Book Summary: The War of Art

The War of Art

by Steven Pressfield
Paperback
190 pages
Black Irish Entertainment LLC (January 11, 2012)

Where to buy The War of Art

Amazon
B&N

This book is about:

How to start and succeed in a creative endeavor, specifically, how to create the proper mindset for creative success and avoid the common problems that inhibit creative success.

What position does it take:

Pressfield argues that while most people have a desire to be creative or artistic and enough talent to succeed in their chosen arena, they let various things stand in their way and prevent their success, and those obstacles must be identified and actively fought to achieve creative success. Pressfield argues that the primary enemy of creativity is what he calls “Resistance,” which is an unconscious part of us that acts against our conscious desires and sabotages our work. There are many antidotes to Resistance, the main one being to acknowledge creativity as a job that must be respected and diligently worked at, instead of a dalliance.

Tucker’s Opinion of The War of Art:

This is one of the greatest books ever written about creativity, art, writing and what it takes to become a true artist. This book is on my list of Most Influential Books for a reason–it so perfectly summarizes the psychology behind creativity and art that I almost can’t imagine anything better. Steven Pressfield is not just some guy writing an academic piece about art–he’s a huge writer who’s sold millions of books, but took years to get to his success. He understands the pain and struggles of the creative process in a way that very few who write about art do.

Notable Quotes from The War of Art:

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.”

 

“Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North–meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

 

“The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.”

 

“The awakening writer’s success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can’t they?”

 

“The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.”

 

“The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.”

 

“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

 

“A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants.”

 

“Certainly I wouldn’t be writing this book, on this subject, if living with freedom were easy. The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”

 

“When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.”

 

“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

 

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

 

“Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”

 

“The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgment in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s wonderful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.”

 

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”

 

“The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.”

 

“When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. It takes tremendous strength of character to do this, because our deepest instincts run counter to it.”

 

“The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keeps working.”

 

“The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.”

 

“Another way of thinking of it is this: We’re not born with unlimited choices.

We can’t be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter. If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.

If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.”

 

“In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways—by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).

This is how individuals—humans as well as animals— achieve psychological security. They know where they stand. The world makes sense.

Of the two orientations, the hierarchical seems to be the default setting. It’s the one that kicks in automatically when we’re kids. We run naturally in packs and cliques; without thinking about it, we know who’s the top dog and who’s the underdog. And we know our own place. We define ourselves, instinctively it seems, by our position within the schoolyard, the gang, the club.

It’s only later in life, usually after a stern education in the university of hard knocks, that we begin to explore the territorial alternative.

For some of us, this saves our lives.”

 

“For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal. Let’s examine why. First, let’s look at what happens in a hierarchical orientation. An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:

1) Compete against all others in the order, seeking to elevate his station by advancing against those above him, while defending his place against those beneath.

2) Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy, feeling most satisfied when he’s high and most miserable when he’s low.

3) Act toward others based upon their rank in the hierarchy, to the exclusion of all other factors.

4) Evaluate his every move solely by the effect it produces on others. He will act for others, dress for others, speak for others, think for others.

But the artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer in his whole life.

The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake. To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.

In the hierarchy, the artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, What can this person do for me? How can this person advance my standing?

In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.”

 

“I learned this from Robert McKee. A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.

The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them. The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.

In other words, the hack writes hierarchically. He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What’s hot, what can I make a deal for?

The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders. It can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.

I was starving as a screenwriter when the idea for The Legend of Bagger Vance came to me. It came as a book, not a movie. I met with my agent to give him the bad news. We both knew that first novels take forever and sell for nothing. Worse, a novel about golf, even if we could find a publisher, is a straight shot to the remainder bin.

But the Muse had me. I had to do it. To my amazement, the book succeeded critically and commercially better than anything I’d ever done, and others since have been lucky too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.

The artist can’t do his work hierarchically He has to work territorially.”