I've been hearing about The Artist's Way for decades and know many folks who credit the book's "Morning Pages" as a life-changing exercise. Julia Cameron's bestselling creativity guide seems to only gain power with age, as new readers discover the book and its teaching year upon year. But what if you like what The Artist's Way has to say, yet struggle to fit its lessons into your already over-scheduled life? Porch instructor Christina Berke knows about this catch from experience and has devised ways to get the most out of Cameron's teachings in a manageable timeframe. Here, she tells us why she values The Artist's Way, and what participants can expect from her class, The Artist's Way for the 9-to-5er. Hint: Like many things in life, The Artist's Way is more fun with friends!
Thanks for chatting with us, Christina! For the uninitiated out there, could you describe Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in three sentences?
Thanks for having me! The subtitle of this book is “a spiritual path to higher creativity” so it’s part self-help, part workbook for all sorts of creative folks. Its 12-week structure provides essays and prompts aimed to unblock people who feel stuck. Two of the most important I think are the Morning Pages and the weekly Artist Date.
When did you first read (and/or try the practice of) The Artist’s Way yourself? What was that like?
Well, I kept hearing about it over the years since I was a teen (back when I wanted to be an actress), but I didn’t buy my first copy until a few years ago. I’d just come back from living abroad and was dealing with some trauma, so I was browsing this used bookshop up north. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; more just passing some time. But, as they say, the book found me. It looked brand new and was only seven bucks so I figured I’d finally get it.
And then I held onto it for a few more years until I finally opened it up one day. I was looking for more structure and since this is laid out for a three-month stretch, I thought it would be a great way to set aside time for my writing. This was before my MFA and I was struggling to write consistently. Calling myself an artist makes me roll my eyes a bit, and I don’t feel particularly religious so there was a lot that I was uncomfortable with at first.
It’s challenging for me to fully call myself a writer or an artist, so I look at this book and this class as an invitation to play more and experiment with whatever art form you love best. There are plenty of tools in here that can benefit folks of all backgrounds to unburden their unconscious thoughts and be more present in everyday life. It’s a nice balance of woo-woo and practical.
But Cameron has an inviting tone throughout the book that makes it easier to dive in. She’s known as the “Godmother of Creativity” as this book’s been translated into 40 languages, and sold over 5 million copies. That’s pretty impressive and it helped me feel like she must be on to something. I found some of the activities a bit cheesy, but overall I enjoyed the process and excuse for buying art supplies to doodle and paint, or heading to a gallery for an hour to just be in front of art.
The Artist’s Way was first published in 1992. Why do you think it has remained so popular over three decades?
I think part of its popularity is that it’s so versatile. Musicians and painters and even gardeners can access the book. Recovering addicts come to it too because of its familiar 12-step structure. So while there are a lot of references to God, and it gets a bit woo-woo, the pandemic blues gave lots of us time to think about our legacy, our creativity, and how we can maintain this while going back to work in person and navigating the heaviness in our world.
There is a resurgence in its popularity on TikTok (over 8 million hits!) as new generations and audiences discover Morning Pages. Celebs use it too including Olivia Rodrigo, Bella Hadid, Martin Scorsese, Alicia Keys, Tim Ferris, and Elizabeth Gilbert who said Eat, Pray, Love wouldn’t exist without The Artist’s Way.
For me, a lot of ideas randomly come from the Pages. Not at first, and not always, but I can see how this is another impact of Cameron’s methods—it works. I don’t always make time for Morning Pages, but when I do, I notice I’m much calmer, less easily distracted, and feel more grounded.
Your class is designed to tailor some of Cameron’s teachings to folks with a busy 9-to-5 lifestyle. What sorts of adjustments, or adaptations, do you make to her suggested practices?
Because I’ve gone through it myself, one of the adaptations is streamlining prompts. Committing to 12 weeks is a bit daunting, especially doing it on your own, so accountability within a 4-week course is a major aspect, as well as selecting some of the exercises that are more accessible.
It’s like a CliffsNotes version–an appetizer–and if folks are into it, they can continue on after the course in more depth.
How might people who don’t identify as writers, artists, or “creatives” benefit from this class?
Cameron says there is no such thing as a non-creative person, and since I started teaching in 2010, I believe it. We just get busy, we forget, we are hurt or discouraged from pursuing artistic endeavors.
It’s challenging for me to fully call myself a writer or an artist, so I look at this book and this class as an invitation to play more and experiment with whatever art form you love best. There are plenty of tools in here that can benefit folks of all backgrounds to unburden their unconscious thoughts and be more present in everyday life. It’s a nice balance of woo-woo and practical. These tools help get frustrations and worry out, provide a free space to clear our head, and offer self reflection. But more importantly, it’s fun!
And who doesn’t want to have a little more fun in life?
Join Christina in Fall 2023 for The Artist's Way for the 9-to-5er, Thursdays on Zoom for 4 weeks, starting Nov. 2. Note: No class 11/23/24.