Wait, genius means what?

A couple nights ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s the War of Art. I flew through it. It’s as inspiring as any concert, any museum, any art gallery I’ve ever been to.

The crux of the book is to discuss the obstacles that prevent creativity or the pursuit of a goal and inspire, encourage, warn, man-splain … how that person should jump off the woe is me train and onto the Airbus/space shuttle/galaxy destroyer of creativity …

I haven’t been this inspired in a long time.

Gosh, I remember as a kid going to church and feeling like I should be inspired by church sermons. And sometimes I took nuggets here or there. But never did I feel wow’d by sermon speak. If anything, you’d think that after an hour of so-called “uplifting music” and “biblical encouragements,” I’d leave church and feel heavenly and refreshed. Those were feelings I was supposed to feel. And I was good at faking them. But bored, guilty and shame, maybe, those were emotions I walked away with. I was rarely inspired.

But this book, holy shit!

Maybe it’s the Whole30 diet and the clarity it’s giving me. Maybe it’s reading it on the coattails of Tribe of Mentors. But holy damn. I love this book and want everyone to read it and love it.

Pressfield describes the antithesis of art as “resistance.” Anything that prevents you from doing you: resistance.

This makes total sense to me.

He discusses the origin of the word genius, which is not necessarily a person who is superior in his accomplishments because they make everyone else look un-genius. According to wiki:

In ancient Rome, the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of a person, family (gens), or place (genius loci).[3] The noun is related to the Latin verbgenui, genitus, “to bring into being, create, produce”, as well as to the Greek word for birth.[4]

“To bring into being, create, produce.” That is powerful stuff. In no other time in history have we had so many ways to, not only create and produce, but share it. And in my world, I’ve got a fire under my ass to not only create and produce but share. This takes focus, organization and deliberate attention to ambition and accomplishment.

It takes recognizing that Resistance is the asshole who wants to stand in my way, and doing everything but being polite to get Resistance out of the way.

Pressfield writes:

“A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center.”

On this blog in the past, I’ve written several times about thoughts I’ve had that artistry and certain religious beliefs are impossible and incompatible bedfellows. At some point in my career as a student and then as an evolving artist, I kept running into blocks that were religious in nature, and I was forced to let go of religion and replace it with unfettered passion for production of art.

Never have I read someone else who comes close to validating that perspective (emphasis mine).

Pressfield writes:

“The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals. Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself. But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil One, seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven? The fundamentalist hates and fears women because he sees them as vessels of Satan, temptresses like Delilah who seduced Samson from his power. To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

As a teenager, I followed in the footsteps of the legacy that preceded me. I found solace and love in evangelical things. But I was miserable doing it. When I noticed that all I was doing was finding out what was wrong with everyone else and finding the need to tell everyone else how sinful they lived, it made me into a person with his gaze always fixed on a backwards perspective. Backwards in its different meanings.

As a collegiate, I started seeing more as a progressive and a forward thinker. Every time I looked backward, I became consumed and overcome with excuses for why I wasn’t growing as an artist. When I finally started looking forward, I learned how to pursue dreams. Resistance, though, is awful and wanted me to hold on with clinched fists to the past. So I turned to shitty habits of alcohol or even reading web sites or hanging with people who weren’t helping me look forward.

Right now, I’m a zealot for positivity and for focus. I’m impassioned by creation and for self exploration.

It’s a better vessel for me to ride on. I love it.

I leave you with this last quote, as it says so much about what it means to be an artist.

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation. The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”

What do you think? Is it possible to be an artist and a “believer”? What things do you do to remain on task and move around or past obstacles to pursue your goals, art or whatever?

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