Brief Book Review: The War of Art

By Steven Pressfield

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible and pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

You are intimately familiar with Resistance. It looms every time a deadline’s due and you choose to watch another YouTube video. When you tell everyone you’re working on a book and yet can’t find the time to sit down and write it. When you know taking dancing classes will make you happier and don’t have the courage to attend one.

By externalising this adversary that doesn’t have your best interests at heart, The War of Art helps you overcome those mental blocks that keep life on hold.

This approach to understanding the warring factions of the brain has become more common as our understanding of the brain and history of our species has improved. Tim Urban adopts similar tactic in his blog posts, and uses animals to represent these conflicting narratives like the Instant Gratification Monkey or Social Survival Mammoth. The War of Art does this well.

So it’s unfortunate every moment that hits home with resounding clarity is swiftly followed by a passage that leaves me scratching my head. I don’t take issue with the author’s personal beliefs in the soul, God, or angels, but rather his certainty that art is a divine gift from heaven.

It gets difficult to read when Pressfield extrapolates this belief to mean we all have a ‘personal destiny’. Some are meant to be great painters, others, renowned writers or esteemed film makers. It’s one’s duty to walk one’s pre-destined path decided at birth, and not doing so is a disservice to humanity. This may or may not be the case. Either way I believe approaching a creative skill with the expectation of uncovering your inner Picasso is counterproductive to learning and solidifies the ‘follow your passion’ narrative that Cal Newport skilfully tears down in So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

It’s moments like these that The War of Art shows its age, advocating ideas that fly in the face of modern scientific dogma: great work stems from practise and perseverance. It’s the pursuit of perfection while appreciating perfection doesn’t exist. It’s the growth mindset, not the fixed mindset.

The War of Art is stuck in the fixed mindset. And this, I find hard to accept.

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