I have been bragging to anyone who will listen about the twelve-week writing and creativity workshop in which I participated over the summer. I find that when I frame it that way—as a three month writing and creativity workshop—it makes the whole endeavor sound more formal, more robust, and more serious than what you might otherwise have concluded if, for instance, you’d seen us sipping wine and laughing in the back corners of bars or eating Chipotle burritos in public parks on Thursday evenings. But that’s the thing about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: it requires a playful, childlike approach.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (TarcherPerigree, $17, 272 pp.) is something of a cult classic in the world of self-help, owing in part to its origins as a self-publishing phenomenon. (It was soon picked up by a trade press, and last October, a handsome twenty-fifth-anniversary edition was released.) Having only completed the course book one time, I am among the least qualified to write about it—there are real devotees out there. That’s because Julia Cameron doles out wisdom, advice, assignments, and exercises to begin “discovering and recovering” one’s inner-artist (who is actually a child, by the way). She dedicates each chapter to an aspect of this recovery—from cultivating “a sense of safety” and “a sense of identity” to nurturing “a sense of faith” and “a sense of possibility.” The concept of recovery is key, as Cameron’s book hinges on the belief that all people are inherently creative—but most people have discounted and abandoned their creativity, whether fear, shame, or financial concerns motivated the lapse.
If it sounds weird, that’s because it is. It’s perfectly weird. Cameron takes vaguely Christian concepts of the soul, God, truth, beauty, and goodness, and relativizes them ever so slightly. She dabbles in pop psychology and sociology; she mixes in a healthy number of context-free quotations from ancient philosophers.
I like to imagine that Cameron has combined the wisdom drawn from her eclectic reading in just the right way to appeal to both the spiritual and the skeptical. For example, atheists and believers alike are bound to take her idea of synchronicity with a grain of salt—“loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events”—even as they consider examples of the phenomenon from their own lives. “Whatever you choose to call it, once you begin your creative recovery you may be startled to find it cropping it up everywhere,” she explains.