Book review: the War of Art

Steven Pressfield’s the War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles  offers pop psychology advice to struggling writers and artists. Pressfield is most known for his novel and film  The Legend of Bagger Vance. Before reading this book on my Kindle, I’d read nothing by the author.

Mimicking Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War, Pressfield’s book is written is small, bite-size chapters, often no more than a few sentences. The author’s main thesis is that artistic struggles are due to resistance. What is resistance? Surprisingly, the author never defines it, rather he repeatedly describes it: resistance is invisible, it’s insidious, it’s implacable, it’s internal, it’s universal, and so on and so forth. Perhaps his best description is “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”

Struggling with prevarication and procrastination is universal among creative types and Pressfield’s slender volume has found an enthusiastic audience.

Strictly speaking, the War of Art is not a self-help book, but it’s a close relative, and like most books of that type, it does not hold up to scrutiny. Pressfield’s resistance is so general and universal as to be meaningless. If anything, resistance appears suspiciously close to Christianity’s concept of sin. The world is fallen and sin diverts us from our path–from doing good. Pressfield probably realizes this close resemblance and in one of his lengthier chapters, “Resistance and Fundamentalism,’ takes pains to separate resistance from sin. Unfortunately, for all its length, this is one of the weaker chapters in the book and does nothing to advance his argument, or separate resistance from sin for that matter.

Pressfield also believes in angels. Like much of pop Christianity angels abound but sin is abandoned–there’s only resistance.

For all its shortcomings, Pressfield is a pithy writer and the book held my attention until the end. The book shines brightest when Pressfied writes about his own struggles, especially early in his career. Some of his topics show the type of insight that only a practicing professional can provide. The author writes (I’m paraphrasing) that professionals know that the muses visit us when we discipline ourselves and work every day, not just when we’re inspired; that’s when the magic happens. I absolutely agree with Pressfield about this.


3 out 5.

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