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The Artist's Way

Article by Jillian Mitchell // March 16 2012
The Artist's Way

When the student is ready…

In life there are undeniable signs that you are on the right track, and, as with my story, there are signs that suggest perhaps it’s time to veer off onto a new and better track. My teacher appeared in the most unlikely manifestation. This mentor was not a top Zen guru of the highest order or an industry giant ready to take me to The Grammys, as I would’ve thought; my mentor was a lowly red-bound book hidden on the bottom shelves of a local book store. That book was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Like the title suggests, The Artist’s Way is about living your life as an artist by putting your art first and living the artist’s way, giving art top spot in your day planner/blackberry/iPhone/whatever new gadget they come up with (go ahead, highlight it neon blue!). The author helps the anorexic artist acknowledge his/her inner desires, act on them, and relinquish that no good stinkin’ thinkin’ that created this backwards mess in the first place.

The book poses one seemingly trivial question to the reader: Do you ever talk yourself out of something you really want to do for something you should do? You might respond with a “Well, yes, but this is life and I have so much work to do!” I’ve said it too, myself. Keep reading and pay attention if your reaction to the aforementioned question alters.

Allow me to paint an all-too-familiar scenario for you. You have the whole morning free to do your art, whether it’s drumming, songwriting, painting, or writing, and suddenly something more “important” pops up. Gear to be surfed for online, a TV show that must be watched (do you even like this show?), a book you have to read, Facebook canoodling to do, or, in my case, cleaning that cannot wait. Nine times out of ten, your art gets overruled by whatever the oh-so-important task may be, and while you’re on your knees scrubbing the toilet (was it even that dirty?) you begin to think, I should be doing my art, but there’s just so much to do; I’ll never be a real artist!

This is one of the concepts author Julia Cameron talks about in her book; one that she dubs as “an addiction to anxiety in lieu of action.” If we break down the mouthful it simply means that sometimes we subconsciously thwart ourselves just so we can have the comfort of the familiar belittling session that follows (did she say “comfort”?).

There is an unlimited stash of excuses the stressed out, high-on-coffee, mid-life us have used to not do our art: too old, too young, too busy, too broke, too pressed for time (stinkin’ thinkin’). We weren’t always like this. Think about it. As a child, doing what we wanted came naturally—painting pictures, playing with Play-Do, building Lego, acting out make-believe games, striking the drums, tossing around a ball, building forts in the trees, riding your bike, singing songs. Then as we got older, the Big Bad Life came in and blew our play houses of straw to the ground. Sadly, for a lot of us, these fun activities got left under the golden rubble, only to be uncovered once in a while, if time allowed.

“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand-and melting like a snowflake.” –Francis Bacon, Sr.

This book can help you build a playhouse of brick, instead of straw. The key: a lot of a little. It’s the tiny choices we make about how we spend our hours that dictate how we spend our lives—whether we get out and enjoy what’s in front of us, or make excuses to do what we always do, or what we planned to do.

So go and do it, young grasshopper! Take action and do that art you’ve been putting off. The toilet can wait. For it is the moments of joy that make the journey worth doing. Art makes the days ahead a bit brighter. And who doesn’t love sunshine?

And, if you believe in coincidences, which I’ve since learned to call synchronicities, here is how my teacher got me to pay attention and shift my life onto the right course (Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…).

  • Rewind to September 2010. The Black Page interviewed Adam Hay, who mentioned The Artist’s Way as a source of inspiration in his career. (Hmmm….) Encounter number one.
  • Sometime after, I was asked to work at my old book store for a few days in exchange for store credit. I told my fiancé, Sean, to pick out a book too…guess what he picked? Encounter two, and now in our home.
  • Read through the book vigorously, without doing the necessary exercises. Even tried to start a book club, to no avail. I ended up dropping the book. Being that I am the type of person who commits easier to a group than to myself, the book was lost on me this round. And there it sat, forgotten, on our bedroom book shelf collecting dust.
  • Fast forward to November 2011. I was standing in line at a grocery store checkout and the woman at cash was fiddling with her change purse for what felt like eternity. Naturally, I started flipping through the magazines; the current issue of Vogue featuring actress Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up, 27 Dresses) caught my eye. Keep in mind I rarely read Vogue, but since I had started reading it I wanted to finish it. I decided to buy it. When I got home and continued to read her interview, I was shocked to discover that she too listed The Artist’s Way as one of the secrets to her success! Encounter three.
  • The very next minute I dusted off our copy of the book and began re-reading. This time doing the exercises. (Was there something I missed the first time?) Again, I tried to get a book club going...nada.
  • A month later, a neighbor came into the coffee shop where I work and was clutching a familiar red book (you should be able to guess what book by now). She mentioned that she was going to an Artist’s Way book club that evening and asked if I would like to come. Heck yes I would! Encounter four.
  • Book club was (and is) a-w-e-s-o-m-e, friends. I would need a whole other article to express how much good we (the book and I) are doing in my life. Today, my inner artist is happy. But we still have work to do; I’m not done the book yet.
  • Lately, mentions of the book are literally popping up everywhere, as if to confirm my track of choice. Even my yoga guru Mandy Ingber mentioned it in her latest blog, as if with a sly wink and a nudge. Ok, I get it! Encounter five.
  • Et voila, I am now paying it forward. Take it for what you will, lovely readers.

When the student is ready…the teacher appears.



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About the Author
Jillian Mitchell

As a professional vocalist (and self-professed grammar nerd), Jill brings a fresh perspective to The Black Page. In addition to earning a B.A. in music, creative writing and English, Jill has also studied vocals with Philadelphia-based vocal coach Owen Brown, known for his work with Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, and Wyclef Jean. Jill makes up the other half of world soul group The Mitchells, alongside Black Page creator, Sean Mitchell.

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