In Steven Pressfield’s influential book, “The War of Art,” he brilliantly captures the internal struggle that creatives face on their artistic journey. As a mixed media artist navigating the ever-evolving landscape of the art world, I have discovered profound resonance in Pressfield’s concept of “the war of art.” From battling self-doubt to embracing discipline and finding resilience amidst external pressures, the artistic journey is indeed a battlefield where perseverance and dedication ultimately lead to artistic fulfillment.
The Resistance and Self-Doubt
“The War of Art” highlights the invisible force of resistance that plagues creatives, manifesting as self-doubt, procrastination, and fear. In today’s world, where comparison and societal expectations are constant due to more connectedness through social media, global travel, and the vastness of the internet, resistance can be even more insidious. As an artist, I’ve encountered moments where doubt creeps in, and in turn I begin questioning the worthiness of my work. Sometimes the doubts come directly from those in my innermost circle! However, recognizing resistance as a natural adversary allows me to confront it head-on, pushing past my comfort zone and embracing vulnerability. It is through this resilience that I find the strength to persist in creating despite the internal battles. In fact, it is during times of self-doubt and inner conflict that I often begin my most innovative work that challenges my own identity as an artist.
Embracing Discipline and Professionalism
To succeed as a creative, discipline and professionalism are paramount. Pressfield’s emphasis on treating art as a profession echoes the need to prioritize consistency, routine, and dedication in one’s creative practice. Embracing discipline means carving out dedicated time for creativity, setting goals, and holding oneself accountable. By establishing a professional mindset, I am better equipped to navigate the challenges and prioritize my creative endeavors amidst the demands of everyday life.
Being professional also means respecting oneself as an artist, and in turn respecting other artists. The “starving artist” persona lends indignity to a profession filled with some of the brightest, most innovative people on the planet. Artists should not fall victim to the “starving artist” persona. It is not romantic, it is not endearing. It is disrespectful to the profession at best and at its worst, the “starving artist” is a succubus that destroys the importance of art itself and shrouds the artist in ridicule and disgrace. To put it plainly, if you wear the “starving artist” badge, you need to get a different job and stop complaining about society’s inability to support artists and see talent. It’s either not your time, you’re not working hard enough, or your work is just bad - whatever the reason, don’t walk around in rags and hungry, blaming everyone else for your failure. It cheapens the field of art.
Finding Inspiration in Resistance
Pressfield suggests that resistance can be a compass guiding us towards our true artistic calling. Today’s world bombards us with information, stimuli, and distractions, making it easy to lose sight of our creative purpose. However, by recognizing resistance as a signpost, I have learned to lean into the discomfort it presents. Through introspection and reflection, I discover what truly inspires and ignites my passion, allowing me to channel resistance into fuel for my creative process. By embracing resistance as a teacher rather than an enemy, I can tap into a deeper well of creativity and create art that is authentic and resonant.
One such example of embracing discomfort is seeking critique. As an artist, critique has been one of the biggest catalysts for growth in my work. When I first applied for the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant, I was selected as one of 70 applicants to receive feedback from a panel of professional artists. The feedback was delivered publicly, in person, from a stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall, with dozens of other artists and applicants present. It was a humbling experience. I did not receive the grant, but I did receive some of the most valuable feedback of my artistic career. I took that feedback to my studio and used it as fuel for a new era of my work. A couple years later, I felt ready to apply for the grant again, and this time, I succeeded. I was a recipient of the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant in 2021, and I fully credit the feedback I received from the first round for this success. Never be afraid to receive and apply critique. In fact, seek it out often. Artists who gracefully receive and implement feedback will stay at the top of their craft. This actually goes for any profession.
Building a Supportive Community
In the battlefield of the art world, having a supportive community becomes essential armor. Connecting with fellow artists, engaging in constructive critique, and seeking mentorship can provide invaluable guidance and encouragement. As a recipient of the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant, part of the program was that each artist was required to work with a mentor for the year. This aspect of the program turned out to be more valuable than the grant check itself. Through working and conversing with my mentor, I was inspired to approach my work from a completely new lens. I started working with new materials and experimenting in ways I never before imagined. My work was launched into a whole new realm because of this.
Collaboration, rather than competition, fosters growth and a sense of camaraderie in the face of artistic challenges. In today’s world, networking and building relationships extends beyond physical spaces to virtual communities, allowing artists to connect globally and find solace in shared experiences. Embracing collaboration and community-building has been instrumental in fortifying my artistic journey, providing strength and resilience amidst the inevitable setbacks. The Warehouse Arts District Association, Creative Pinellas, and the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance are a few of the organizations that support artists locally. They work tirelessly to connect artists and community.
Working as a creative in today’s world is undoubtedly a battlefield, with internal and external challenges demanding our perseverance, resilience, and dedication. “The War of Art” serves as a guiding framework, reminding us of the battles we face within ourselves and against external pressures. By recognizing resistance, embracing discipline, finding inspiration amidst challenges, and fostering a supportive community, we can navigate this battlefield with grace and emerge as triumphant artists. As we continue our creative journeys, let us remember that the war of art is not one fought alone, but a collective effort of courage, authenticity, and unwavering commitment to artistic expression.