Creativity and Spirituality in “The War of Art”: A Review of “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

I firmly believe that creation is a spiritual act. It is an act that reflects the Imago Dei. It is an act that reminds us of the great divine Creator. Steven Pressfield believes that creativity is a spiritual act too, and road blocks on the journey to creation create spiritual battles. In his book The War of Art Pressfield drives home the point, arguing in succinct fashion that true creative work requires going to war against “resistance,” and calling on the great muses of creation to assist us. In much of the book I found amazing insight and inspiration. But the latter half of the book is awash in New Age Mysticism and became, for me, simply nettlesome. Creativity is a spiritual battle and I am thankful to Pressfield for that reminder, but the solution he offers is hardly the right kind of spirituality.

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” For Pressfield resistance is an “energy-force,” it is an evil that seeks to undermine any work-in-progress. We are created to be creative, he says, and resistance, here personified, fights against us in a myriad of ways to arrest creativity.

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole…It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. (9)

Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. (15)

Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. (19)

In the first part of the book Pressfield is defining our enemy for us. He wants us to wrestle with why it is so hard to complete the process of creation. The hardest part of writing, he tells us, is not the writing. The hardest part is sitting down and forcing yourself to write.

Why is this? Pressfield argues it’s because there is a force at work that seeks to keep us from achieving. It is rooted in Jungian psychology. The Ego exists for self-preservation. It wants us to keep working, keep doing the simple uncomplicated task. The self is the home of our dreams and these two parts of our being wage war against each other. Most often we give into the Ego, it’s easier and feels safer…and makes us miserable. I’ll part ways with Pressfield here. I think he is right when he connects the battle for creation to a spiritual battle, but I don’t buy into all the psychological distinction. Rather I think what wages war against creation is sin. I think this is particularly clear when we see discussions in the Proverbs regarding what Pressfield sees as a chief attribute of Resistance: procrastination.

The Proverbs tell us that a “sluggard” is wicked, useless, and empty-handed. He is proud and haughty, and he will be humbled (see Proverbs 6:6-9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16). Pressfield speaks of the insidiousness of procrastination like this:

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We dont’ tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.” (21)

The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.” (22)

There are countless other ways, Pressfield says, that we distract ourselves from the creative work before us: sex, drugs, alcohol, self-dramatization, trouble, victimhood, and self-medication. In each case it’s easy for the Christian to summarize it by one important word, “sin.”

I am not sure I am ready yet to say that failing to create is “sin,” per se. That’s a hard line for me to cross. But I can safely say that what leads us not to create is usually sin. That’s the spiritual battle at work in our creative processes. We feel compelled to do something, achieve something, write something, create something. But sin within in us is ready to pounce on anything that would draw us closer to God and closer to his design for our lives.  Pressfield uses different words but that’s how he sees it too.

It’s in the latter half of the book , however, that his spiritual focus takes us in a different direction, a direction I am not willing to go. Continuing to develop the spiritual implications of creativity, he argues that our inspiration for creativity comes from the divine muses. We are born to be something, it’s infused into our souls. The Angels around us have some great piece of art that they want to see realized, but they need us to complete it. So they are our “Angel midwives” giving birth to their creations through us. It’s all very mystical and compelling I suppose, but it doesn’t quite match up to Scripture. And so I could have done without the entire last section of this otherwise brilliant work.

But Pressfield, for all his eccentricities, reminds us that creation is a spiritual process. And sin seeks to undermine all our efforts. We want to indulge ourselves, we want to creat drama, we want to procrastinate. And yet Scripture says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for me” (Colossians 3:23). Maybe that’s what Pressfield was driving towards with all his religious talk, but without the Bible he falls short of the truth of creation. For the Divine Creator is our model. He controlled chaos when he made the universe, and he calls us to challenge it in our own lives as we work to creating for His glory.

Comments

  1. nobleandtheclassics says:

    I love Steven Pressfield’s works. Although I have never read this book, or any of his self help publications. Have you read any other of his books?

Trackbacks

  1. […] 3) The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The authors bizarre brand of spirituality only makes this book slightly less valuable. The truth, however, is that it is one of the most helpful books not just on creativity and art, but on discipline and focus. It is an author’s weapon against apathy and distraction. Totally worth reading. Check out my full review here. […]

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