The War of Art


by Steven Pressfield
ISBN: 1936891026
Finished 3/10/16
Amazon page for details and reviews


Resistance is there. It is the enemy. It is invisible, but it can be felt. And it comes from within. The amateur falls prey to this incredible power. The professional, by contrast, recognizes resistance and beats it at its own game. When artists turn pro, they summon a higher realm, never overidentifying with their work, but serving as the vehicle to bring their art into existence.


Book 1: Resistance: Defining the Enemy
– Activities that commonly elicit resistance reject immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity
– Resistance is invisible, but can be felt
– It is internal, self-generated, and self-perpetuated
– It is the enemy within
– It is insidious, implacable, intractable, indefatigable, and impersonal
– It is infallible and universal
– It never sleeps and plays for keeps
– It is fueled by our own fear
– It only opposes when moving from a lower sphere to a higher one
– It is most powerful at the finish line
– Resistance recruits allies: sabotage by others
– Procrastination is its most common manifestation
– We can procrastinate until death
– We can sit down and do our work this second
– Sometimes resistance takes the form of sex: it provides immediate, powerful gratification
– Not all sex is a manifestation of resistance: you can tell by the measure of hollowness afterward
– Also applies to drugs, shopping, masturbation, TV, gossip, alcohol, and consumption of fat, sugar, salt, and chocolate
– We get ourselves in trouble because it’s a cheap way to get attention. This includes cruelty to others
– Self-dramatization is a symptom of resistance
– We consume instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work
– We tend to pick partners who are successful in overcoming resistance
– Resistance feels like unhappiness
– We don’t alleviate the resistance, so vices kick in
– Then it becomes clinical or criminal
– We need to lead our own internal revolution against consumer culture
– We don’t know how to be alone, to be free
– The artist is grounded in freedom, while the fundamentalist is powerless
– The artist believes humankind is advancing, while the fundamentalist believes the truth has already been revealed
– Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive
– The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery
– Criticism of others usually comes out of resistance
– Self-doubt can be an ally
– The counterfeit inventor is wildly self-confident
– The real one is scared to death
– Fear tells us what we have to do
– Resistance is directly proportional to love
– Grandiose fantasies are a sign of an amateur
– The professional has learned that success comes as a by-product of work
– We’re never alone in isolation. We have our muse and courage, which call forth that deeper part of ourselves
– Resistance is believing one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work
– The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did
– What needs healing is our personal lives
– The more energy we spend stocking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business
– Rationalism is resistance’s right-hand man
– It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it
– Rationalizations are particularly insidious because a lot of them are true
– Resistance can be beaten

Book 2: Combating Resistance: Turning Pro
– Aspiring artists defeated by resistance all think like amateurs
– The amateur does not love the game enough to pursue it as his real vocation
– The professional dedicates his life to it
– Resistance hates it when we turn pro
– Principle of priority
a. You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important
b. You must do what is important first
– What’s important is the work
– The artist has to love being miserable
– We’re all pros already in our day jobs:
– We show up every day
– We show up no matter what
– We stay on the job all day
– We are committed over the long haul
– The stakes for us are high and real
– We accept renumeration for our labor
– We do not overidentify with our jobs
– We master the technique of our jobs
– We have a sense of humor about our jobs
– We receive praise or blame in the real world
– The amateur:
– Doesn’t show up every day
– Doesn’t show up no matter what
– Doesn’t stay on the job all day
– Is not committed over the long haul
– His stakes are illusory and fake
– Does not get money
– Overidentifies with his art
– Does not have a sense of humor about failure
– Has not mastered the technique of his art
– Does not expose himself to judgment in the real world
– The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love
– But too much love can be a bad thing
– The more you love your art, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more resistance you will experience facing it
– The payoff is not money. The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude
– A professional is patient
– Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timeline
– The professional understands delayed gratification to prevent burnout
– A professional seeks order
– He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind
– A professional demystifies
– She concentrates on technique
– She masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods
– A professional acts in the face of fear
– He knows that fear can never be overcome
– A professional accepts no excuses
– If he caves in today, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow
– A professional plays it as it lays
– A professional is prepared to confront self-sabotage
– A professional does not show off
– A professional dedicates himself to mastering technique
– He wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration comes
– A professional does not hesitate to ask for help
– A professional distances herself from her instrument
– Madonna does not identify with “Madonna.” Madonna employs “Madonna.”
– A professional does not take failure (or success) seriously
– Resistance uses the fear of rejection against us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation
– Taking rejection personally reinforces resistance
– A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul
– The next work is already percolating inside her
– The professional gives an ear to criticism, seeking to learn and grow
– But she never forgets that resistance is using criticism against her on a more diabolical level
– A professional endured adversity
– A professional self-validates
– He recognizes envy-driven criticism as the supreme compliment
– A professional recognizes her limitations
– A professional reinvents himself
– A professional is recognized by other professionals
– Make yourself a corporation
– Resistance yields to our turning pro, because it is a bully
– The professional beats resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and implacable than it is
– We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and do it

