Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist's Way

One of social justice’s most fundamental goals is for everyone to have an equal voice in the world, to be able to share his or her own experiences with others and for others to listen openly and without discrimination. Creative pursuits are a part of that realization. While fighting for social justice policies and programs is important, it’s also a siloed process. The Democrats agree with the Democrats and the Republicans only agree with other Republicans. You can shout out a convincing argument from the rooftops, but nobody who needs to be convinced is paying any attention.

Creativity is expression that is (on face) non-partisan. Anyone might come to look at or read through a creative work. Anyone might have an open mind to the story being told. I’ve always written, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve started to understand and believe in the power of literature, photography, paintings, and other artistic activities to really change the world. It’s thinking through these issues that led me to pick up The Artist’s Way in the first place.

Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way as a guide for “blocked” creatives. Her book is quite literally a 12-step program for artistic people to rediscover their creativity and sense of purpose. As a writer and filmmaker herself, she draws upon her own experiences to shape a fundamental structure, short passages, and creative exercises for her readers.

Many people are already familiar with Cameron’s “morning pages,” which are a daily exercise she insists upon for all embarking upon The Artist’s Way journey. The idea is simple: write three longhand pages each and every morning. About what? Anything. Whatever comes to mind. Write about not wanting to write if that’s what comes out.

I’m no stranger to the practice of freewriting, but something about the page restriction and the enforced everyday nature of the morning pages was very helpful to me. I found myself thinking, planning, and envisioning ways that I could more fully incorporate creativity into my life.

Cameron’s exercises at the end of each chapter are quite useful when it comes to doing this envisioning practice. Her words and exercises encourage you to move past the mental, physical, and economic limitations that might exist in your life. She pushes this visioning past limits not to pretend they aren’t there, but in order to develop a crystal clear vision of what you want in your life. Otherwise, we are often motivated only to move away from what we don’t want or we get stuck doing nothing much that’s important to us. I found Cameron’s approach quite liberating, touching on all kinds of fears that were stopping me from even thinking about what a more creative life would look like.

The other staple of Cameron’s curriculum is the “artist date,” where you go out once a week (by yourself) to do something, anything, creative. You could be going to an art gallery, do scrap booking, take a long walk, or write spoken word. Whatever feels creative and freeing.

I’ll admit I didn’t hit quite manage to do the artist date every week, but I did do it most weeks. There is something to the action, the process of just getting out and doing something that is incredibly helpful for blocked creatives. In fact, if there were any lesson I learned loud and clear from The Artist’s Way it is to get out of your own head and act; take a shot — not necessarily a foolhardy move, but a chance on something you’ve convinced yourself isn’t possible or reasonable — and just go for it.

I will say Cameron is definitely of the religious sort, and that was the main challenge I had in reading through her book. There are a lot of references to God and a higher power, and on being open to the workings of the universe to make positive change in your life. Some of these thoughts resonated with me, others did not, and some felt a bit preachy. Those who are strongly atheist might find that this is not the book for them, though the basic principles might still be something to experiment with.

There’s a lot to take away from this book for its length, and it’s one that I feel I’ll be revisiting over the years as I continue further on my creative journey.

5Stars25/5 STARS

See a full list of my book reviews here and my book review policy here.

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