The Artists' Way To Withstand Late Stage Capitalism
August 5, 2019 9:39 AM   Subscribe

l've recently picked up and then abandoned Julia Cameron's THE ARTIST'S WAY for the second time, and finally realized its class perspective is why it didn't work for me. Can you help find a good alternative?

I really, really wanted to like this. I like the idea of the "morning pages" and the "artists' date" and all that, and I appreciate being encouraged to do self-reflection in general. However, both times I've tried working with this, I didn't feel like I was able to connect all that well with the material - and this time around, I realized that it might be Julia Cameron's fault. Here's what I mean:

* Cameron encourages you to think back and identify what the big roadblocks to your creativity are - but it's clear from the examples she offers that she's thinking of things like "the mean third-grade teacher who picked on you for your bad penmanship" or whatever. Any such obstacles to my creativity were things that I told "fuck you" to long back in the day, and my current biggest obstacle is my not having any damn time because of a hella terrible day job (which I'm working to address).

* There's a lot of language that deals with "asserting your time" and "taking creative risks", but all the examples seem to involve people who abandoned their art practice for white collar careers learning to take their art back up, or people who are partnered so their partner can take up the slack while they find themselves. I'm single with a clerical job that I had to take when pursuing a creative career wasn't enough to sustain me, and downshifting to a job that pays less will put me out on the street and I have no partner to take up the slack.

* The chapter about "abundance" crystalized it for me - I really really was hoping it would help, because money is a big big bugaboo for me on both a practical and emotional level. But even here, there was mostly woo about "consider the lilies of the field" and lectures about trying not to keep up with the Joneses. It felt like the assumption was that I was trying to make money to buy a slicker computer or a new dress, when instead I'm trying to earn money to pay rent and debt.

In short, it felt like Cameron's book is targeted at the white-collar person who wants to dabble, and I'm looking more for "how to keep your creative soul alive while struggling at the soul-sucking job that late-stage capitalism has forced you to have for the next year or so". Any such recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Its not as instructive or advice-y about art-making as Cameron's work, but "How to do Nothing" is a direct confrontation of late stage capitalism, acknowledges class and race privilege, and is pretty inspiring.
posted by RajahKing at 10:05 AM on August 5, 2019 [14 favorites]

It might help to know what your goals are. Or, alternately, what blocks you need to overcome. Do you need help finding time/space to be creative in a busy schedule? Help over creative blocks? Ideas for creative expression on a "budget?"

In my case, it's finding artists who help me lower my standards and just make art without self judgement. I like reading about artists like John Cage and Cy Twombly who stretch the limits of what's considered "art" wide enough for a talent-constrained hack like myself to slip in. I also like books about making art from trash and other found/repurposed materials because art materials are dang expensive.

But that's me. What do you need? What must you overcome to keep your creative soul alive?
posted by cross_impact at 10:10 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

There are two older books I mix up, so if what I'm saying isn't in one, it's in the other. Wikipedia is not helping me at all, and I'm not in a place where I have access to my copies. Maybe some other MeFite will step in and tell me where I'm wrong.
Julie Cameron's morning pages is actually an idea from Dorothea Brande's book Becoming a Writer (1934). So I'd start with going back to Brande's book.
The other book I'm thinking of is If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (1938). One of these women (I think Ueland) gives multiple examples from teaching writing to people working hard, blue collar jobs. I remember one very long sample passage written by a student who worked long hours as a maid and was treated terribly by her employers.

Also, because of an earlier question, I've been doing Tim Clare's online course Couch to 80K, which he calls a bootcamp for novelists, and I absolutely love it.
posted by FencingGal at 10:13 AM on August 5, 2019 [12 favorites]

I'm not a fan of The Artist's Way for related reasons. It's nearly universally praised but I'm just irritated by it.

I'm looking more for "how to keep your creative soul alive while struggling at the soul-sucking job that late-stage capitalism has forced you to have for the next year or so."

If that's the criteria, check out Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon. It's light, it's digestible, there are no morning pages. It's simply practical and insightful guidance for creative people constrained by day gigs, limited hours, and emotional exhaustion.
posted by quarterframer at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

But that's me. What do you need? What must you overcome to keep your creative soul alive?

Either $20K, getting a kinder day job that lets me use my skills, the motivation to still hang on and do something when I am utterly exhausted after work or a practical guide to "now that you've written something, now what can you do with it".

