Thousands of years before Julia Cameron wrote the Artist’s Way, writers and thinkers had equated one’s spirit or one’s essence with the imagination.
Six hundred years before Christ was born or about 2600 years ago, Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching, which is The Book of the Way:
In Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching, the following is said:
“There are ways but the Way is uncharted “
“The secret waits for the insight”
“Those who are bound by desire See only the outward container.”
Again to the first line. “There are ways. but the Way…” can only be found from within, from the spirit.
The Artist’s Way is also about this ancient Way, and it is about much more than making art objects. It is about a lifestyle. It is about a way of living–a type of spirituality that is manifested through the imagination and a deep connection to one’s own inner self. It is a step beyond superficiality or the external and into what William Blake and other Romantic poets called the Imagination.
William Blake was an English Romantic poet who wrote during the early 1800s. In his early works, The Songs of Innocence and Experience, Blake equated the innocent lamb with the pure essence of the spiritual and childhood.
Here is William Blake’s verse about the Innocent Lamb of Childhood.
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,”
Making all the vales rejoice?
William Blake’s Tyger was the embodiment of Experience or the External. The Experienced person is characterized as being insensitive and detached. William Blake associated the cynical adult with the Experience or the Tyger state.
The Tyger is described as being fierce and dreadful. Blake asks of the Tyger:
Did He who made the Lamb make Thee?
As Blake continued to write, his theories became more radical. He eventually conceived of a type of heaven and hell, and he created the character Los to be the Christ-like savior of his religion, and Los was the embodiment of the Imagination. One of Blake’s later books was titled The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
My reason for pointing all of this out is again to show that for many years, writers and thinkers have associated spirituality with the imagination.
William Blake was one of the earliest of the Romantic poets, who were a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. The Realists were in favor of Industrialism, Mechanization, Standardization, and Outwardness. The Romanticists advocated the Imagination as the savior from Industrialism and the key to Inwardness, as opposed to the outwardness iof Industrialism.In my opinion, this Romanitic Inwardness is the same a Lao Tsu’s The Way and as Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
On the very first page of the introduction to Cameron’s 1992 edition of the Artist’s Way, she quoted the Romantic poet Coleridge in the right margin. He said:
“The primary imagination I hold to be the living power.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge: 1772-1834
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were best friends. They were both Romantic poets and wrote after William Blake did. Their writings echo those of William Blake in that they advocate feelings, sensitivity, and child-like innocence].
“Genius is the power of carrying the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge also wrote about a type of Way or inner or Spiritual direction:
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I believe that it is important to lay this framework for Julia Cameron’s book the Artist’s Way and to acknowledge that she is not really writing anything new. Rather, she is repeating what has been said for thousands of years and by many people before her. In fact, some of the greatest features of Cameron’s book are her quotes of other people. In most cases, these quotes run along the side margins of Cameron’s own observations. Cameron collates, organizes and reiterates in digestible chunks the wisdom of many people who preceded her. Now, twenty-five years after the first publication of the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron herself is the person being quoted in other people’s books.
In the introduction to the Artist’ Way, Cameron makes it clear that her books are not merely for artists and writers. They are for:
“...artists and nonartists, painters and filmmakers and homemakers and lawyers–anyone interested in living more creatively through practicing an art; even more broadly, anyone interested in practicing the art of creative living.” p. xi the 1992 edition.
In the introduction to the Artist’s Way, Cameron speaks about our need for a God or a Great Creator; yet, she says that even atheists can benefit from her program. When Cameron speaks of God or the Great Creator, I believe that she is talking about an elite lifestyle reserved only for those people who elect to participate in it, and I believe that for some people, Cameron’s Great Creator can include the Christian concept of God:
“Many are called but few are chosen.” – the Bible – Matthew 22:
Yet, it can also include the Jewish concept of God:
“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’ ” – The Talmud
By the same token, I do not believe that everyone who considers themselves to be Christian or Jewish has the kind of spirituality of Great Creator to which Cameron refers. Julia Cameron’s concept of the Great Creator is not limited to any specific doctrine, sect, or religious denomination. It is also rooted in the teachings of the Ancient, non Judeo Christian:
“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tsu – Tao Te Ching
As we begin to study Julia Cameron’s the Artist’s Way, we must embrace the power of what Cameron is calling The Great Creator, and I believe that essential to embracing this Creator is understanding it and if necessary in distinguishing it from a purely religious God. Again, I believe that Julia Cameron is partially speaking about what I call the Intuition. Even though he was a great scientist, Albert Einstein endorsed the power of the intuition, as he said:
“The only real valuable thing is intuition.” – Albert Einstein
Many, many times before, I have said that when I am doing my best writing and my best painting, I am not actually doing either. My intuition is doing it for me.
If you will look closely at my painting of the pink tulips, you will see a flush of hot pink within and running through the leaves. I painted these tulips from a life observation of a pot of tulips and something literally directed my hand to the pink paint and nudged me into the act of flooding it through the green leaves. Somehow, I sensed the need of the color pink, and I sensed exactly where to place the pink. After I finished the painting, I didn’t name it: Pink Tulips. I named it In the Pink, and it was because of the way that the pink actively engaged with the green.
When I painted Janis Joplin, I began thinking of the essence of Janis Joplin’s performances, and something told me to electrify her hair. When I am painting well, I don’t make decisions like these. Something within me directs me, and I call that something my Intuition, which is somehting greater than me.
I am reminded of the scripture from the Christian Bible:
4 “,,,greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” I John 4:4
If I were writing my parallel view of this scripture, I would say:
“Greater is He who is in me than I who am in my way.” – Jacki Kellum
This power that is within me is my Intuition.
If I were going to reduce the message of Julia Cameron’s book the Artist’s Way into a tiny jingle, I would say that the Artist’s Way is about our need to get out of our own ways and to let that greater power within us do its job. In my opinion, writer’s block, painter’s block, and every other kind of brain freeze happens because we get in our own ways. When we try to take control of what we create, and when we don’t allow our intuitions to work through us, we get in our own ways.
In my opinion, the first step toward the Artist’s Way is to Release.
My name is Jacki Kellum. I essentially have 3 masters degrees in the arts, and I have written and created visual art since I was a very young child. Over the years, I have read Julia Cameron’s books several times, and every time that I do, I discover something new. I am currently leading a writer’s group, and we are taking a few weeks to explore the Artist’s Way together. I plan to share some of my lectures on my blog and on YouTube. I hope that you will join us.
©Jacki Kellum March 30, 2017