“The Artist’s Way” Quotes

I recently finished “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I highly recommend this book, especially if you treat it as a workbook.

artists wayThe two main activities this book preaches, which aren’t obvious from the quotes below are 1) Writing three pages of stream of consciousness every morning, and 2) Going on an “Artist’s Date” with yourself every week. I’ve been writing every morning since I started reading this book in November, and I’ve definitely noticed a huge surge in creative output. Not from writing the three pages every day per say, but from getting the momentum going of writing every day. That makes it easier to write later on in the day, as the hardest part of it is starting. The Artist’s Date is just taking 2 or 3 hours a week to do some fun, child like activity with yourself, as this will inspire more creativity. Anyway, here are some actual quotes:

“People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy. The more difficult truth is that creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed or the specifically imagined.” (82)

“Think of yourself as an accident victim walking away from the crash: your old life has crashed and burned; your new life isn’t apparent yet. You may feel yourself to be temporarily without a vehicle Just keep walking.” (83)

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” –Seneca (83)

“Art is not about thinking something up. It is about the opposite – getting something down. The directions are important here.” (117)

“We are the instrument more than the author of our work.” (118)

“I remind my students that their movie already exists in its entirety. Their job is to listen for it, watch it with their mind’s eye, and write it down.” (118)

“Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.” (120)

“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.”

“We deny that in order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly.” (121)

“Very often a risk is worth taking simply for the sake of taking it.” (123)

“Most academics know how to take something apart, but not how to assemble it.” (132)

“Because I asked “How?” instead of “Why me?” I now have a modest first feature to my credit.” (136)

“I love movies, love making them, and did not want my losses to take me down. I learned, when hit by loss, to ask the right question: “What next?” instead of “Why me?” (136)

“Whenever I am willing to ask “What is necessary next?” I have moved ahead. Whenever I have taken no for a final answer I have stalled and gotten stuck. I have learned that the key to career resiliency is self-empowerment and choice.” (136)

“Clarke clearly took to hear the idea that it was harder to hit a moving target. Whenever one avenue for her creativity was blocked, she found another.” (137)

“Non illegitimi te carborundum, the graffiti in prisoner-of-war camps is said to have run. The rough translation, very important for artists, is “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” (137)

“Artists who take this to heart survive and often prevail. The key here is action. Pain that is not used profitably quickly solidifies into a leaden heart, which makes any action difficult.” (137)

“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.” – Linus Pauling (138)

“Question: Do you know how old I’ll be by the time I learn how to play the piano?
Answer: The same age you will be if you don’t.” (138)

““I’m too old” is an evasive tactic. It is always used to avoid facing fear.” (138)

“Many blocked creatives tell themselves they are both too old and too young to allow themselves to pursue their dreams.” (138)

“We do not want to look crazy. And trying something like that (whatever it is) at our age (whatever it is) would look nuts.” (139)

“Creativity occurs in the moment, and in the moment we are timeless.” (139)

“Kids are not self-conscious, and once we are actually in the flow of our creativity, neither are we.” (139)

“Instead of allowing ourselves a creative journey, we focus on the length of the trip. “it’s such a long way,” we tell ourselves. It may be, but each day is just one more day with some motion in it, and that motion toward a goal is very enjoyable.” (139)

“You can’t learn to act because there is always more to learn.” (139)

“Doing the work points the way to new and better work to be done.” (139)

“Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.” (139)

“There is always one action you can take for your creativity daily.” (141)

“By setting the jumps too high and making the price tag too great, the recovering artist sets defeat in motion. Who can concentrate on a first drawing class when he is obsessing about having to divorce his wife and leave town?” (141)

“Fantasizing about pursuing our art full-time, we fail to pursue it part-time – or at all.” (141)

“Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news to most of us. It makes us responsible, and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to do something in order to feel better?” (142)

“When we allow ourselves to wallow in the big questions, we fail to find the small answers.” (143)

“The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce any art at all.” (152)

“What other people may view as discipline is actually a play date that we make with our artist child. I’ll meet you at 6:00 A.M. and we’ll goof around with that script, painting, sculpture…” (153)

“A successful creative career is always built on successful creative failures. The trick is to survive them.” (156)

“Note carefully that food, work, and sex are all good in themselves. It is the abuse of them that makes them creativity issues.” (164)

“The truth is, we are very often working to avoid ourselves, our spouses, our real feelings.” (166)

“Fame is not the same as success, and in our true souls we know that. We know – and have felt – success at the end of a good day’s work. But fame? It is addictive, and it always leaves us hungry.” (171)

“The point of the work is the work. Fame interferes with that perception. Instead of acting being about acting, it becomes about being a famous actor. Instead of wring being about writing, it becomes about being recognized, not just published.” (171)

“In the long run, fan letters from ourselves – and our creative self – are what we are really after. Fame is really a shortcut for self-approval. Try approving of yourself just as you are – and spoiling yourself rotten with small kid’s pleasures.” (172)

“As artists, we cannot afford to think about who is getting ahead of us and how they don’t deserve it. The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be.” (173)

“This compare-and-contrast school of thinking may have its place for critics, but not or artists in the act of creation. Let the critics spot the trends. Let reviewers concern themselves with what is in and what is not. Let us concern ourselves first and foremost with what it is within us that is struggling to be born.” (173)

“The footrace mentality is always the ego’s demand to be not just good but also first and best. It is the ego’s demand that our work be totally original – as if such a thing were possible. All work is influenced by other work. All people are influenced by other people. No man is an island and no piece of art is a continent unto itself.” (174)

