The Artist is Not the Addict (But Sometimes They Are)…

I’m catching up on writing down my reflections on Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro. I’ll keep referring to “Day 4”, “Day 5”, etc., just to keep these posts in line with the digital book club (and to keep these posts from being crazy long).

Day 4 of our reading left me with a few good clarifications, and “clarifications” is a great word for what this book is doing for me. I’ve noticed over all that it is refining a lot ideas that have been jumbling around in my head for a few years.

The Addict, The Artist, and the Tunnel of Chaos

Since it’s the premise of the book, I’m sure this first clarification has come up before and will come up a few more times, but I thought Pressfield had another great delineation between the behavior of the artist and the addict:

The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of two ways — by transcending it or by anesthetizing it… The artist takes a different tack. She tries to reach the upper realm not by chemicals but by labor and love. (p. 47)

A pastor I used to spend a lot of time with would often refer to the “Tunnel of Chaos” when it came to having hard conversations with those you love. When you have to ask forgiveness, or confront, or just have that conversation you’d rather not have in any way shape or form, you have to admit you don’t know how this interaction will turn out. You have to travel from one side of the conversation to the other with the knowledge that the conversation is the important thing, not the outcome.

That kind of conversation is a “pro” move, one where you choose labor and love to move forward instead of avoiding it altogether like an amateur. And this isn’t just about conversations but about life in general. There will always be painful situations, or even just situations you’d rather not deal with, and you can honestly avoid them for a while, sometimes forever. But you’ll never grow if you don’t push through, and you can’t push through without realizing that living your life with labor and love is way more important than relying on any specific outcome (especially an outcome that you can’t really control anyway).

Who’s an Artist? Who’s an Addict?

Young woman? Old lady? Both?
Young woman? Old lady? Both?

Turning Pro has been really good for me, but it’s also dealing with a lot of issues I’m either currently working through or have so recently worked through there’s not much difference. I’ve had to constantly ask myself, “Am I still an amateur? Have I really moved forward?” It was comforting, then, to read this quote from Pressfield:

(When I say “artist,” I mean as well the lover, the holy man, the engineer, the mother, the warrior, the inventor, the singer, the sage and the voyager. And remember, addict and artist can be one and the same and often are, moment to moment.)

The first point I want to make is to acknowledge that the minute you mention the word “artist,” a large percentage of the people you’re talking to will stop listening because they think you’re not talking to or about them. I think at least a small part of this is that a lot of families aren’t passing down “trades” any more. A lot of us have lost the idea of teaching our children how to do what we do, and that there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. That may be for a later post, but I like that Pressfield spends time articulating what he means by “artist.”

Simply put, whatever you’re doing, and I do mean whatever you’re doing, can be done well (with labor and love, as Pressfield says above).

You are a craftsperson of your life, and while you’re life being whittled away from a block of wood to something that will bring delight or utility to those around you, you have to remember not to judge yourself too harshly in the process. Are you the block of wood or are you the finished product? The answer, of course, is, “Yes.”

In the moment it’s easy to forget that you’re an actual person, not simply something to be produced. You’re never just one thing or another, you’re the product of decades of living and generations of lives before you. Of course I’m addict and artist, amateur and pro, how could I be anything less than human?