Face the Muses


With a pat on my shoulder, my artist friend handed me a book, saying, “This will help you with your problem.” I have more than one problem, so I wasn’t sure what she was referring to, but assumed it had something to do with my art, as the book was The War Of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Clever play on the Art of War, but I was unmoved.

Feeling offended, but grateful, I thanked her and then went home and threw the book in the trash. I justified this because of the title – I am a pacifist. Also, I had read Art and Fear (see Leah’s review in archives) and didn’t think there was much else to be said on the topic of writer’s/painter’s/composer’s block.

That was almost a year ago. Since then The War of Art has crossed my path five times, and I have repeatedly resisted giving it any attention. Then, this weekend I got on the treadmill to watch my recording of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and there he was: Steven Pressfield, sitting under Oprah’s pepper tree discussing The War of Art. I almost fell off the machine when I heard the theme of his book: Resistance! With a capital R. I recovered after a sheepish laugh and decided it was time to listen, with an open mind.

Pressfield is a gifted and prolific writer. A former Marine, his historical battle novels are required reading in military academies. His first novel was made into a film, The Legend Of Bagger Vance, directed by Robert Redford. He harbors a love of Greek myths, and recites the Invocation of The Muse from Homer’s Odyssey before each writing session. Endeared, I finally cracked the book.

The War of Art was not what I expected. Part one and two addressed the nature of resistance, on many levels. Pressfield refers to it as a force that rises up to thwart our creative efforts, as the ego doesn’t want us to evolve. The more we care about our project, the greater the Resistance. He offers a practical explanation for this, along with wise counsel for defeating it. The chapters are short and topical, with titles like Resistance and Procrastination, and Resistance and Criticism. He is not gentle with us.

The surprise came in the third part, where he humbly admits to a sincere belief in angels and muses as agents of evolution. Pressfield navigates the artistic landscape with a frequent nod to helpers from a higher realm. He acknowledges that this might make the reader uncomfortable, but does not apologize. So maybe that doesn’t appeal to you. The first half of the book is still worth your while if you are eager to create something and haven’t yet. If you are open to the notion that creativity flows into us from some unseen energy, then you will appreciate the whole book. I did, and I’m going to call my artist friend and thank her.

Carolyn and Leah

2 comments on “Face the Muses

  1. Having read Pressfield’s historical books, I was surprised to find such a profoundly philosophical work. Truth is, I couldn’t put it down, and finished it in one morning (my regular work could wait). It’s one of those books you will bookmark in many places, and probably read a second time.

    The principles are valid for anyone who wants to contribute, who wants to create.

    And Carolyn again abstracts the essence of our problem. Great addition to the blog

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