The Artist’s Journey, #10
We’re now a little short of halfway through this serialization of The Artist’s Journey. (I may break it up with the odd rogue post from time to time). If you’re just joining, click on any of these links to track backward in time through prior posts:Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9.
42. WHO R U?
I’ve read a dozen different versions of Stanislavsky’s famous Three Questions, i.e. the questions an actor must ask him- or herself before playing any scene. Here’s my version:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What do I want?
The second two are pretty easy. It’s the first that’s the killer.
Who am I?
An actor can answer that question like this: “I’m Ophelia. I’m Hamlet’s sweetheart and potential bride, etc.”
What about you and me?
We have to answer that question not on the stage, but in our own lives and in our own art.
“Tell me who you are, Junah. Who, in your deepest parts, when all that is unauthentic has been stripped away. Are you your name, Rannulph Junah? Will that hit this shot for you? Are you your illustrious forebears? Will they hit it?
“Are you your roles, Junah? Scion, soldier, Southerner? Husband, father, lover? Slayer of the foe in battle, comforter of the friend at home? Are you your virtues, Junah, or your sins? Your deeds, your feats? Are you your dreams or your nightmares? Tell me Junah. Can you hit the ball with any of these?”
We said earlier that a writer or an artist has no idea what she’s doing when she is initially seized by an idea.
I certainly had no clue when this passage of dialogue appeared on the page in The Legend of Bagger Vance. I didn’t plan it. It wasn’t in any outline.
How did it get there?
What happened was the “me” that wasn’t me, knowing that this issue was central to my evolution as a writer and as a human being, broke through like a dream and pushed those sentences onto the page.
43. THE WORLD THE ARTIST LIVES IN
Here’s my model of the universe in a nutshell:
The universe exists on at least two levels. (It may exist on an infinite number, but certainly it manifests itself on two.)
The first is the material world, the visible physical sphere in which you and I dwell.
Then there’s the second level.
The higher level.
The second level exists “above” the first but permeates the first at all times and in all instances. This second level is the invisible world, the plane of the as-yet-unmanifested, the sphere of pure potentiality.
Upon this level dwells that which will be, but is not yet.
Call this level the Unconscious, the Soul, the Self, the Superconscious.
44. THE ARTIST’S SKILL
What exactly does an artist do?
The writer, the dancer, the filmmaker … what, precisely, does their work consist of?
They shuttle from Level #1 to Level #2 and back again.
That’s their skill.
Twyla Tharp in her dance studio, Quentin Tarantino at his keyboard, Bob Dylan when he picks up a guitar or sits down at a piano. They perform this simple but miraculous act a thousand, ten thousand times a day.
They enter the Second World and come back to the First
with something that had never existed in the First World before.
A machine can’t do that.
A supercomputer packed with the most powerful A.I. system can’t do that.
In all of Creation, only two creatures can do that.
And you and I.
45. THE CONTOUR OF THE ARTIST’S LIFE
From the epiphanal moment at the end of her hero’s journey, the artist’s life is about the works she will produce. These taken in sum will comprise her body of work. They’re her “oeuvre.”
They’re also her destiny.
If she does it right, they will constitute upon completion a pretty fair expression of why she was put on Earth. They’ll define who she is. They will be her “gift for the people.”
But here’s the interesting part.
Each work (or, more exactly, the artist’s inner odyssey as she labors to produce each work) will be a hero’s journey in its own right.
46. EACH INCREMENT OF THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS A HERO’S JOURNEY
We experience our life as dull and ordinary. But beneath the surface, something powerful and transformative is brewing …
Suddenly the light bulb goes off. We’ve got a new idea! An idea for a novel, a movie, a startup …
Except immediately we perceive the downside. We become daunted. Our idea is risky. We’re afraid we can’t pull it off. We hesitate, until …
We’re having drinks with a friend. We tell her our idea. “I love it,” she says. “You’ve gotta do it.”
Fortified, we rally.
This is the pattern for the genesis of any creative work. It’s also, in Joseph Campbell terms, “the Ordinary World,” “The Call,” “Refusal of the Call,” “Meeting with the Mentor,” and “Crossing the Threshold.”
In other words, the first five stages of the hero’s journey.
Keep going. As you progress on your project, you’ll hit every other Campbellian beat, right down to the finish and release/publication, i.e., “The Return,” bearing a “Gift for the People.”
This pattern will hold true for the rest of your life, through every novel, movie, dance, drama, work of architecture, etc. you produce.
Every work is its own hero’s journey.
This post gave me goosebumps. I’ve never read a better description of the artist’s inner world (#43 and 44) – your conceptualization that we live on two planes perfectly captures the dreamy, mystical part of this process – thank you!
You described the experience perfectly–dual citizenship.
It was extremely helpful to hear you say each artistic endeavor is a hero’s journey unto itself. As I dive deeper into my project I’ve had a nagging feeling maybe I wasn’t yet on my artist’s journey because I kept going off road back onto the hero’s path.
What you said makes sense, and helps me to focus on the work and not analyzing the roadside attractions.
Thank you. Wonderful post.
Wednesday mornings keep me on track!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
46. EACH INCREMENT OF THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS A HERO’S JOURNEY. No truer words ever written. Oh…so Easy Street doesn’t exist! Even if I was on Easy Street, I’d probably start breaking shit within a week out of sheer boredom.
The most beautiful depiction I’ve seen lately on this idea of “the artist bringing gifts into this world” is in the documentary “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” currently airing on HBO. People: if you don’t watch the whole four hours, watch the 30 seconds from 2:07:02 in Part 2. Jerry Seinfeld and Garry are driving in a car:
Jerry: “You know, David Brennan passed away last year. All that material, he worked so hard on it. It’s just gone. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone anymore and it took so much work to create it.”