Book 3: Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm
– Allies and angels: as resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterposed against it
– The most important thing about art is to work
– Invoke the muse: the spiritual force we must harness
– William Blake: “Eternity is in love with the creations of time”
– There is magic in starting in keeping going
– Dreams, visions, and meditations are just as real and solid as anything in waking life
– The moment a person learns he’s got terminal cancer, a profound shift takes place in his psyche
– Faced with imminent extinction, all assumptions are called into question
– Carl Jung:
– Ego: our conscious intelligence: “I”
– Self: ego + our personal and collective unconscious
– When we learn we may soon die, consciousness shifts from ego to self
– The world is entirely new, viewed from the self
– Cancers miraculously go into remission
– Angels live in the self while resistance lives in the ego
– The ego runs into trouble when it has to deal with worlds other than the real world
– The ego believes:
– Death is real
– Time and space are real
– Every individual is different and separate from every other
– The predominant impulse of life is self-preservation
– There is no God
– The self believes:
– Death is an illusion
– Time and space are illusions
– All beings are one
– The supreme emotion is love
– God is all there is
– Dreams and ideas come from the self
– When we meditate we access the self
– We we deliberately alter our consciousness in any way, we’re trying to find the self
– We we seat our consciousness in the self, we put the ego out of business
– The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness
– The more awake we become, the less we need the ego
– Resistance feeds on the fear that we can succeed, access the powers we secretly know we possess, and become the person we sense in our hearts we truly are
– We lose friends but find better, truer friends
– We come into this world with a specific personal destiny
– We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become
– Our job is to find out who we already are and become it
– Most of us define ourselves hierarchically and don’t even know it
– But hierarchies break down when numbers get large
– For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal
– The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake
– To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution
– In the hierarchy, the artists looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within
– The hack writes hierarchically
– He doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for
– As a hack, even if you succeed, you lose
– You’ve sold out your muse, and your muse if you, where your only true work comes from
– Our territories are psychological
– Qualities of a territory:
– Provides sustenance
– Sustains us without any external input
– Can only be claimed alone
– Can only be claimed by work
– A territory doesn’t give, it gives back
– Returns exactly what you put in
– The act of creation is by definition territorial
– The artist and mother are vehicles, not originators
– They don’t create the new life, they only bear it
– The sustenance artists get comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others
– If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up?
– Contempt for failure is the cardinal virtue of the artist
– We confine our attention territorially to our own thoughts and actions
– We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause
– The work is done as an offering to God, where it comes from anyway
– To labor in this way is a form of meditation and a supreme species of spiritual devotion
– To acknowledge that reality of the muse, to efface all ego, to let work come through us and give it back freely to its own source, is as true as reality gets
– In the artist’s world, there exist higher planes of reality, about which we can prove nothing, but from which arise our lives, our work, our art
– An artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, over time acquire modesty and humility with the work
– Artists are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate
– They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods they serve
– In the end, the question can only be answered by action
– Creative work is a gift to the world and every being in it