Lena's Reviews > The Artist's Way

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
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's review
Jul 26, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: writing

This is a really difficult book for me to rate. At the time I first read it fifteen years ago, it did wonders to open me up creatively. I was still struggling to slough off some negative parental programming about being a writer, and this book (along with a good friend) helped give me permission to explore that side of myself.

Since that time, however, my belief system has changed so radically that I no longer agree with a number of the book’s fundamental premises. For this reason, it would be hard for me to recommend it now. I do think it contains some good material in the form of useful exercises and uplifting stories about creative development. But those come with heavy doses of New Age spirituality and recovery beliefs that will likely make the book inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t view the world through that filter.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 26, 2007 – Shelved
September 1, 2007 – Shelved as: writing

Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (last edited Aug 05, 2008 08:47AM) (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Lena, Yes, someone recommended this book to me and I did put it on my to-read list, but I haven't read it because of the spirituality aspect.

I was glad to see you point each view out in your review of this book.

Lena I'd be curious to hear your impression if you ever do pick it up. I'd like to know if it has any value for those who aren't so spiritually inclined.

Meen I feel the same way about the book now, and I only started reading it a few years ago, even after I "came out" atheist. I am recovery inclined, but so much recovery stuff is insistently spiritual it's hard to feel a part of "recovery" as a "movement." I'm trying to learn to interpret other people's spiritual language as symbolic, but it can be difficult. As for the sparking creativity thing, the one practice I took away from this was just to write everyday, which is a lesson I also got from Stephen King's On Writing. Go figure!

message 4: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Lena, If i do read it, I will review it at Goodreads but, given that there are so many books on my to-read list with more being added regularly, it's doubtful I'll read it. I suspect I'd find some value in it. Given the prevalence of spirituality in society, I've learned to ignore the parts that don't resonate.

message 5: by John (new)

John My issue with Cameron (and Anne Lamott) would be that they started off with a massive advantage in terms of industry connections, making everything sound so "easy" for the average person.

Meen John, that makes me think of one of the things I loathe about recovery and/or spirituality, their commercialization. I just have a hard time taking seriously any "teacher" (thinking Melody Beattie, though her work really helped me through some rough times) who is making millions by plastering his or her "truth" on every conceivable household item: t-shirts, coffee cups, calendars, coasters... I know everybody has to make a living, but it really makes me respect the teaching a lot less.

Lena "It was more like therapy and less like writing."

It might be this aspect of the book, even more than the spiritual bent, that accounts for my current hesitation to recommend it outright. At the time, that focus was helpful for me, but I don't find much value in it today.

I have no doubt, however, that a co-dependency coffee cup would change my life ;-)

Meen Bwahhahahahaaa!!!!

Nothing is as effective as a "Just for Today" shower curtain to remind you every morning of your naked powerlessness!


message 9: by Happyreader (new)

Happyreader Lena, I completely agree with you. When I read it fifteen years ago, before it became a whole workshop racket, I loved it. The morning pages, artist's date, and her focus on positive concepts like synchronicity were helpful. At the same time, it's a bit much. I never made it past week six or seven.

I wonder if the book is meant to be outgrown, something concrete and obvious to help twentysomethings identify mental obstacles to creativity picked up from recent family and school socialization. Perhaps more seasoned adults need more sophisticated and less rigid musings.

message 10: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I have no doubt, however, that a co-dependency coffee cup would change my life ;-)

Lena, That's very amusing; I enjoyed that comment. ;-)

message 11: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena Interesting theory, Happyreader. I think her goal is certainly to help people move forward, but I'd have to reread it to remind myself whether or not she gets caught in the same trap of much of the recovery movement, the one where they never allow people to graduate.

I did the pracices in the book religiously when I first read it (I had a lot of time on my hands ;-) and I do remember feeling sort of scared when I finally decided to stop doing the morning pages. She'd been so insistant that they were crucial to one's success, but I wasn't getting much out of them. I'm happy to report, however, that my creative life did not come to a crashing halt once I stopped.

Emily I agree with many of the commenters here. This is a really good review.

message 13: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena Thanks for the vote and all the comments, everyone. I really appreciate the discussion.

message 14: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Lena, You do write the greatest reviews, and one reason that they're so good is that they are thought provoking and therefore instigate discussions.

message 15: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena Thanks so much, Lisa. I'm just grateful to have this outlet. Before Goodreads, I rarely got to talk about books with other people, so having access to so many other thoughtful people is just heaven!

message 16: by Meen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Meen I know! Isn't GR the best? This is the most socializing I've done... um, EVER! It's nice to be able to talk to smart people. And silly people. OK, smart and silly people, those are the best. :)

message 17: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena Mindy, I agree. Smart is much more fun with silly attached.

message 18: by Ilze (new)

Ilze Have any of you read Cameron's Prayers from a nonbeliever? After reading that, I am almost convinced that Cameron is not a New Ager ... Lena, are you still able to write creatively in spite of not doing the morning pages? You mentioned still "being creative", but is that in the realm of writing, or generally?

message 19: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena I'm not familiar with that book of Cameron's, Ilze, but it sounds interesting.

