Creativity as a Battle: Artists and Academics [Part Two]

warofart_bookIn my previous post, I suggested three areas of common ground between academics and artists with the final being that both participate in creative and constructive work. The interesting discussion that ensued after this post led me to wonder how far I could push these shared traits, specifically the last one. Were there other areas of unexplored resonation? If an academic’s work is also creative and constructive, how might the books that artists turn to in order to unblock their own creativity speak to the work of an academic? Is there anything that can be applied from artist to academic as pertains to how we do what we do? For this exercise, I turned to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. (Several artists recommended The War of Art to me as their ‘go-to’ book; it is also listed as Goodreads’ number one book on creativity and regularly makes top 5 lists elsewhere.) As a book that seems to resonate with artists, how might its content benefit someone who, like myself, is a PhD student in a School of Divinity?

Pressfield breaks his book into three themes: defining Resistance, overcoming Resistance, and sustaining creativity. Resistance is, according to Pressfield, the enemy and will always follow (and interfere with) any creativity activity: ‘Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity…will elicit Resistance.’[1] In his experience,  ‘[I]t’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.’[2]

With Resistance defined, Pressfield’s solution is to become a ‘professional’, described as several things. First, a professional does not work only when inspiration strikes. A professional knows that by starting work, inspiration will follow.[3] Secondly, a professional works to a schedule that is maintained through ritualistic discipline.[4] Finally, a professional does not over-identify with his/her work and recognises that failure, criticism and rejection are necessary to move forward into success, thus becoming constructive rather than destructive.[5]

While being a professional is the context for dealing with Resistance, Pressfield suggests that our work is sustained and inspired through something that is Other than ourselves. Pressfield positions himself as a humanist and believes that the source of creativity is divine.[6] He takes a broad view of this source, at times calling it ‘God’ and at other times, the ‘Muse’. It is the Other that steps in when we show up to work. He writes:

…the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. Why is this so important? Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set in motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid…[7]

Ritual, discipline, and commitment are what the artist offer to the Divine who, in turn, offers inspiration.

So what might an academic take away from Pressfield’s perspective? For the purposes of this post, I set aside offering a theological critique of his view and focus on two things that impact how we conceive of our daily practice. First, Pressfield identifies something that I think we all know – there is an otherness to what we do. In the same way that an artist cannot turn creativity on and off like a tap, the same is true for an academic’s ideas and thoughts. And this is what can make our work so scary – we have no control over whether the inspiration will continue to come. For Pressfield, because Resistance feeds on fear, invoking the Other (or inviting God), the source of creativity, into our work is crucial to defeat Resistance.[8] While our own beliefs will impact what this might look like, considering how ritual and (spiritual) discipline might inform our work is an interesting idea to consider and possibly implement.

Secondly,  Pressfield’s recommendation to just sit down and write is, I think, apropos for the academic. Rather than waiting for the moment of inspiration to be the catalyst, it is about daily engagement to hone your ‘art’; this, for him, is an important way to debunk the lies Resistance whispers, such as ‘You can’t do this. What if you fail? This isn’t worth it. That’s not a good sentence. Browsing the internet is much more interesting.’ Pressfield’s admonition finds similarity with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way; she also advocates a daily exercise of writing in order to silence our ‘Censor’, ‘our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic…who… keeps up a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth.’[9] For both of these authors, creativity is something we battle for rather than something we passively receive. On this side of the battle lies ‘safe’ work that may bring success but not satisfaction. However, on the other side lies breakthrough and untapped wells of creativity that leads to truly original and constructive work.

Sara Schumacher is Editor-in-Chief of Transpositions and a PhD candidate within ITIA. Her project focuses on contemporary church patronage and its theological influences. 

Image Credit [used under fair use policy]


[1] Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, (New York: Warner Books, 2002), 6.

[2] Ibid., This quotation comes from a page not numbered. It comes six pages before page 1.

[3] Ibid., 64.

[4] Ibid., 65-67.

[5] Ibid., 70-72.

[6] Ibid., 36, 106-111.

[7] Ibid., 108.

[8] Ibid., 142-144.

[9] Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), 11.

 

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