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Reflections on The Artist's Way — Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity


This is the second in a series of posts about The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, a book and a self-study program developed by Julia Cameron in the 1990s.

I completed the 12-week program at the end of 2018. By doing the reading and working through the course exercises, I experienced a significant change in my own creative process. The course helped me reclaim my identity as an artist and return to my passions with new energy and confidence. I’ve decided to start this year by revisiting the book and sharing some of my insights.

Each week of the program is focused on a theme. In the post, I’ll be looking back on Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity.

Cameron begins the week by discussing the ebb and flow of gaining strength and falling back into self-doubt. As we grow, there can be doubt even in the growth itself. Cameron gives some helpful advice — ‘Do not let your self-doubt turn into self-sabotage.’

Poisonous Playmates

During this week, I was reminded of motivational speaker Jim Rohn’s famous claim that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. The people we surround ourselves with can either help us make progress or make our creative recovery even more challenging.

Cameron warns, ‘Blocked friends may find your recovery disturbing.’

Maybe it’s jealousy, confusion, or not wanting to lose the version of you they’ve come to know and find comfort in. Possibly, these friends are also blocked artists and would rather stay blocked than face their own limits and self-doubt.

In this moment of my life, I consider myself lucky to mostly be surrounded by people who support me in my creative explorations. I’ve worked very hard to establish and maintain clear boundaries on what is respectful.

To make progress, I’ve had to draw some lines. There are certain toxic behaviours that I’ve decided to cut out of my life, and I have never been happier.

Things I don’t accept in my life anymore include:

Listening to people who tell me I will be poor if I am an artist — I could be making art and making money instead of making space for this negativity.

Spending time arguing if art or arts education is valuable — Entering into this discussion is a waste of my time. Some people might enjoy this debate, but this is a non-negotiable for me.

Responding to those who ask me to do creative work for free, without offering any clear benefit or reasonable exchange — No.

Paying attention to those who attempt to subtly undermine my happiness by offering judgement on how I live — Also, no.

Cameron believes, ‘The essential element in nurturing our creativity lies in nurturing ourselves.’ She optimistically suggests that in our own recovery, we can be an example to our friends, and writes ‘Your own healing is the greatest message of hope for others.’

Skepticism and open-mindedness

After considering who we surround ourselves with, Cameron recommends we turn inward and look at the doubts and limitations we carry around inside us. 

I believe the real responsibility does not fall on what other people say or do, but what we each do to nurture our creativity and sense of authenticity. If we never draw the boundary, we can blame the outside voices for limiting us. Once the boundary is drawn, the real work begins.

‘Setting skepticism aside, even briefly, can make for very interesting explorations,’ she writes. It’s the chance to experiment, to explore, and to practice opening our minds.

Her discussion of open-mindedness reminds me of research done by psychologist Frank X. Barron in California in the 1960s. His work confirmed what is likely obvious to anyone that has ever tried to innovate, experiment, or make something new. Open-mindedness an essential part of the creative recovery that Cameron writes about, and also the creative process in itself.

Attention

Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen the popular discussion of attention change and become more pressing as personal technology has developed. Sometimes we use our phones and social media as permanent distractions, reasons to not be in the moment. We can use technology to augment our creativity or we can set it up as a hurdle that must be jumped.

‘Very often, a creative block manifests itself as an addiction to fantasy. Rather than working or living in the now, we spin our wheels and indulge in daydreams of could have, would have, should have.
One of the great misconceptions about the artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth is that a creative life involves great swathes of attention.’

I wonder if our attention becomes more valuable with each decade. Our focus is everything because our lives are made of moments we give our attention to. What will we do with the many moments in our future? Will we make something? Will we live our authentic, creative lives and give attention to our authentic creative selves?

Rules of the Road

Cameron closes this week with 10 Rules of Road. These are the rules that we must follow to be an artist. My favourites are:

In order to be an artist, I must:

  • Set small and gentle goals and meet them.
  • Remember that it is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.
  • Choose companions who encourage me to do the work, not just talk about doing the work or why I am not doing the work.

I closed week 2 with my feelings stirred-up, but generally confident I was on the right track with my progress.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Read all of my posts about The Artist’s Way.