. There are many other artists that have passed away before their work reached the masses: Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, Stieg Larsson. They have left inspiration for us to take and make it our own. I am reminded of the Paul Gardner quote that reads, “a painting is never finished - it simply stops in interesting places.” Hitler is an extreme example, but one I believe shows us the possibilities of not following our dreams. Should we continue feeding Resistance, or should we follow our dreams? Are our dreams meant to inspire, to help and grow others, to be of benefit to the world, and most importantly help us? We won’t know until we do it.