The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

At a music conference last September, I got lost in some conflicted feelings when someone asked about my music and I said, “Oh, I’m not an artist, I’m a volunteer.” The dissonance arose because if life had gone differently, I might well have been a singer songwriter. Or maybe a lounge singer. Or an actor. Or a writer. As it was I have been a single mom and a banker. I mean, it’s not over yet and right now in the realm of “what do you do”, I’m nothing. I’m between jobs. Between incarnations. I’m awaiting news on an application to study psychotherapy.

My roomie at the conference said I sure seemed like an artist to her – and really, it seemed, to the majority of people I spoke with – and I needed to take some time to explore that. As I was holding a one way ticket to London with zero plans, time to explore my artistic side seemed in the cards. She made me promise to get the book The Artist’s Way , and to really DO the program. I bought the book in an Art Gallery Gift Shop in London and I began the weekly exercises in Alicante.

The concept of this book is that you tackle a chapter each week and you transform yourself from a snivelling, terrified person who hasn’t done anything artistic in years because of having been victimised by external forces, into a confident person who believes in their art, engages in it daily and has rediscovered their playful inner artist-child. This is NOT how the author would describe it. My very first journal entry regarding the process (and you write every day for 12 weeks and then on until you die) uses the words “sappy, basic, and judgy”. And really, this impression held for the whole twelve weeks. Probably this book just wasn’t meant for a person like me where I am in life. I’ve always written and acted. I had just quit a career in personal finance in part because success in career sales in the personal finance industry just did not play well with an artistically rich life. I already write most days so the “Morning Pages” wasn’t of any new use to me, and is not in the slightest a unique idea. The concept of taking your Inner Artist on Artist’s Dates once a week is unnecessarily artificial to me. I am well in touch with my inner child. I am generally joyful, in the moment and playful. I indulge this side of myself too much, if that’s possible. Too much for a banker, that’s for certain.

I was frequently offended by the theme of victimhood and recovery; although, at some places the theme of being in recovery was useful for me. For instance, I had been affected by my parents cancelling my music lessons and selling the organ when I was young. I can see how they felt it was taking up space as I didn’t practice it properly – all I did was play on it. Given that I wore headphones, they might not even really have known how often I played on it. But I played around with music and wrote songs and enjoyed creating music. That’s a memory I’d forgotten and I’ve since bought a keyboard – I have the Artist’s Way to thank for that.

I benefited from the chapters on seeing myself as an artist and practised telling strangers in Europe that I was a writer, or that I was an actor. Both of which are true – though not in the professional sense. It felt good though and brought me in touch with how much I value these aspects of myself.

My biggest problem with this book was how Christian it was, without overtly disclosing anywhere on the covers that this was the case. In the Introduction, she says “When the word God is used in these pages, you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about here is a creative energy. God is useful shorthand for many of us…” (xii) but then sprinkles biblical quotes throughout the remainder of the book. If “God” is just shorthand, why not use “flow” instead? It’s so much less laden with concepts external to the apparently intended meaning of “creative energy”. Why not go with a simpler term? In the same vein, the author refers fairly often to science and then displays a complete lack of understanding of science. All told, it’s intellectually lazy.

I did finish all twelve weeks. I completed the exercises and several of them were¬† interesting and helpful. The “Reading List”, or references,¬†contains a number of resources from which she borrowed all or most of the exercises that I think would be of greater use to me than this book. But that isn’t to say this book wasn’t helpful. I bought a keyboard. I gained confidence in thinking of myself as an artist. I grew in clarity regarding what roles I want writing, acting, and music to play in my life. Psychotherapy is at least as much a passion as the artistic pursuits and one can’t go full tilt in all directions at once. And dabbling in psychotherapy is a lot more dangerous than dabbling in the arts!

I think The Artist’s Way would be useful for someone who truly does need to recover their inner child-artist. Someone who used to enjoy their artistic gifts and then because of Life, turned their back on them. If that person is an atheist, they will have to deal with the feeling that the author is trying to subtly convert heathens to the true path.

If on a winter’s night a traveler

In September, in the car of a friend, I first met the book If on a winter’s night a traveler. It was in the original Italian, the language of the author Italo Calvino which was a language my friend was learning via memorising this book. As a test of his progress, he recited the first few pages in Italian, with great expression and flourishing gestures – missing the same turn three times while doing so. I would never have told him when to turn because I wanted the recitation to continue. Every few lines he would translate what he had said; even so roughly translated I determined I must read the book (in English) and so made a note of the title.

Later in September Continue reading “If on a winter’s night a traveler”