Yes, I do still write creatively-my first book was started and finished a couple of years after I stopped doing the morning pages, and I'm currently working on two new projects. So I'm actually more productive now than I was when I did them.

message 20: by Ilze (new)

Ilze THAT's amazing! I did the morning pages for a while and stopped too, but seem unable to write a thing since! It's driving me nuts

message 21: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena For a while, I did find the morning pages useful in a priming-the-pump sort of way. But when time became more precious for me, I found that the morning pages were a distraction from doing my actual creative work. I'm glad to know they're available as a tool, but I think everyone's creative process is unique and we all have to discover what works best for us.

Nrofrano I find the morning pages are an important part of my day. It has helped to do it before any other distractions of the morning as I can focus on exactly what is on my mind at that precise moment. The synchronicity happens as my pen lead the way from dreams, events, actions, thoughts, lists, etc. as I find that each word is related and truly my own. Most times, I do not write in complete sentences or proper spelling as I can't put it on paper fast enough. And, as Ms. Cameron suggests, I have not gone back to reread. I find this is an important step because then I become a critic of my spelling, grammar, etc. and that leads to negative thought. For me, part of being open minded and accepting is respecting the religious beliefs of others. Whether Ms. Cameron is New Age, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist or not does not matter to me because the underlying message is about being positive, getting a good chunk of the information in your brain on paper, and treating yourself well.

message 23: by Ilze (new)

Ilze So what do you do with the morning pages after you've filled a book or two?

message 24: by Precious (new)

Precious Williams I am with Nrofrano on this one. This book is not (quite) perfect but I find it groundbreaking and transforming.

Kimberly Cain This is a thoughtful discussion of a book I personally believe to be transformative. Lena, I totally understand your position on reading a book that was helpful to you at one point in your life, but that you're unsure about recommending at a later point due to your evolving views. I have certainly had the same experience with other things.

One thing I might add here to balance the discussion a bit (as did Nrofrano & Precious) is that spirituality is only really a problem when people have it wrapped up in a definition that is specific to them. When we allow our definitions to expand, our world broadens, along with our perspectives. That's the beauty of books - one writer's "spirituality" can be a certain view of God, while another's "spirituality" can be her/his relationship to nature or to sexuality. Just because it's their view & it doesn't match ours doesn't mean we can't glean wisdom, joy, fun (whatever) from their journey.

I see a few people here eschewing a book that could be potentially life-changing because it's been labeled "spiritual". If you pre-judge that as a problem, you might try calling it something else, so you don't miss out on some incredible opportunities that Cameron offers in the book for your own creative opening.

Lena, at times when I've evolved in my thinking, I've tried to remember that things that were part of my transformation at an earlier time may be just the ticket for someone else who is at that same place on the journey.

Nothing is for absolutely everyone, but I highly recommend The Artist's Way for the journey of deepening your relationship with your own creative soul.

message 26: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena You make some valid points, Kimberly. I do recognize - and think that Cameron does a good job of recognizing - that spirituality is a very personal thing that means different things to different people, and I think her book allows plenty of space for that. She does, however, still emphasize a certain kind of magical thinking that I personally don't find useful any longer.

In addition,the heavy emphasis the book has on "recovery" is something I really struggle with now. The fundamental idea that we are broken in some way and need to be fixed is an idea that caused me more personal suffering than just about any other. Cameron was an alcoholic, so 12-step recovery ideas are woven into the framework of this book. It worked for her, but in retrospect, I think those parts of the book slowed down, rather than enhanced, my own creative journey. I just don't believe any longer that it's necessary or even productive to exhaustively process every single childhood trauma in order to move forward in your life.

So that's really my issue at this point, but I recognize that others may feel differently and get great benefit from this book. It does have many useful exercises, but I suspect that the book as a whole will appeal most strongly to those whose psychological and spiritual belief systems more closely match Cameron's own.

message 27: by Stacey (new) - added it

Stacey I probably won't read the book because of this conversation. It sounds like exactly the type of crap I hate. Most artists are normal people with mortgages, bills, usually a spouse and kids. We're not free spirits going "om" at the ashram and having to constantly fight such silly notions makes me want to smack people who continue to push it.

