The Artist’s Journey by Steven Pressfield

Sep 19, 2018 / Writing & Literature / book reviews / steven pressfield / hero's journey / mythology

boy with face covered by a book suggesting reading and imagination
FaceBook. Collaged & Toned Cyanotype Print, 2015. 17" x 17". Limited edition of 12 (Variable).


I love Steven Pressfield. His book, The War of Art, is the best book I’ve found that describes the internal struggle some artists face when creating new work. It certainly describes my struggle. The procrastination, the second-guessing, the indecision—it’s all described in that book. So when he came out with new book entitled, The Artist Journey, The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit Of Meaning, I had to buy it.

In this book, he continues the thread of belief that runs through his books: making art is a spiritual undertaking.

I love that perspective. In this blog post, I highlight a number of his ideas that sparks my imagination.

We Exist in Two Worlds

Pressfield believes that we live in two worlds: the physical world and a higher plane. When an artist creates art, what she’s really doing is journeying from the physical world to this other world. While there, she receives ideas on what to create. Then she journey’s back to the physical world to reproduce what she saw on that higher plane. That is how she creates art.

I love this operating model for creativity as it’s clear that an artist’s job is a spiritual one. We go back and forth between the two universes and we never know what we will get every time. It’s like magic in a way: you create something out of nothing.

And this operating model doesn’t necessarily have to apply to art-making. Since this blog covers my journey from accountant to artist, I talk about everything in terms of art. But Pressfield’s advice applies to anything creative like building a business, improving a process at your day job, or simply writing a blog post. It applies to anything that you create that has never existed before.

Your Hero’s Journey Must Be Lived in Real Life

I’ve read a lot about the Hero’s Journey, but I like Pressfield’s take on it:

“The hero’s journey is a myth that, according to Joseph Campbell, C.G. Jung and others, is common to all human cultures. This template exists in our psyches from birth, like an operating system or, perhaps more exactly, a piece of software within the operating system.”

Pressfield adds: “The hero’s journey template exerts a powerful, almost irresistible pressure on the individual to live it out in real life.”

I love his description. I love imagining that from birth, our operating system boots up and this software automatically starts running in the background. It will run for the rest of our lives.

Since this hero’s journey software is always running in the background, if you don’t do what it wants you to do, you will always feel something is wrong, like a persistent bug. If you don’t correct this bug, it will become larger and larger, until you will essentially destroy yourself–using alcohol, drugs, or money–all because you didn’t pay attention to that operating error of your Hero’s Journey program.

It’s Fill In the Blanks

Everyone has a Hero’s Journey that they alone must complete. And what’s interesting according to Pressfield is that it’s a fill-in-the blanks template:

  1. The hero, ____, lives in her Ordinary World.
  2. But one day, the hero receives the Call to Adventure when __________ walks into her life and does/says __________.
  3. The hero refuses to hear the Call to Adventure, but changes her mind when a Mentor appears and convinces her to go.
  4. And so, the Hero crosses the Threshold of Adventure at _____ and will battle monsters and enemies.
  5. The Hero achieves her goal __________ but must flee for her life, pursued by Monsters __________ and __________.
  6. The hero returns safely to the Ordinary World from which she started, by means of a __________, bringing for the people the gift of __________, hard-won from her experiences.

What is the gift that the hero will bring back? According to Pressfield, for artists, the gift they will bring back is the artwork that they will produce.

Where Am I in this Journey?

I’m on step 4. I’m in the middle of my story, and you know what? I’m constantly losing. My monster is Resistance and its’ many guises (procrastination, indecision, second-guessing). It’s kicking the shit out of me.

But I’ve managed to hang on.

I want to finish this A Million Suns photonovel I’ve been hoping to bring to the world. I’d like to think of it is a gift, but I’ll settle on finishing it first.

I know that if I don’t finish this artwork, it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

There you have it, my high level review of Steven Pressfield’s Artist Journey. Well, it’s not so much a book review, but more about highlighting his ideas that sparked my imagination. He’s really good at that. I’m sure I will be re-reading this book many times in the future.

About the Author

Jonah Calinawan

Hello! I’m Jonah Calinawan, and I create cyanotype art that makes you think and feeds the soul. I also blog about the quest for a meaningful life using art and positivity.

When not shooting photos or writing, I teach myself piano and recommend Josh Wright’s Propractice tutorials (affiliate link).

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