Steven Pressfield

What is an artist? How does it relate to being a professional? Can you be both? What is the distinction between an amateur and a professional?

These are some of the most intriguing questions. I put them up there with “What’s it mean to be credible?” and “How do you cultivate credibility?” These are such entrenched social constructs, yet we often take them for granted and fail at realizing their fluidity.

The con artist realizes their fluidity. That’s how they manipulate. A masterful con artist can quickly hit all the right cues so you trust them to perform. Then, of course, they pull the carpet.

It’s because of Steven Pressfield’s revelations surrounding these questions that I fell in love with his book The War of Art. There are many definitions offered. Here is the one that has stuck with me most:

A PROFESSIONAL ACCEPTS NO EXCUSES

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.

I’ve thought about this every day since reading it. It’s so easy in theory though so difficult in practice: a professional doesn’t even pick up the phone. I encourage you to try to remember that line the next time you want to turn to a familiar vice.

I’m about halfway done with Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. The book is about the would-be artist’s creative battle with what Pressfield calls Resistance. It comes highly recommended by Brian Koppelman, so I decided to take a break from Good to Great and check it out.

While there are a lot of great ideas I could share with you from the book, today I’d like to just share one, my favorite: RESISTANCE AND UNHAPPINESS.

RESISTANCE AND UNHAPPINESS

What does resistance feel like?

First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.

Unalleviated, Resistance mounts to a pitch that becomes unendurable. At this point vices kick in. Dope, adultery, web surfing.

Beyond that, Resistances becomes clinical. Depression, aggression, dysfunction. Then actual crime and physical self-destruction.

Sounds like life, I know. It isn’t. It’s Resistance.

What makes it tricky is that we live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of this unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction. John Lennon once wrote:

 

Well, you think you’re so clever

and classless and free

But you’re all fucking peasants

As far as I can see

 

As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.