Helen Lewis I am an atheist and tend to be very impatient about words like 'energy' being abused.

However, I am in the processing of engaging more with my creativity, so I stopped rolling my eyes and read this book in a day. This is after spending 2 months on morning pages just without doing any of the exercises.

I did my best to go with the flow over the God concept and seeing it as 'creativity in the universe'. I think it would be interesting to connect Dawkins work on memes and consciousness with her work on 'putting it out there' and 'run with the right people'.

It's also unclear about how to set realistic goals and manage the feedback process and review process without going insane.

My biggest takeaway was the idea that no matter how much you can know something intellectually, in many ways our creative selves are like children: easily excited and easily discouraged. Her advice to care for yourself is very valuable to people looking to be creative and enthusiastic.

I think I already do a lot of the practices in the book but I am still playing it safe. So I'll do the exercises too. Another thing to find time for!

If anyone wants a more pared down version with the slightly New Age spiritual lens, I recommend 'The War of Art'.

But after reading 'The Artist's Way', I reviewed my voice demo tracks - a job I had been acting precious about. Result!

message 29: by Lena (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lena Thanks for the recommendation, Helen. I haven't looked at this book in a while but I recall that it had some very pragmatic advice - glad you found some use it it despite everything else.

message 30: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Hi all. Colour me uninformed- When some comments mention "recovery" do you mean recovery from addiction, or a different type of spiritual recovery? I have not yet read the book. Thanks!

Shelli Hiya Lena et al ~ sorry to be so woefully late to the discussion. When I read this book some 15 years ago, I actually did all of the exercises, morning pages, etc. conscientiously for the entire 12 weeks. Back then, I was already a Buddhist (N.B. Buddhists are non-theists – that is, we don't do the God thing), and while I remember feeling Julia was a little on the earthy-crunchy side, I don't remember feeling hit over the head by any sort of religiosity, God, or syncretist bullshit or anything. Can someone clarify what exactly it felt like her agenda was? I too am very sensitive (as in, it's like nails on a chalkboard!) to 12-step-speak, so it seems to me like if Cameron had that inclination, that it would've really grated on me the first time I read her book, but I have no such memories.

I also never continued the morning pages much beyond the initial 12 weeks, but I'm thinking about trying it as a practice again. In fact, I'm thinking about redoing the whole book/program, although definitely not with the latest-latest-LATEST edition of the book, with its associated new and improved workbook, or by going to the live workshop, or listening to the webinar, or doing any of the other commercialized crap that's sprung up out of the whole thing. It'll be interesting to see if it holds its value for me the second time around, and I will definitely be keeping a lookout for the (spiritual word salady?) offensiveness that you all have cited.

message 32: by Michael (new)

Michael Willoughby-lalague Has anyone come across a similar book which is less new agey?

Shelli Michael wrote: "Has anyone come across a similar book which is less new agey?"

Did you read happen to read through the comments, Michael? A couple of us had a reading experience different than what Lena posted in her review – that is, we did not find it particularly new agey. There is, however, definite references to God, but it wasn't particularly pushy, in my opinion (and as someone who doesn't believe in God, I tend to be a bit sensitive of God-pushiness).

And then Lena clarified her complaint to specifically indict what she saw as a sort of "recovery theology" on Cameron's part – starting from the assumption that we're all "broken" and need to be "fixed", with some undertones of 12-step programs seeking in.

So although I don't like God-pushing, new agey-ness, or 12-step programs, I did love this book, so to respectfully depart from Lena, it may be just our subjective impressions, and who knows what your impression will be? It's a popular enough book that it'll be in nearly every library, so you could check it out before you commit to anything.

I've read a bunch of these style books, and I gotta tell you, some of them have been really, really godawful; if they're not quoting Bible verses, they're cheering you on with insipid, meaningless, Tumblr-worthy platitudes. For instance, for the sake of the not pulling your hair out, avoid anything by S.A.R.K. (here's my scathing review of her saccharine and twee monstrosity, Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day ). Another one I did not care for was Wild Ideas: Creativity from the Inside Out, and if you read my detailed review, I go into why I find The Artist's Way so much less woo-woo out there than a lot of the alternatives.

However! I also have what I hope is useful good news, in the form of some discipline-specific recommendations that are really outstanding!

Writing: Anything by the peerless Natalie Goldberg, her most famous book on writing being Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Painting: Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist; for more information, here's my review

Drawing: The many books of Danny Gregory

Knitting: I can't remember the name of it to save my life, but I have it in that box right on the other side of my bedroom, so if anyone wants to know, leave a comment and I'll dig it out in the morning!

Hope something in here helps you, Michael, or someone!

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