“The War of Art” Kill the Lizard, Release the Artist.

As a lad, I was a promising young artist. I did all the usual creatives: I wrote short stories; I drew comic books at first, then painted as I got older; upon high school graduation, I took design, before “getting serious” with a degree in Economics.

During that freshman year, I remember one such evening, up in the middle of the night, writing. I was scrawling inane thoughts on a sheet of lined paper, lest I lose them forever (sigh). I must have been delirious or drunk because I was doodling a diagram, of what I thought to be the most peak experiences in life, like a flowchart of religious experience.

I remember distinctly, under one such diagram, writing the words, “Art is the Grandchild of God”, as my vain attempt to describe the pattern of situations in life where I felt a connection to a greater spirit:

  • Lust/Flirting/Sex with Women (eg. the bubbly haze of love)
  • The high adrenaline pump from Sports and Competition
  • Striking Moments of lucid creativity. Creating art. Drawing, writing poetry and so on.

Love. Sports. Art.

The whole point of my little diagram (other than a good laugh, the following day), was that my life at the time was mostly mundane, speckled with periods of great zest and creativity. I wanted to know the formula to get more of that feeling, of closeness to something greater. What did Love, Sports and Art have in common? Surging chemicals in the brain, I supposed, for the first two. But why Art?

Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’ brings me back to those days, when I was wise enough to notice the power of art, the power of creation, but stupid enough to look away from it. I took my eye off the prize. After a year in Design (whereupon my sneaky professor warned me of the limited financial opportunities upon graduation, appealing to my conservatism), I went the safe route. I got a straight laced education. Something ‘practical’. I did the worst thing an aspiring artist can do: I met my Lizard.

The Lizard brain is so named for it denotes the smaller primitive amphibian brain we theoretically brought with us out of the swamp millions of years ago (again, this is entwined with a modern theory of evolution; apologies to anyone I may have put off). The Lizard brain was and is very good at one thing: not necessarily spreading its own genes, but survival. The way it survives is by being ultra conservative–constantly scanning the environment for threats, and adapting accordingly. The Lizard brain can justify camping out in one location for months. The key is safety. When safety is threatened – the Lizard brain spikes emotions like fear, anger and negativity. The War of Art, is mostly a book about hunting down and slaying your Lizard Brain.

The Lizard brain wants you to never ever feel pain. It’s a pretty pathetic strategy for a College Grad in 2012. I think of attacking the Lizard Brain as ‘Forced Evolution. Attack your fears, and you attack the LIzard. Fittingly, attacking your fears is great way to describe the creation of great art. If art is the expression of emotions in physical form, then attacking a conservative ghost like the Lizard Brain, will unleash better, more memorable, more beautiful, more shocking art. The Lizard (referred to as the Resistance in this book) wants to  insulate you permanently from pain. But pain, physical and emotional, is not the ultimate loss. The ultimate loss is a life lived in the prison of your mind, walking the earth with an upside down and backwards map of the world. Better to be pained, than lost. The artist knows the way. He sees through the lies, sees through temptation, and devotes his time to honing his craft, whatever that craft may be.

“Art, as far as it is able, follows nature, as a pupil imitates his master; thus your art must be, as it were, God’s grandchild.” – Dante’s Inferno


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