Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art renders an unvarnished, practical portrait of resistance and self-sabotage in art. He lays it out, no punches pulled. I like that. I respect that.
But there’s one place where I think he’s stepped in a bear trap. It’s the title.
He talks about how the Marine Corps takes great pride in getting things done under horrible circumstances with sub-par equipment, bad food, subhuman conditions. And goes on to claim that likewise our relationship to resistance is this kind of war.
The problem with thinking this way is subtle, but very real. The temptation in framing an artist’s relationship to resistance as a war is the temptation of aggrandizement through struggle. Unnecessary struggle. Which leads to fabricated pride.
It is the age-old caricature of the poète maudit, bearing an armful of consolation prizes: baguettes of arrogance, strings of onion wit, round wheels of the cheese of prodigious and effortless brilliance.
Despite the momentary invasion of this rascal into Pressfield’s book, the overall no-nonsense tone and strong advice is otherwise excellent.
But I have found even deeper and more substantial counsel in George Leonard’s Mastery. He warns outright to, “honor but don’t indulge your dark side” and grounds his advice firmly in the teachings of Zen and martial arts. Above all, I took away this: to love the practice and to do it daily without distracted thought of accomplishment, progression, or success. Give yourself completely to the matter at hand.
Easy to say, and a life’s work to really follow. Yet it occurs to me that one becomes a master archer, say, not by desiring mastery, but by desiring to shoot an arrow straight. That only comes with practice. And enough practice to make a difference only happens consistently if you love the practice. Therefore not focusing on making a difference is the only way to get there.
Looks like yet another reminder to keep taking my own advice.
Bed now. Up early to write.
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