Or a book that will tell me some of these.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Julia Cameron was also inspired by a book called Wish Craft, which had a chapter on writing three pages of longhand a day. If memory serves, she writes a bit about being a working mom and a writer and has some asides about her domestic experiences.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:38 AM on August 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

This book won't be released until tomorrow, and I haven't actually read any of the author's previous books (I just enjoy her art), so I can't vouch for it but it looks promising: Find Your Artistic Voice by Lisa Congdon. Here's a bit from the Amazon preview:
Most artists are so busy simply attempting to produce satisfying work or make a living that they forget that ultimately they are making work to communicate their own version of the truth. We make work that mirrors our own deeply held ideas about the world. Those ideas are sometimes really simple things like:
- Tulips are pretty.
- The sunset is the most beautiful moment in the day.
- A simple grid is the most visually satisfying image.
And sometimes our ideas are complex and complicated things like:
- I am oppressed.
- The universe is chaos.
- There is light in struggle.
She has another book, Art Inc., about building a career as an artist.
posted by mskyle at 10:39 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Last comment so I don't threadsit, but holy crap WISHCRAFT is almost exactly what I had in mind. So, yeah, stuff like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:06 AM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

You might enjoy Barbara Sher's other books as well. I liked Refuse to Choose a lot, but I'm not a creative, so ymmv.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:09 PM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wild Ideas: Creativity from the Inside Out by Cathy Wild kinda changed my life. Every chapter includes several questions for self-reflection.
posted by BeginAgain at 12:58 PM on August 5, 2019

Design Your Life annoyed me for the same reasons, but I also loved WishCraft - lots of practical discussion about working within constrains and *how* to go about making changes happen. You can get a free PDF of the book on the authors website, with the caveat that it has a couple typos and is of the first printing (so a little dated at times).

The Artist in the Office has been on my reading list for a long time, and gets really good reviews.

You might also like Sustainably Creative - sort of a promotion of slow art, validating small things you are able to do. The host has a chronic illness, but I found his messaging very helpful when I had a full time office job that just ducked the life out of me.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:20 PM on August 5, 2019

You might want to check out Artists U which thinks of themselves as "an incubator for changing the working conditions of artists. Everything we do is artist-run, free, and open-source." They have a book called Making your living as an artist with a companion workbook. You can buy it, or download it for free!

I've also enjoyed Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art.
posted by jasper411 at 3:03 PM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I found Elizabeth Stevens’ Make Art Make Money an interesting read. It’s an examination of Jim Henson’s career from a financial perspective.
posted by egypturnash at 5:49 PM on August 5, 2019

Cameron never really spoke to me, either, and I love books on creativity. But what has worked for me is being creative (pun unavoidable) with the time and circumstances I have. What inspires me to create is the desire to create. I write because I can't not write, and sometimes I've had to force time and circumstance to yield to that desire.

Most of the first draft of my third novel, the first one fit to offer up for publication, was written on my phone, using a Bluetooth keyboard, during my lunch hours (I'm not a masochist, I just didn't have a laptop at the time). I also got up early enough on holidays and weekends to put in a couple of hours. I still write during lunch and on weekend mornings.

I am also exhausted in the evening, so I don't get much done after work. My commute is by bus and I don't always have to share a seat, so I could get some writing done there, but bus time is usually reading time, and as a writer I need to read.

I've managed to avoid getting caught up in the need for a special space or or atmosphere in which to write. Writing requires fewer tools than most arts, and I make my own space with headphones and music or white noise. I use the tools available: the smartphone is the greatest thing ever for the writer of opportunity. You can use Google Docs, Pages for iPhone, Word, all sorts of text editors and note-taking tools. As long as your thumbs can stand it, you can write, then edit it or whatever on the computer at home.

Or just get a notebook and a pen, which are highly portable and don't require batteries.

My point here is, more than the tools or the time or the inspiring books, you have to want to write, or to be otherwise creative. Yes, it's a struggle at times, like life in general. The 9 to 5 is a soul-sucking grind, and it's up to you to fight it. (Artists always seem to have to have to fight. Builds character, I guess.)

If you really want it, you'll find a way to do it.
posted by lhauser at 9:01 PM on August 7, 2019

I really enjoyed Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Mind you, it doesn't directly confront late-stage capitalism, but it's not sharing a philosophy that is blithe to it either. It's not a how-to book in any sense. More a deeply kind and comforting (to me, at least) balm and musing on process and inner life of creating and having some things work and some things suck and some things elude us and learning to be ok with it all.
posted by shelbaroo at 6:20 AM on August 9, 2019

Maybe The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp?
posted by kristi at 10:37 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

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