How the War of Art Can Help Us be Less Corporate

This written conversation pertains to a book I finished a few days ago called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Like other good books I’ve read, it is filled with ideas that have stayed with me and taken on a life of their own as I’ve wrestled them into my view of the world. I want to share with you how those ideas can help us become less corporate, but first let me  reiterate in a new way about what being less corporate means and why it is a good thing.  

To do that, please allow me a confession: I face an ongoing battle in my mind about the merits of advocating a less corporate existence. For one thing, I work for Canon and I hope to work for and with other companies in the future, and there is a real possibility that my thoughts may come off as anti-business. They are not.  

I am very enthusiastic about businesses, big and small, that help people to improve the quality of their lives, learn, and make positive contributions to society. As I’ve explained before, I don’t fight against businesses but against the banal, thoughtless, and evil things that businesses, organizations, and people do to interfere with our chances of becoming the radiant individuals we were meant to be. 

I place a significant value on honesty in my life, but even more so in my writing. There are a lot of rough edges and murky spots in my life, and these stains on my soul are things that I’d rather not face moment-to-moment. I try, but I don’t always have the courage to do so with dignity and fortitude all the time.

My hope is that if I write with an honest and open heart, I will get better at living with an honest and open heart on a daily basis. Here’s another way to phrase that: I’m trying to be less corporate, but there’s this fear that haunts my mind.  It suggests that I accomplish nothing more with my writing than convincing the world that I am crazy or not worth hiring. 

 

Ancient of Days - William Blake

Ancient of Days - William Blake

 

 

Also, my inner accountant likes to remind me that this kind of writing takes longer to do and it depletes time that could be used to do or find more paying gigs or to at least schmooze for the sake of recognition and career advancement.  As a somewhat related side note, if you want to see me at my most corporate, bring me to a networking event and trick me into thinking that my potential for success depends not on being myself while striving for excellence but in finding the right people who can advance my career if I win their favor. The devil’s minions have used that trick on me more than one occasion, and unfortunately it can still work all too well for them.

I think Mr. Pressfield would describe these doubts I have as the resistance I face in my own personal war for art. (See, it wasn’t a pointless digression after all.) For me, writing about this stuff is something I have to do.  It helps me get closer to what I’m supposed to do with my life.  

I can’t explain why. It is just something I know to be true, at least I know as much when I’m writing. When I’m not writing, I doubt and find reasons not to do more writing or more of the creative projects that sing to me from the depths of my heart, begging for attention even as I try to muffle them.

By now some of you might think I’m a little insane , but some of you, I believe, know exactly what I’m talking about. You can relate; so can Mr. Pressfield. The art he advocates doesn’t pertain to a few cliched talking-points about the value of the humanities in our lives. No, his is the art that pleads with us to pursue our own unique calling, our reason for being put on this earth that only we can discover.

Presenting his case, he writes this: “Unless I’m crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone.” Did you hear that voice whispering as you read that? I did.

So what is less corporate about the book and it’s ideas? First of all, Mr. Pressfield writes from experience. He has written books like The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire, both of which are well-regarded best sellers. In other words, he’s not writing just for a paycheck.

He’s also not afraid to define the enemy in bold terms. He calls it resistance, a force inside and outside of us that gets in the way of our God-given purpose. Corporate thinkers do not like this. They care more about conforming, about being agreeable, about avoiding conflict.  How can you live up to other people’s expectations and be like everyone else while also seeing a menace both inside and outside of your tribe or yourself? You can’t.

That’s why corporate people don’t talk about such things. They prefer to tell you that you can be anything you want to be and that the customer is always right. The customer isn’t always right, and as Mr. Pressfield explains “ We can’t be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny.”

About that idea of having a special purpose, a destiny: it’s a strange one isn’t it? And yet it still resonates with us in a way that corporate pie charts and bar graphs do not. I’m fairly certain that our lives have more significance than the amount of profit we generate for Sony, but it’s hard to see that sometimes with all of the distractions and desires that consume us.

Accepting the idea that my life may have a greater meaning than just the sensations of the moment is one thing, but it is another thing to believe that even the irritating guy at the office, and the high-school kid who makes life miserable for others, and the dropout who posts stupid videos on YouTube all have a special purpose in this world that they may or may not achieve. Did He who made the lamb make thee?  Indeed Mr. Blake, indeed.  

When I think about people like that long enough, it becomes harder to reduce them to simple character types, to talking, breathing adjectives who are there only to serve my ends. It makes me wonder what things would be like if everyone was as complex as I am.  (Here’s a secret: I think they are.)

 

Jacob's Ladder - William Blake

Jacob's Ladder - William Blake

 

 

To discuss pre-programmed purpose for our lives in any meaningful way without acknowledging God somehow is virtually impossible. Sure enough, Mr. Pressfield admits that he believes both in God and in a metaphysical reality that transcends the truth of our daily existence. Does he care that metaphysical thinking is out of favor with today’s prominent intellectuals?  Of course not.  Only corporate thinkers care about such things. 

You are free to conclude that only measurable results matter. Forming your own opinion  is a respectable thing, something I celebrate even when the perspectives in question conflict with mine.  Today’s technological world of quarterly reviews, productivity stats, and page clicks certainly fuels and validates that kind of thinking.  

And yet, history’s great thinkers and creators, people like Socrates, Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Kant, Goethe, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Frank Capra, Dr. Martin Luther King, George Lucas, and J.K. Rowling, among others, would reject the idea that a merely materialistic view of things is good enough or all there is.  It is possible that you are wiser than those men and women, but it is just as possible that you are not.  With that in mind, perhaps you should not be so quick to discredit the things you cannot understand, especially when those things have survived the test of time.  I too will do likewise.  

To his credit, Mr. Pressfield builds his case without statistics.  Statistics and citations have their place, but sometimes they become a handicap that corporate types use to avoid appealing to a person’s own inner sense of things.  Do you really need a survey to know what’s right to do in the moment or to conclude that the iPhone is a well designed product?  Only if you’ve forgotten how to trust your own instincts.

The only point of contention I have with Mr. Pressfield’s excellent and inspiring book is his claim that “Creation has its home in heaven.”  I would be more comfortable saying that Creation often but not always comes from heaven.  

Call me judgmental if you like, but I don’t consider Hitler’s Mein Kampf or the Saw movie franchise to be divinely inspired creations.  As I’ve explained before, artists can produce corporate and evil stuff just like anyone else, but this is a small dispute with an otherwise inspiring and life-affirming book full of resonating truths.  

If you want to make the world less corporate by focusing in on your own special purpose for being on this earth, I cannot recommend this book enough.  

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3 Responses to “How the War of Art Can Help Us be Less Corporate”


  1. 1 Corinne February 17, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Good thoughts, Nick — Our church in Charlottesville just started a class focusing on art. I thought of you last week when it started. If you’re ever around when we’re meeting, you should definitely come — I think you’d get a kick out of it.
    Corinne

  2. 2 asexualmystique February 26, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    The last time you recommended a book, the Milwaukee Public Library didn’t have it. I’m going to try again.

    They do! I’ve requested it.

  3. 3 Nick Savides February 26, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    When you have a chance to read it, and it’s a pretty fast read, I’d like to hear your take on it.

    Enjoy!


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