I am listening to The War of Art on repeat today, which is one of the many personal hacks I use to stay motivated and somewhat on-task. In this succinct book, Stephen Pressfield (of The Legend of Bagger Vance fame) talks about the chasm between being an amateur creative and a professional, whether paid or not.
According to Pressfield, one of the key paradigm shifts in becoming a professional is in how they view their art or calling. The amateur, he argues, is overly concerned in the mystic aspect of creation, whereas the professional subordinates the mystic in order to focus on craft.
This sentiment is one of the many reasons I am obsessed with this book. I always thought my respect for the subconscious or philosophical reasons for creating was a professional attitude to cultivate, yet I have literally hundreds of decent ideas that have gone no further than their initial brainstorming session. Had I been brave enough in the last seven years to focus on the technique, despite the requisite setbacks and failures, I would be a lot more satisfied with my artistic journey.
And in the end, what do the musings of a frustrated amateur matter in the scheme of things? Just like no one will really care about the abuse I’ve survived until I’ve proven myself to be worthy of consideration first, what could I hope to accomplish by waxing poetic about the nature of creativity? Who could I help? Certainly not myself, with my notebooks of abandoned ideas.
Like Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist’s Way (TAW), the goal is to accept that there will be a gap between what I see in my head and it’s execution, then embrace this ugly period, however long it may be, until I improve. Pressfield’s advice is to sit down to do the work, which will provide the setting for inspiration to set in. It is tempting, and a little too convenient, to use my grabby toddler as the justification for not pulling out my paints. But my life’s purpose is to succeed no matter what, in the face of every hurdle and every bit of internal resistance. To me, this is the true meaning of integrity and the true test of my character.
The fear is real and overwhelming. I’m schooled enough in art to give an honest self-critique, and I have an uphill battle to regain my eye for draftsmanship and a command of my materials. I’ve accepted, at least intellectually, that I may fill several sketchbooks with embarrassing work. The problem is persevering anyway, since I have a strong aversion to doing things poorly or wasting time or materials. I’ve read enough self-help books to label this as scarcity thinking and fear of failure, but this insight rarely translates to action.
What I believe about craft is this: Those who excel at some craft have displayed incredible humility and bravery to do so. Those striving to perfect their craft, though “only entitled to their labor, and not necessarily the fruits of it” are claiming control of this aspect of their life. The good thing about focusing on technique is that it can be improved in specific, actionable ways. This self-mastery is ours and ours alone, and cannot be taken from us except through grave illness. It is one of the few things that is entirely within our control. Maybe a fear of success, and the responsibilities that come with it, is the driving force behind my perpetual procrastination.