The Artist’s Journey, Cont’d
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4. HERO’S JOURNEY AND ARTIST’S JOURNEY, PART TWO
The hero’s journey is a myth that, according to Joseph Campbell, C.G. Jung and others, is common to all human cultures. It’s a template that exists in our psyches from birth, like an operating system or, perhaps more exactly, a piece of software within the operating system.
There are two aspects of the hero’s journey that are, in my view, often overlooked or not taken into account.
- The template is a fill-in-the-blanks proposition. It lays out a pattern and a sequence but it leaves the details specific to the individual TK (to come.)
- The hero’s journey template exerts a powerful, almost irresistible pressure on the individual to live it out in real life.
As a young childless woman experiences the ticking of her biological clock, so you and I feel the pull of our as-yet-unlived hero’s journey.
What makes us leave our small town and head to the big city? Why do we enlist in the Special Forces? What is happening to us when we meet a stranger on a plane and follow her (or him) to Argentina?
The software in our heads demands to be lived out.
The blanks insist on being filled in.
The hero (__________) receives the Call when (__________) walks into his/her life and does/says (__________).
The hero returns to (___________) by means of a (__________), bringing for the people the gift of (___________), hard-won from his/her experiences.
If you’re an artist, I can fill in the final blank for you right now.
The gift you bring is the works you will produce.
5. THE CONTENTS OF OUR HERO’S JOURNEY
My own hero’s journey lasted about two and a half years, from age twenty-six to twenty-nine. It hit every beat in the myth, by the numbers and in sequence.
I had no idea, of course, that what I was experiencing might be called a hero’s journey. I had never heard of the hero’s journey.
What was clear to me was that something was happening, and that something was a train I couldn’t stop or slow down or get off.
What was clear too was when it ended. I knew the exact moment. I could feel it.
Even then, in that hour, I understood that the experience was of supreme value and importance. I didn’t need hindsight. I knew in the moment.
My family may have been repelled, even appalled by where I had been and what I had done; my friends may have feared for my sanity; others who cared for me may have shaken their heads at the waste and folly and futility. Even I understood it would take me years to recover. I didn’t care. The trip was worth it.
Because I now had a history that was mine alone. I had an ordeal that I had survived and a passage that I had paid for with my own blood. Nobody knew about this passage but me. Nobody would ever know, nor did I feel the slightest urge to communicate it. This was mine, and nobody could ever take it away from me.
I had punched my ticket.
I had filled in the blanks.
6. THE ARTIST IS DIFFERENT FROM THE HERO
The artist lives out his or her real-life hero’s journey differently from the hero-as-man-or-woman-of-action.
I reached out for something to attach myself to [wrote Henry Miller in Tropic of Capricorn]—and I found nothing. But in reaching out, in the effort to grasp, to attach myself, left high and dry as I was, I nevertheless found something I had not looked for—myself. I found that what I had desired all my life was not to live—if what others are doing is called living—but to express myself. I realized that I had never had the least interest in living, but only in this which I am doing now, something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, and beyond it. What is true interests me scarcely at all, nor even what is real; only that interests me which I imagine to be, that which I had stifled every day in order to live.
The hero’s journey for the artist is preparation only for her real journey, her passage and career in the imagination.