The War of Art

CC image by Julien Sanine

CC image by Julien Sanine

CC image by Julien Sanine

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield discusses something that we have all encountered, a force that we have all fought, knowingly or not. This force is Resistance. It is insidious, deadly, and makes the entire world seem like it’s conspiring against you, all the while coming from where you least expect it, yourself. Pressfield argues that each of us has two lives, “The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

He goes on to say that, “Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction.” What makes Resistance so toxic is that it comes from within us and is of our own making. It’s not something tangible that you can see or take hold of and fight.

They symptoms of Resistance are many and varied. Some of the most obvious are procrastination, self-dramatization (creating a soap-opera out of our lives), general unhappiness, self-doubt, fear, isolation, criticism. Other less obvious symptoms are healing (looking for healing when the work you’re attempting has nothing to do with the problem you’re addressing), victimhood (pretending you are injured, have a condition, or are otherwise incapable), and the choice of a mate (someone who will either give in to Resistance with you or you can instead live through vicariously without facing your own Resistance).

CC image by Emilie Ogez

CC image by Emilie Ogez

Given the widespread symptoms you can begin to see Pressfield’s argument of why Resistance is so insidious and difficult to fight, because it manifests itself in so many different ways. One that, I would guess, most of us encounter on a fairly regular basis is rationalization. Pressfield writes, “Instead of showing us our fear which might shame us and impel us to do our work, Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work. What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate…What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly.”

Pressfield goes on to discuss ways of combating one of the most horrendous forces on the planet. He compares the characteristics of an amateur versus a professional, and explains how we must approach our art with the attitude of a professional if we are to beat Resistance. A professional must learn to be miserable and to continue for the love of the game, not for any prizes or rewards. He writes, “The artist wears combat boots. He looks in the mirror and see G.I. Joe.” The task must be approached seriously and with the intention of fighting through to the end. Patience, accepting no excuses, acting in the face of fear, taking it as it comes, not showing off, mastering technique, enduring adversity, and recognizing limitations are all skills that the professional must muster to defeat Resistance.

The last section looks beyond Resistance and examines some forces that exist and help fight Resistance. He writes that, “Clearly some intelligence is at work, independent of our conscious mind and yet in alliance with it, processing material for us and alongside us.” Pressfield’s view is that there is something amazing that happens once you are able to sit down and begin. That is the hardest step and from there it gets easier, not easy, but easier. He returns here to the idea of the lived life and the unlived life and that of the authentic self. He says, “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” Living the life we believe we’re capable of is about becoming the person we’re meant to be.

CC image by Alex

CC image by Alex

My favorite part of the book were the first two sections. Pressfield explains the concept of Resistance, and you realize it’s something that every single person on earth faces. Everyone struggles with Resistance, you’re not alone, and people fall to Resistance all the time. It’s empowering to know that it’s not just you and that Resistance can be defeated and is being defeated all the time. Learning the enemy is one of the first steps to being able to defeat it. And this is one fight that is definitely worth pursuing because you’re fighting for the ability to be the person you were meant to be and the person you know you can be.

Pressfield closes with this, that if you give in to Resistance, “You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God. Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.”

Keep on fighting.

By Melissa Blakely