The Artist Within

Last month I was at Oxford Book Store, Park Street, Kolkata, one of my favourite haunts. As I stepped in, I did not pause at the New Arrival sec- tion near the entrance as is my wont. As if drawn slowly but inexorably by something at the far end on the right-hand corner just past the stairs, I kept ambling along. Then I found myself near a shelf stuck to the wall, my hand reaching towards a book placed on top of it: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Julia was not exactly unknown to me. There was a time when I gobbled her books. This book was published many years ago and kept appearing in new editions. But this revised paperback edition, when I opened it at random, made me unconscious of the presence of other customers in the shop. Whichever page I turned to, there was something for me to ponder. I read and re- read some portions on different pages of the book with great relish.

Julia stopped me not only with her own writings but also with the sayings she took from many other great artists, writers and others and placed them on the right margin of most of the pages. Sample this one by Emma Goldman: “I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck”, or, for that matter, “The words that enlighten the soul are more precious than jewels” by Hazrat Inayat Khan. You know what happens when a line or sentence in a book stirs your heart. You then instinctively take your eyes off the page, shut your eyes or stare into space almost in a trance, feeling ecstatic.

I’ll give you an example of such a sentence from another book. I was reading George Saunder’s Man Booker Prize winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo (2017). More than half way through the book these lines spoken by a disembodied character held me in thrall: “Strange, isn’t it? To have dedicated one’s life to a certain venture, neglecting other aspects of one’s life, only to have that venture, in the end, amount to nothing at all, the products of one’s labors utterly forgotten?” Next day, I bought the short story collection TENTH of DECEMBER by the same author.

The Artist’s Way draws deep on the ways and means to awaken or re-awaken the artist that resides in each of us. Many of us jump ship too early, losing interest in venturing out into the unknown due to financial constraints, family obligations and the like. But this book, if one follows its prescription to the letter, will help one go the whole nine yards to achieve one’s dream.

Two most important things among others she suggests are doing morning pages and taking oneself on an artist’s date. First is to cultivate a habit to write a few pages first thing in the morning about anything that arises in the mind. The practice she says will open the path to a place deep within, the wellspring of creativity. The second advice is to weekly spend quality time with one’s own self alone, anywhere where one is least likely to be distracted. In such a scenario, the fruits of the daily morning ritual will sooner or later be revealed. This book at the moment is my constant companion.

First published in The Statesman

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