The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a short book on what Pressfield believes to be behind being an artist and how to work to achieve that goal. It’s split into three sections which each detail Resistance (which Pressfield describes as the force that creates fear and creative blockages), how to combat Resistance, and how to use what you have at your disposal to go beyond Resistance.
I’ll start with what I liked (because there are far more things I disliked and sometimes baulked at). It’s a straightforward read, one that is short, and its language/structure is concise. It has a matter-of-fact tone that is convincing enough if I didn’t already have a strong understanding of craft/artistry. And finally, Pressfield’s prestige gives an air of authority that some people would find appealing.
However, the thesis and supporting arguments for Pressfield’s ideas on Resistance are framed and contextualized in bad taste. The title, The War of Art, frames the idea of creation and artistry as of a way to defeat/destroy/annihilate this unknowable force he calls Resistance. Personally, I dislike this idea because it places the reader in a mindset that to become a great artist, one must have a warlike attitude. It’s a very macho-esque and toxic view on how art is made. Its tone reads as if there is a winner and a loser, a war between good and evil, and gives no nuances. The way it’s written though makes sense because of his background in religion and his time in the Marines. Neither of those identities on their own merit rejection of his word, but it’s his synthesis of sin and Angels paralleling the writer and writer’s block, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t think art should be approached in an aggressive/combative mindset (it reminds me of the grindset tech bros and gym rats).
The first section of the book is focused on defining what Resistance is which still unsettles me. Pressfield explains that Resistance is the object that prevents us from producing art (I’m fine with that part) “…is the most toxic force on the planet.” and is itself worse than “…poverty, disease, and erectile disfunction.” (Literally what is he talking about?—and I won’t even approach the disingenuous way he groups those three ailments together). Later in the book he discusses that many times he goes about implying that even illness and cancer can be conquered (sometimes blaming companies of making up diseases, and other times describing cancer going into remission just because a woman decides to do what she loves). It’s a deceptive and icky tactic to try and give credit to the idea that it’s all about mindset and not about situation, poverty, disease, genetics, location, family, or any other factor that occurs in someone’s life. I am also deeply unconvinced of his logic when he says, “…it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.” If that were the case, then wouldn’t we have millions of current day Hitlers now as well? Also, I don’t think it's mutually exclusive for a person to either be an artist or someone who creates genocide.
The latter half of the book is written is a way to seem deep—to compel the reader to be an artist—and what is stopping them is Resistance and themselves. It’s the same thing that generic inspirational speakers and rat-tail Shia LaBeouf would say, which is to just do it. There’s discussion of Muses and God giving the gift of being creative, but at that point in the book I already knew it wasn’t worth putting weight behind Pressfield’s words. The one redeeming quality of the book is that it’s so short I don’t have to spend any more time thinking about his nonsense.
Final Rating: 1/5
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Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.