I haven’t done a book review since college (so definitely not recently!). But, I figured if I am going to read and talk so much about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at the book now that I’ve (finally) finished it!
If you aren’t familiar with it — The Artist’s Way is a 12-week guide to fostering creative living. Cameron argues that we are all capable of creativity, in our own ways, and walks through methods for developing that creativity within us. Note, I found it it was written truly for everyone, and not just career artists, and encourages all kinds of art forms, not just like, traditional fine art.
So, I was vaguely aware of the title, as it shows up in just about any search for art books. But I only started reading it because it was recommended in Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, which if you aren’t new here, you know is one of my favorite books ever now. Also, there was a little blurb on the cover from Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic (so good!). So yeah, after that, I was intrigued…
I went with the library’s ebook version, which worked fine. But it does seem like creative books are all in high demand right now, so I could never hang on to the copy very long, would have to return it, place a hold, and wait for a copy to be available again. It’s not efficient, but it did work. But I’m not sure I recommend it… that said, I’m also kinda relieved I didn’t buy it instead.
Honestly, I just didn’t love it.
So, each week has a series of artists tasks, including journaling prompts and small projects to foster creativity. Overall, her two essential practices are morning pages, and the artist date. Morning pages is writing three pages of journaling first thing in the day. And the artist date was a challenge to go and do something fun and inspiring for your “inner artist/inner child” just because.
What I liked:
So, I liked the morning pages, in theory. But I followed the “spirit” of the task, as three pages in a normal sized journal with my handwriting took a full hour (it’s supposed to take about 20-30 minutes…). So I quickly started just setting a half hour timer for writing. I found it easy to wake up early and write at first, but by the last few weeks, I was struggling to hit even 15 minutes. Admittedly I already have another journal, so it felt like having two wasn’t really beneficial, but if you are out of the habit of journaling, I do recommend it.
As a fan of journaling already, I did like the artist tasks that were writing prompts about creative interests and processing feedback on creative work. But, my favorite question was probably the “what would you secretly do for a living, if you could do anything?!” I mean, it’s not exactly a ground-breaking question, but it was fun to consider and my answer surprised me.
What I didn’t like:
A large part of the book felt very intentionally vague to me, like a prosperity gospel for creativity. If you believe you are made to be creative and our creator wants you to create then you can create and should create and it will be great! Um, I guess there are worse messages about creativity, but I guess I don’t need it to be persuaded to follow my creative dreams. I’ve never considered that a matter of faith or spirituality? So, yeah, that was just…weird. Because it wasn’t just that you will be creative, but you will be a SUCCESS. It’s a nice pep talk, but I wouldn’t hold her to it. After all, as a filmmaker, her biggest success is this book franchise…sooo…
I also think so much of the book was focused on convincing people to BE creative, that it didn’t really explore creative block as much for those who are already unabashedly creative. And it certainly didn’t address professional creatives. After a while, it was a little frustrating to read so much about finding these deeply hidden creative passions, rather than how to explore our creativity in more depth. Not saying she doesn’t address it at all, just not in anyway that left a big helpful impression.
I also don’t recommend working through this book in a pandemic. It’s not her fault, but the artists date was largely about getting out and finding inspiration out in the world doing fun stuff. EVERY WEEK. I felt a little called out when she was like “are you just WaTcHiNg A mOvIe?” Um, yes? Again, it’s not her fault, but I stopped bothering with the artist date after two weeks… so I can’t say how much that helps, because I just didn’t get to do it.
So there you have it! I hope this review is helpful!
Side note (and maybe I should do reviews on them as well?) but I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Amie McNee’s For the Procrastinator much more helpful for encouraging general creativity and finding inspirations and working through creative block… they also don’t need twelve weeks to get through!
If you do want to see more book reviews like this, be sure to let me know in the comments!