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Book Review - The War of Art

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I've wanted to read this book for a while now. People talk about how amazing it is and how it changed how they see their art, and so on. It sounded like it was right up my alley.

Pressfield does give some fascinating insights. The main one is the idea of Resistance, which I wrote about before. The war of art, according to Pressfield, is fought in the artist's mind, between her internalised fear of change and her soul's need to create and, through creation, evolve. To fight the Resistance, the artist must be a professional: show up every day, no matter what, be committed for the long haul, and not identify too closely with her work. These are all excellent insights and make the book worthwhile.

But there are significant problems with this book. I particularly found the idea that "...pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession..." would "collapse" if everyone "...woke up with the power to take the first step towards pursuing his or her dreams..." (loc. 109) disturbing. For me, the distance between these kinds of statements and charlatan "cures" for actual medical conditions (not to mention conspiracy theories) is too close for comfort. He goes on to say "Attention Deficit Disorder, Seasonal Affect Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder. These aren't diseases, they're marketing ploys." (loc. 240). Pressfield has obviously never met anyone suffering from mental health issues. He also says, without any evidence whatsoever, "Doctors estimate that seventy to eighty percent of their business is non-health-related." (loc. 250). There is no reference to a survey. How many doctors had Pressfield interview? No one knows but him. He has all the right answers.

There are real diseases we can see in a test-tube. Moreover, some diseases such as clinical depression, and, yes, ADD, which we can't see in a test-tube yet, are no less real for the people who suffer them. Telling people who have cancer—and ADD for that matter—that all they need to recover is to paint sounds medically dangerous to me, especially coming from someone who is in no way a medical doctor. Besides, you know how I feel about people who have all the right answers.

Another problem I had is that Pressfield argues that Resistance will strike at "any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity." (loc. 135). The solution to Resistance, moreover, is "...applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification and hard work..." (loc 245). Now, sometimes, you need self-discipline and hard work. But sometimes you need to take a break. Because he includes all self-improvement behaviours as targets for Resistance, this means that you're never allowed a break. And I know from experience that this approach leads to never feeling good enough. You never feel like you're enough anything. This leads to chasing happiness (I'll be happy once I lose weight/write a book/make a million dollars/buy a house with a garden/etc.). That's exhausting. Besides, there's always something else you must have or do before you can be happy, which means you never will be. For me, this approach is too preachy and puritan, and I didn't connect to it.

And finally, my biggest issue. Seeing everything in terms of war and fighting is a rather patriarchic thing to do. Fighting everyone and everything all the time is the reason I don't plan to go back to Israel. Life in Israel is a constant war. You have to fight for your place, for your very right to exist. That happens in the national sense as various people believe that Jewish people shouldn't exist and if they do exist they definitely shouldn't do it in such a strategic location of the world. This militaristic existence seeps into the society, with the result that your daily life is a constant fight too. You have to fight for your place in the queue, for your place on the road, for your personal space in the street, for your right to raise your kid however you want. It's exhausting. I only realised how exhausted I was when we moved to Canada nearly 15 years ago. All of a sudden, my migraines were gone. I don't want to fight, and I don't see a reason to. The people on the other side aren't evil; they're just scared. That applies to both sides, funny enough.

Bottom line: useful insights, puritan/patriarchal values. Read at your own risk.


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