Garry: “That material, and YOUR material, is purely a vehicle for you to express your spirit and your soul and your being. And that’s why you’re fantastic.”
Jerry: “So it doesn’t have any value beyond that?”
Garry: “It doesn’t have ANY value beyond you expressing yourself spiritually… It’s why you’re on the planet.”
Then look what happens to Jerry’s face. Run it back and look again. If you had the sound off, you’d think Garry just told Jerry the world’s funniest joke. But it wasn’t about humor, not about “funny.” Jerry’s face lights UP with elation in the recognition of transcendent truth: that all of this is our spirits expressing themselves by bringing back gifts from Level #2. It’s a Buddha laugh if I’ve ever seen one.
I’ve been working on a book describing my own take on Resistance for 7 or 8 years. I get enthused, I gather my notes, I realize it’s all been said, better, already, I collapse like a wet tissue.
Maybe it’s supposed to be a meta book, about how Resistance doesn’t even want to be talked about. It’s a bully, but it’s happy over there waiting in the shadows, and every single time I walk by it trips me, then laughs at me laying in the dirt.
If anything you’ve written ever excels The War of Art in value to me, this book will be it. The stuff of hope; a light aimed at that corner, keeping me on my feet.
Powerful stuff, I love where you’re going with “The Artist’s Journey”. It’s hitting home. Thank you!
Thank you Steve… for continuing on both the Artist’s Journey and the Hero’s Journey and bringing your “oeuvre” and gifts to the world, including this blog. Love your work, wisdom, and insights. Powerful. Helpful. Deeply appreciated.
If I had been Junah, I would have known my answer. I’ve been saying it for many years but not living i the way I’d dreamed and planned. Only in bits and pieces, which in retrospect appeared to be only ‘flashes in the pan’ during my “level #1′ life. My “second level” sat up and took notice at what I was reading. It looked backward into my first level’s history with a different perspective than my first level believed was my truth for 70 years. That view of my life became a series of mini successes instead of failures and rejections. Perhaps the reality of those incidents was that the rejector hadn’t valued my talent and skills. Or had reacted out of their own psychological baggage. When I saw Joel Canfield, a successful author to my knowledge, and read his comment, I knew my Self had opened to what I read here today. This is totally universal. I’m going to include this experience in my survivor/recovery memoir. Thanks, Steve, for being who you are.
So beautiful, Steve. Thank you!
I’ve said it a million times – and bought his books for so many people – but here it goes, Mr. Stephen Pressfield is a GIFT to humanity. His gifts will continue to give for many generations to come. THANK YOU!
When this comes into print I will buy many copies for all the artists I know.
And thank you Shawn Coyne, the Story Grid is the greatest tool I’ve ever found for the macro and micro planning of a story.
So grateful for all you give the community.
OMG I can’t believe I wrote Stephen and not Steven – sorry! I know two Stephens and always do this, GAH! Sorry Mr. Pressfield!
What every one else said. Perfect. Thank you.
I think we don’t answer the question because we don’t want to know. Knowing obligates us. It’s easier to not know and to watch TV. Escaping the internal pressure is preferable to knowing and possibly failing at being who we really are. That’s what makes us heros when we push through big, bad, scary Resistance to find and rescue ourselves from oblivion. Artistic = Heroic. Thanks for pushing me a bit farther today, Steven!
Steve P….Wow what a post. Just shared this with my tribe. You are incredible. I learn from you again and again.
You wrote that we exist on two levels, the first—visible or physical world, and the second—invisible or place of possibles not experienced we artists go to the second level seamlessly do our creative imagining and expression there and return with something new to share. I know second level well, but I did not accept it as real for decades. I had visions long before I saw them as writing prompts. I made my life into stories long before I began to tell stories as a way to explain complicated or emotionally challenging situations and events to others. I rhymed and spoke in cadence long before I fell into poetry as my method of writing my way through trauma, betrayal, loss, grief, illness, and starting over with no visible means of support. My hero’s journey led me to leave an abusive marriage and survive a terminal diagnosis. Those two overlapping events led me to discovering the insistent yet persistently loving voice of my inner artist. And when I met her, I was home.
I’m starting to come around to this, Steven, but I still am not compleetely sold that this is working.
My first balk is this word: contour. I keep hearing it, You keep saying it. I’m like, wtf? Contour…? I keep thinking of the way cars are shaped and vector calculus. Countour. Ah, the shape of a woman. Her curves. The countours and the shape of her skin. Romance.
My friend is making the artist’s gig seem like a romatic beatitude instead of the horrendous self-torture that it actually is. He’s painting a picture and casting a spell. Well, that’s a feat of magic unto itself. I gotta hand it to ya there.
Second: Artist’s Journey, Hero’s Journey, Journey Journey, Artist Hero, Hero Artist,
Man, that’s gettin’ old in a hurry.
I don’t know. Feels overused by now.
Who am I to doubt the wise old master author?
It’s too tame and airy fairy, this thing, bro.
You gotta kill this, Steven. We’re not playin’ here. Go for the jugular and just kick total fucking ass on this thing. I mean, how many more of these do you really have left in you? You gotta really dig deep here, buddy and deliver the best work of your life. You gotta throw down everything you gotdeliver one for the generations.
Quit fuckin’ around, we all know you got it in you.
You know you got it in you.
It’s a good idea but artists are wild animals,intensely passionate, fiercely free and we explode past boundaries like they weren’t even there because we have to go where no one else has ever gone if we want to stay original.
Destroy that shit. Burn it. Set it on fire!
Dance on your knees like Jimi over a flaming guitar.
Show us how it’s done.
Enough of the fluff let’s get to the real stuff!