Learnings From The Artist’s Way + How They Can Apply to Your Creative Team
I first learned of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way – A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity during a creatively difficult time in my life. I was working a demanding job at an advertising agency, averaging 50+ hours per week while unsuccessfully trying to maintain my personal art practice on the side. I was experiencing a terrible combination of burnout and creative block with no end in sight. Frustrated and jaded, I felt disillusioned with life, and my usual sources of inspiration were falling short.
My partner and I would host couch-surfers from time to time in our small one-bedroom apartment in Boston, converting our living room into a second room to host artists from around the world. One afternoon in June, Greta, a German woman in her late 50’s, came to stay with us for a week. She called her time in Boston “an elongated artist date.” An artist date? Like when you go on a date with an artist? I asked. Turns out an artist date is not what I thought. Greta described it as “a block of time set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness.” It’s a play date that you pre-plan and defend, taking no one but yourself and your inner artist (aka creative child). Your inner artist needs to be taken out, pampered, and listened to. An artist date does just that. “We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them to restock the trout pond, so to speak, a process called filling the creative well.”1 When would I even have time for that? I thought. But that’s entirely the point.
Greta proceeded to give me a basic rundown of The Artist’s Way, which has become an essential therapeutic component of my artistic practice and one that I recommend to many artists as a highly personal workbook. It is a way to get back to the roots of your creative being and reconnect with a sense of power in the process. Rather than giving you a book review, I want to share some of the major takeaways from this mind-altering book and highlight a few ways that I believe these learnings can apply to working with a creative team.
1. Creativity Requires Trust
Many, if not all, creative people are hard on themselves; an inner critic is part of the package. Progress, not perfection, is a crucial mantra to keep in mind. Within companies and organizations that want to foster creativity, leadership must keep in mind that creativity needs to be nurtured in all of us, no matter how far along our paths we are. Critique is necessary, but the line between constructive guidance and discouragement can be thinner than we think. To quote Erykah Badu, “artists are sensitive about their sh*t.” It is crucial to use empathy and speak with consideration when providing feedback. The goal should always be to encourage and inspire because that is the best environment for supporting creative development. Not only will this lead to better work from your team, but it will create trust, which means that everyone will be more open to taking risks when contributing ideas and creative solutions.
2. Jealousy is a Map
The feeling of jealousy leads you towards understanding your inner desires, and everyone’s jealousy map is different. For example, I never felt envious of someone else achieving success at my old agency, even when the reward or award was sizable, but I did take an extensive interest in the career advancements of people I knew working in social justice. I was jealous that their work meant something bigger than helping a big name brand sell a useless product. This jealousy lingered in me until I took action. Jealousy has a way of making us feel like there isn’t room for us where we want to be, but the truth is that there is room for all of us. If you are feeling jealous of someone’s advancements or achievements in your industry, company, or even on your own team, ask yourself, where is my jealousy map leading me, and what action do I need to take? Is it actually resentment for this person I’m feeling, or is it resentment towards myself for not moving in the direction of what I want?
3. Creativity is Not a Business
Although it may (and often does) generate much business, attempting to match a specific formula for too long eventually leads to stale work and boredom. This is not to say that we should abandon what works, but it is to say that some degree of risk is essential for creative growth and fulfillment. When considering the work we create for clients, it is essential to know what has been successful in the past, but it is equally important to be forward thinking, to question what if and what could be, in order to reach new heights.
4. Establishing a Healthy Work/Life Balance Is Vital
…for everyone, but possibly more so for creatives. Being creative on demand for an employer can be both fulfilling and exhausting. This is why making time to nurture your creativity on your own time matters. It is often the things we do outside of work that make our work better—which means prioritizing play and making time for it in your schedule (like reserving time for your artist date). If you feel a creative block or burnout, it is time to take that trip, visit that museum, sign up for that dance class; whatever play looks like for you. Over an extended period of time, being creative requires enthusiasm more than discipline, and enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work.
For anyone looking to dive deeper into their creative and spiritual self, I recommend picking up a copy of The Artist’s Way. This book is loaded with insights into how to awaken creativity and can also be a great tool to spark conversation and inspiration amongst your team.
1 Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way