BOOK-REVIEW – The War of Art

Book Review

The War of Art

Author(s): Steven Pressfield

190 pages

ISBN: 1936891026

It’s strange to imagine yourself sitting in a cinema with a big box of popcorn watching a film about resistance!

But somehow this is where I ended up given the cinematic feel, sparse writing style and showbiz asides of this book. It proved a refreshing change of pace and style on my reading journey.

Introducing the cast…

The Baddie, dressed in black, hidden in the shadows, watching and waiting for his opportunity: “Resistance”.

The Goodies, coming from higher place, to inspire, support and guide onwards: “The Muse” and her ethereal angels.

And, you – “The Hero” – doing your art, walking the path step by step towards achieving your true calling. The conflict, the ups and downs, the tension, the drama would thrill an audience, but living through it is a lonelier, harder experience.

Being a pro: “This is my job”

At the heart of defeating resistance, lies the idea of being a “pro”. This involves treating your art as your job. A job that you need to turn up for, take it seriously, do your time and produce something, though it won’t always be a masterpiece.

Working at your art is all that matters and, once you do that, inspiration and good things will happen. That said, the artist is entitled only to their work and not the fruits of their work, beyond the inner fulfilment which it brings. Turning pro, the mindset change and everything that falls from it, is a seminal moment, a decision that it is better to be in the arena, even if means being mauled by the lions, than watching from the cheap seats.

Keeping a safe distance

Going beyond the basic idea and characteristics of resistance, Hollywood screenwriter Pressfield explores how holding one’s personal work and its value close to one’s ego, can result in deep feelings of rejection and even paralysis if others criticise the work. The pro however holds the work apart from themselves and recognises that the work is not them and remains protected by this professional distance. The pro is a warrior who uses every trick in the book to keep working on.

Preaching to the would-believers

Although I found this to be a powerful and inspiring book, I suspect that it is not for everyone. On first dipping into the book, a macho pheromone wafts out, though it does lessen in time. Also, the do-or-die-trying attitude offers no quarter or compromise to by-standers peeking in to see what’s up.

The full-on approach works for me, but does raise an important question in my mind, which I see mirrored as I reflect on my coaching experiences:

“Yes, we can be absolutists preaching an uncompromising message to a small group of motivated people who already fervently agree with us.

But surely we should be looking to choose a balanced message and voice that sparks curiosity to those outside, draws them in to hear more, allows them to see the benefits and to start believing?”