Prolegomenon: Resistance According to Sayers and Pressfield

Let’s face it: discussing art is easier than creating it (thus, criticism and art blogs). Why?


A couple years ago, a friend suggested The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield discusses the hesitation Artists face when creating. He calls it “Resistance,” a “repelling force” that aims to “shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” Anyone who has had the smallest compulsion to create (or do anything good or true) knows Resistance. And Pressfield’s book is an inspiring little reflection on how to beat Resistance. In a nutshell, knowing the enemy is half the battle.


I recommend the book. But in the meantime, below are a couple passages from Dorothy SayersMind of the Maker (a necessary read for any Artist) discussing the compulsion to create and the dangers of submitting to what Pressfield calls Resistance.


“The resistance to creation which the writer encounters in his creature is sufficiently evident, both to himself and to others–particularly to those others who have the misfortune to live with him during the period when his Energy is engaged on a job of work… that a work of creation struggles and insistently demands to be brought into being is a fact that no genuine artist would think of denying. Often, the demand may impose itself in defiance of the author’s considered interests and at the most inconvenient moments. Publisher, bank-balance, and even the conscious intellect may argue that the writer should pursue some fruitful and established undertaking; but they will argue in vain against the passionate vitality of a work that insists on manifestation. The strength of the insistence will vary from something that looks like direct inspiration to something that resembles a mere whim of the wandering mind; but whenever the creature’s desire of existence is dominant, everything else will have to give way to it; the writer will push all other calls aside and get down to his task in a spirit of mingled delight and exasperation. . . .


“They are those unhappiest of living men, the uncreative artists. The common man, who knows and dreads them, has his own word for them: he recognises them as the wretched possessors of the “artistic temperament”, with no creative output to give it vent and justify it. Like Beddoes, they feel themselves to be failures, but not in the same way or for the same reason. He knew his failure to be within him, and despaired of his own vocation. They believe the failure to be outside them, and despair of other men; they resent the world’s refusal to recognise that vocation which to them is an inward certainty. They know, and continually assert, that they “have something there” which they desire to make manifest; but the manifestation is beyond their capacity. They are their own prisoners, languishing incommunicado.

“Such men are dangerous; since Energy, if it cannot issue in creation, may contrive to burst its prison somehow and issue in its own opposite. The uncreative artist is the destroyer of all things, the active negation; when the Energy is not Christ, it is Antichrist, assuming leadership of the universe in the mad rush back to Chaos.”

Compare Sayers’ last paragraph with this provocative passage from the Introduction to Pressfield’s book:

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and move to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call is an overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”


See here Peter Schjedahl’s article in the New Yorker, Hitler the Artist.

See here for some of Hitler’s work as an artist. (The painting below is from this site.) This site also refers to this book which looks like an interesting read, a lesson for the artist via negativa, perhaps.


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