“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” was an interesting look into the creative mindset. The decision to follow a calling is undoubtedly difficult. The safety, security, and stability of most jobs is one of the sources of resistance most people feel when choosing to pursue a passion or not. One striking point that I did not fully consider until after reading this book was that those with a talent have an obligation to suffer with that talent. The daily grind and the behind-the-scenes struggle that most professionals, especially those in a creative field, must endure is mostly unseen by the beneficiaries of their art. It is similiar to the professional athlete that dedicates themself to early morning workouts but only gets to display their labors on the competition floor.

The other area of this book that I found very useful was the discussion on amateurs versus professionals. I write more about it in the post “What is a professional.” “The War of Art” focuses mostly on authors, the analogy I used when thinking about professionals was in the culinary arts. While there are many talented and inspired professional chefs, there are also innumerable professional cooks that battle daily with the machinations that make a professional kitchen run. Anthony Bourdain provides a brief glimpse into the world of the kitchen professional in “Kitchen Confidential.” The reason I think about cooking when it comes to amateurs versus professionals is that I personally enjoy cooking. I enjoy the processes, systems, and results to a degree that I find joy in the prodcution of food. However, I do not have what it takes to be success in the restaurant industry, because I am just an amateur. As Pressfield says, “The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.”

There are countless other lessons throughout this book. Most importantly, I take away the importance of being honest with yourself. After you are honest with yourself, the most difficult step is the first one. Committing to the unknown, and then honing your craft, day in and day out, no matter what.

  • The enemy of creativity Resistance, his all-encompassing term for what Freud called the Death Wish — that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.
  • The day-by-day, step-by-step campaign of the professional: preparation, order, patience, endurance, acting in the face of fear and failure — no excuses, no bullshit.
  • When inspiration touches talent, she gives birth to truth and beauty.
  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
  • Yielding to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
  • Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
  • Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
  • Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
  • Often couples or close friends, even entire families, will enter into tacit compacts whereby each individual pledges (unconsciously) to remain mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have become so comfortable. The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.
  • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
  • The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed. Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.
  • The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one’s existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.
  • We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
  • The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
  • Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
  • Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
  • The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
  • The Principle of Priority
    • (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and
    • (b) you must do what’s important first.
  • The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.
  • The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them. The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.
  • When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. It takes tremendous strength of character to do this, because our deepest instincts run counter to it. Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.
  • The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.
  • The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.
  • The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego.
  • The artist is the servant of that intention, those angels, that Muse. The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold. That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.
  • Do it or don’t do it.
  • You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
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