The War of Art

OK, I’m about to step out onto dangerous ground. Two very good friends of mine, whose opinions I value and admire, encouraged me (both directly and indirectly) to get Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. I admit right now that I haven’t even finished it, but I have to say that I’m not really a great fan.

Pressfield makes a strong and punchy case that Resistance is the enemy of every positive endeavor. And I don’t really disagree with this statement, or with his characterizations and discussions of Resistance. But frankly, he’s not saying anything I don’t already know. Yes, when I see someone creating drama in their lives (or I’m doing it in mine), I know there’s Resistance behind the drama, a tactic to keep from doing your real work. Julia Cameron writes, “Keep the drama on the page.” And maybe that’s my point. She’s already said all of this, years ago, decades ago. So did Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird. But these women haven’t gotten the attention that Pressfield (a man) is getting. So maybe I’m just a bitter feminist.

But this morning, I opened the book randomly near the end. In the passage I read, Pressfield is discussing an ancient law not to use sacred oxen for meat, from Homer’s Odyssey. He equates it to prostitution. He calls it selling out. I assume, here, that he’s referring to letting one’s creative work be sold to the highest bidder, like the Biblical prohibition from casting pearls before swine. Don’t let what’s precious to you become common trash. OK. I get that. But here’s my problem. What if your people are hungry? Do you let them starve so that the oxen of the most high Sun can be saved for a god who doesn’t eat meat? Why is using an animal for food equated to prostitution? We need food, right? Setting ethical arguments for vegetarianism aside, what’s so bad about killing the ox for meat? I mean, Homer’s not talking about eating vegetables to spare an animal’s life. He’s still killing the ox, but for Zeus, right?

Here’s my point (I think). God doesn’t need our food. We do. And if my writing or artwork is used by someone for sustenance, I’m more than OK with that. I get the idea of not letting someone demean the creative good you offer, but the analogy Pressfield uses troubles me. I understand that I need to finish the damn book, to get all he’s saying in its proper context. But I just have this one last thing to say, and I’ll shut up (for now): Kill the ox for meat, if meat is what you need.


5 responses

  1. I just looked up the book to try to get a better idea of what you’re responding to (I got a little lost in the ox metaphor I think). I found an excerpt where he basically defines Resistance, and I found myself wondering if laziness and resistance or the same thing in his book, because honestly, when I can’t make myself sit down to write, it’s nothing more than simple laziness. I’m still a little confused by the premise of the book though, and intrigued. Is he making spiritual arguments, or just using spiritual metaphors?

    • Rochelle – I still don’t know. I’ve actually lost track of the book somewhere in the house and need to find it and finish it. I think I jumped to conclusions before knowing what he’s really trying to say. I do get the feeling, though, that he’s making spiritual arguments, not just as metaphors. But I’ll let you know if/when I finish it. 🙂

  2. I should clarify (my other comment)–things aren’t clicking for me *because* of Pressman’s book; it’s just that I happened upon the book during a season of “clicking,” so that what he’s saying is resonating with what I’m already doing. Hope that makes sense.

    • Erin – YES! We all need a book like this to resonate with us when we’re ready for it. I’m thinking I’m just not in the right place for it. He does mention geniuses, though, right? And that’s an idea I can totally dig. Liz Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, did a TED talk about inspiration and the genius. Here’s the YouTube link:

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