In an earlier post, I started writing about the concept of the hero’s journey as first developed by Joseph Campbell, and I also started sharing some of my burgeoning thoughts on how I believe one might create and live a hero’s journey today.
As I’ve been further reflecting on this, I’ve been delighted to discover that Steven Pressfield – whose book The War of Art on battling inner Resistance has been of immense value to myself and many of my artist friends – has also been exploring the hero’s journey theme.
THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY
Pressfield’s new book, The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning is now available for purchase. And, even more intriguingly to me as an upstart blogger, his own website features a serialized presentation of his writing about the artist’s journey.
I’m especially fascinated by one of the key insights with which he starts the work. In presenting chronological lists of the works of various artists (Bruce Springsteen, Philip Roth, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan), Pressfield stops to observe that: “Clearly there is a unity (of theme, of voice, of intention)” and also that: “There’s a progression too, isn’t there?”
This juxtaposition – integration, really – of unity with progression, of the stable with the changing, of staying the same with growing is one that continues to fascinate me as I continue to think about what makes a truly successful, truly full and meaningful life.
THE JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY
For Pressfield, the artist’s journey follows on the heels of the hero’s journey. According to Pressfield, we all have a hero’s journey during which we see and experience the world, during which we suffer and we learn. Then, when Odysseus-like we return back to the place where we started with our personal story as our secret treasure, we are ready for the artist’s journey. Now, we are ready for the process of self-discovery.
According to Pressfield, this artist’s journey of self-discovery is now all about finding your true voice and becoming who you truly are.
Pressfield goes on to note more seeming juxtapositions. The artist’s journey is personal, internal, mental, and solitary – yet it is also universal, and the works one produces are “the gift” one has to offer humanity in the culmination of the traditional hero’s adventure.
The artist’s journey is not about the artist but the art, according to Pressfield. The work is not an expression of the self, but a discovery of the self. And the journey is a dangerous one, filled with all the mind-traps Pressfield has explored in his earlier work. However, in another juxtaposition, all the artist’s strengths are mental too.
Ultimately, the artist has a subject, a voice, a point of view, a medium of expression, and a style that all emerge in the process of self-discovery that is the artist’s journey. Pressfield believes we are born with these but they “reside in an area of psyche outside the range of conventional consciousness,” and so the artist must leave the comfort of the conscious mind and cross over to the strange land of the unconscious to find “the gift.”
I wonder if this is exactly right.
IS IT SELF-DISCOVERY…. OR, AT LEAST IN PART, SELF-CREATION
Though from my own artistic experience I would agree that I’ve definitely had to draw on my own subconscious (the automatized mental processes that produce an idea which comes out fully formed in one immediate “gestalt” or “intuition”) there is also, I believe, an important place for choice. It’s how the conscious, choosing mind interacts with and forms the automatized subconscious. I don’t think it’s that we’re born a certain way.
I think the truth is closer to that famous quote often attributed to ancient Chinese philosophy (Lao Tzu?) which suggests our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, and our character becomes our destiny. So, we ought to choose our thoughts and our words carefully, especially the words we think and say to ourselves. Because we have a power to transform who we are.
And perhaps this power and process of self-creation is the true deep work and journey of every artist.
What do you think? Is an artist born? Or can we contribute to the making of ourselves through our own choices?