The Artist’s Journey, #7
Continuing our serialization of The Artist’s Journey … to refresh our memory, the primary thesis of this book is that our evolution as writers and artists hits an inflection point on that day when we realize that our Searching Years are over, our questing dues have been paid (in other words, our “hero’s journey” has reached its completion), and we must now advance into a second journey, in which for the first time we with full awareness and seriousness embrace our calling as artists. At that point, we “turn pro” and start asking the questions all artists must ask of themselves on their creative journeys: “Who am I? What is my gift? What work was I put on the planet to do?”
26. THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS ABOUT ACCESSING THE UNCONSCIOUS
You can attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, get a degree in Literature from Harvard, hang on your wall a framed MFA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. You can serve in the Navy SEALs in Afghanistan, survive heroin addiction in East St. Louis. You can break your back at hard labor, break your heart in love, break your balls in the school of hard knocks.
None of it will do a damn bit of good if you can’t sit down and open the pipeline to your muse.
The artist’s journey is about that.
Nothing else matters.
Nothing else counts.
27. THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY LASTS THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
There is no other journey in this lifetime after the artist’s journey (other than, perhaps, the transition to the next life).
Once you board this train, you’re on it to the end of the line.
B O O K T H R E E
P O R T R A I T O F T H E A R T I S T
28. WHAT IS AN ARTIST?
Before we dig deeper into the nature of the artist’s journey let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves, “What exactly is an artist?
What qualities can we attribute to this peculiar subspecies of the human race?
29. AN ARTIST HAS A SUBJECT
The Last Waltz
Gangs of New York
The Wolf of Wall Street
Did Martin Scorsese sit down as a young filmmaker and ask himself, “What’s my subject?” I doubt it very much.
But a subject arose just the same. (Actually probably two: Outlaw Life and Love of Cinema, with a couple of outliers thrown in.)
You have a subject too.
You were born with it.
You will discover it on your artist’s journey.
30. WHAT IS “SUBJECT?”
Subject does not mean “the Civil War” or “feminism.”
Consider Bruce Springsteen’s subject. It isn’t just dudes and babes in cars in New Jersey.
It’s thematic. The Boss’s theme, to which he returns over and over, is the worth of passion and the integrity of what we might call “the common man” (and woman).
His subject is red-white-and-blue, fucked-over, fucked-up, but still shining and worthy and unbreakable.
Subject is deeper than topic. It’s not “what it’s about,” it’s what it’s really about.
31. HOW SUBJECT ARISES
It sounds facile to say, “We don’t pick our subject, our subject picks us.” But I’m convinced that that statement is true.
It’s not your subject. It’s your Self’s, your Muse’s, your Superconscious’s.
You were born with that subject but you never knew it.
Have you ever met someone who says, “I have no passion for anything. I wish I could feel it, but I can’t. The only thing I feel is boredom.”
I know this is a lie because I’ve lived it myself for years.
Show me someone who claims he doesn’t give a shit and I’ll show you a born artist who’s scared out of his wits to become that artist.
Our subject is sitting right in front of us but we can’t see it because we’re terrified.
We’re terrified that, if we recognize and acknowledge our subject (which is our calling as an artist), then we’ll have to act on it.
We’ll have to make a decision.
We’ll have to put ourselves on the line.
We’ll have to take a risk.
I can say truthfully of every book I’ve written that, before I saw it as a subject, I had no idea I was even interested in it. In fact I wasn’t interested in it. Or if I was, I dismissed that interest as purely idiosyncratic, a feeling that applied to me only but would never apply to anyone else.
The books picked me, I didn’t pick them.
It’s a mystery, this art racket.