“Be willing to paint or write badly while your ego yelps resistance. Your bad writing may be the syntactical breakdown necessary for a shift in your style. Your lousy painting may be pointing you in a new direction. Art needs time to incubate, to sprawl a little, to be ungainly and misshapen and finally emerge as itself. The ego hates this fact. The ego wants instant gratification and the addictive hit of an acknowledged win.” (175)

“Being true to the inner artist often results in work that sells – but not always. I have to free myself from determining my value and the value of my work by my work’s market value.” (178)

“If I have a poem to write, I need to write that poem – whether it will sell or not.” (180)

“Sometimes I will write badly, draw badly, paint badly, perform badly. I have a right do that to get to the other side. Creativity is its own reward.” (180)

“As an artist, I write whether I think it’s any good or not. I shoot movies other people may hate. I sketch bad sketches to say, “I was in this room. I was happy. It was May and I was meeting somebody I wanted to meet.” (180)

“As an artist, my self-respect comes from doing the work. One performance at a time, one gig at a time, one painting at a time. Two and half years to make one 90-minute piece of film. Five drafts of one play. Two years working on a musical. Through it all, daily, I show up…” (181)

“As an artist, I do not need to be rich but I do need to be richly supported. I cannot allow my emotional and intellectual life to stagnate or the work will show it. My life will show it. My temperament will show it. If I don’t create, I get crabby.” (181)

“To be an artist is to recognize the particular. To appreciate the peculiar. To allow a sense of play in your relationship to accepted standards. To ask the question “Why?” To be an artist is to risk admitting that much of what is money, property, and prestige strikes you ask just a little silly.” (181)

“If you are happier writing than not writing, painting than not painting, singing than not singing, acting than not acting, directing than not direction, for God’s sake let yourself do it.” (182)

“To kill your dreams because they are irresponsible is to be irresponsible to yourself.” (182)

“Creativity is a spiritual practice. It is not something that can be perfected, finished, and set aside.” (182)

“Just when we get there, there disappears.” (182)

“The ruthless truth is that if we don’t keep moving, we sink to the bottom and die.” (182)

“The stringent requirement of a sustained creative life is the humility to start again, to begin anew.” (182)

“it is this willingness to once more be a beginner that distinguishes a creative career.” (182)

“Those who attempt to work too long with formula, even their own formula, eventually leach themselves of their creative truths.” (183)

“Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control. This is frightening, and we resist it.” (193)

“Joseph Campbell wrote, “Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.” (194)

“Bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary.” (194)

“We speak often about ideas as brainchildren. What we do not realize is that brainchildren, like all babies, should not be dragged from the creative womb prematurely. Ideas, like stalactites and stalagmites, form in the dark inner cave of consciousness. They form in drips and drops, not by squared-off building blocks. We must learn to wait for an idea to hatch. Or, to use a gardening image, we must learn to not pull our ideas up by the roots to see if they are growing.” (194-195)

“The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.” (195)

“Hatching an idea is a lot like baking bread. An idea need to rise. If you poke at it too much at the beginning, if you keep checking on it, it will never rise.” (195)

“It is a paradox of creativity that we must get serious about taking ourselves lightly. We must work at learning to play. Creativity must be freed from the narrow parameters of capital A art and recognized as having much broader play.” (196)

“As gray, as controlled, as dreamless as we may strive to be, the fire of our dreams will not stay buried. The embers are always there, stirring in our frozen souls like winter leaves. They won’t go away. They are sneaky. We make a crazy doodle in a boring meeting. We post a silly card on our office board. We nickname the boss something wicked. Plant twice as many flowers as we need.” (197)

“A little flattery can go a long way toward deterring our escape velocity. So can a little cash.” (199)

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” –Andre Gide (199)

“The first rule of magic is self-containment. You must hold your intention within yourself, stoking it with power. Only then will you be able to manifest what you desire.” (199)

“In order to achieve escape velocity, we must learn to keep our own counsel, to move silently among doubters, to voice our plans only among our allies, and to name our allies accurately.” (199)

“Make a list: those friends who will support me. Make another list: those friends who won’t.” (199)

“I think the single most important factor in an artist’s sustained productivity… is what I call “a believing mirror.” Put simply, a believing mirror is a friend to your creativity – someone who believes in your and your creativity.” (219)

“Artists like other artists. We are not supposed to know this. We are encouraged to believe “there is only so much room at the top.” Hooey. Water seeks its own level and water rises collectively.” (220)

“Success occurs in clusters.” (220)

“As creative people, we are meant to encourage one another. That was my goal in writing The Artist’s Way and it is my goal in teaching it. Your goal. It is my hope, is to encourage each other’s dreams as well as your own.” (221)

If you liked these quotes, please buy the book here.

2 Replies to ““The Artist’s Way” Quotes”

  1. Hi there Ben

    I have just started this book,I have dipped into it before,this time I am going for total immersion.I love your write up,really inspiring ,thanks very much.I wish you the very best on your path.


  2. This book changed my life. Ben, you pulled great quotes from it. I wrote Morning Pages for years. Among its many unforseen gifts it was an exfoliation of the spirit so that what needed to emerge and was under all that top crust could surface. And yes, like you said, it works a muscle of commitment. Showing up for yourself.

    I took a 12-week facilitated course in the Artist Way in 1992 and it was a GAME CHANGER.

    Thank you, Ben, for such a detailed, cogent share of this legendary master work.

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