For the past twelve weeks I’ve been going through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I thought it only fitting, now that I’ve “completed” the program, I give a review of the book.
The Artist’s Way is a 12-week program meant to help a “blocked” artist restore their sense of creativity. Each week focuses on restoring a different aspect of creative life via a number of exercises and tasks. By the end of the book an artist hopes to have moved past whatever issues are keeping them from being happy, productive, and successful.
There are a number of pros and cons with the book, in my opinion, but I can basically boil them down to four main points:
Pro: Several interesting topics that really make you think
The real gem of this book is the way it makes you think about certain important topics that probably never crossed your mind before. For instance, in one of the first chapters the author talks about the bad influences in your life that may be keeping you from following your dreams as an artist. This chapter gets you thinking about bad experiences as children, friends and family members who you might fail to recognize as emotional vampires, and lots of other psychological blocks that could be keeping you from reaching your potential. These types of topics, when they arise in the book, are great because they’re the kinds of things that a person doesn’t usually just recognize on their own.
Con: Surprising lack of creativity concerning the exercises and tasks
For the first 2-3 weeks of the program I genuinely enjoyed the exercises and weekly tasks. Some of them were quite amusing, fun, and telling. The problem is that after the first few weeks, new, creative tasks disappeared almost completely. Sometimes they were reworded or had a little something extra added to them, but for the most part you’re just redoing the same several tasks over and over again. It’s really quite disappointing because the first batches of tasks are quite good and helpful, but once you’ve done the “5 Imaginary Lives” task the fourth time you start to wonder if maybe the author had a bit of a creative block going on while she was writing this book.
Pro: Loving, positive support from the author
I have to admit, the author of this book, Julia Cameron, writes like a big sister or an older cousin. The book is nicely written in the tone of a woman who is genuinely concerned about you and your creative “recovery”. She gives lots of personal examples, as well as examples based on real people in her life and students she has had in her classes, and she just makes you feel like you’ve got someone on your side, even if nobody else is.
Con: Everything is about God
When I first started the program I mentioned that Cameron mentions God as being the “Great Creator” that is the source of all creativity, but she also goes on to say that you don’t have to believe in God for this program to be helpful. As an atheist I was quite relieved, because there’s nothing worse as an atheist than being told that all your problems in life are due to not believing in God. My relief lasted about four chapters. It quickly became evident that even if you don’t have to believe in God for the program to be helpful, it would be a pretty damn enormous boon. Every chapter seems to mention at least three instances where believing in God is your greatest tool. If you believe in God, he will send you creative skill. If you believe in God he will provide the financial necessities for you to exist as an artist. If you believe in God all the things that are holding you back will magically disappear. If I sound like I’m exaggerating it a bit, know that I’m not. While there are also many topics in the book that focus on inner strength and personal accomplishment, every chapter at some point says (if only in a roundabout way) that as long as you believe in God (or the “Great Creator”) everything will work out. And I can’t honestly say that this attitude didn’t start to sicken me after a while.
In the end, I’m glad for having read the book, but there were definitely a few issues with it. I’m certain that it would be much more helpful to people with spirituality as an important part of their life, but even then there could be quite a bit of work done to the exercises and weekly tasks to keep them fun and interesting. Personally I found that what this book helped me with was recognizing and accepting myself as an artist who must create no matter what…but it did absolutely nothing to actually help bolster my physical creativity.
My final say, therefore, is that it’s worth a read for some of the inner truths it can help unveil, but if you’re more interested in actual creativity than the spiritual aspect of creativity, this might not be what you’re looking for.
Have you read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? What did you think? Did it help you at all? What other books have you read that have helped you with your craft? Please share!