The year Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way came out, I was given three of them as gifts. I found the book unreadable, and re-gifted the volumes to those more appreciative. All the same, I knew there was good information lurking in the treacly prose as I scanned the pages.
Challenge Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” products in public and prepare for a beating from her mostly female fan base. The variety of items in her empire is large enough that you could receive a fortnightly beating with a different volume for about a year.
The books have so much coddling and soothing and smoothing of the fragile reader that the end result is a condescension that makes me (quite literally) hurl the volumes across the room. I’m obviously not her Right Reader or target market. I don’t need “permission” nor do I dig the “recovery” patois. There are oddly conflicting products in her stable such as the Artist’s Date Book and the Artist’s Way Morning Pages journal. Shouldn’t you make your own book if you’re taking command of your own artistic development? I can get a free pocket calendar from Walt’s Brake and Muffler and make my own Artist’s Date Book (and call it something like “Outings that May Get Me in Trouble”), and a crappy dollar notebook (labeled “Lunatic Ravings”) thus saving myself $10, but more importantly, investing some of myself into the process. This marketing dichotomy aside, which may be more the fault of her publisher (who seems to enjoy building juggernauts), Cameron offers a number of tools that are keepers, and found outside her books.
After a bit of poking around on YouTube, I discovered another aspect of Cameron, personal interviews on video where the tone is very different. She distills her teachings to a sort of actionable shorthand . In this particular YouTube offering, taken at a 2007 retreat in Litchfield Connecticut, (Cameron, you used to be in film, can’t you help them record decent audio on these things?), she explains her top two concepts with a brevity that’s a relief: Morning Pages and the Artist’s Date. The Morning Pages are also known in the GTD world as a Brain Dump. The Artists’s Date is also know to everyone else as getting out of the house.
They’re both really good, simple ideas, not served by formalizing in systems, movements, empires, unnecessary products, clubs and groups. Any artistic catering to the support and approval of others is deadly, which is why her popularity can be dangerous. She herself does a useful bit on recognizing Wet Blanket people (which I may be one) on another YouTube video. Also known in the comedy world as, “If they can’t take a joke, screw ’em.” In this same video she mentions a friend’s advice to her, about writing not for the lowest common denominator, but to her ideal reader. Fred Picker, who taught me the One Hundred Set-ups, often mentioned the Right Reader, the person or few people who really get you and your work, whatever it might be. They’re the antidote found next to the poison, so to speak; the few people who understand what you’re driving at while the others next to them are saying, “she has a way with words but does she have to swear so much?”
So thanks, Julia Cameron, and your hosts for submitting the useful Cliff’s Notes videos on YouTube. And thanks, too, for offering terrific tools to tie more stuff together for the betterment of humanity and, well… not requiring me to read the books.