Interview with the War of Art author Steven Pressfield

the Art of WarA little while ago I posted a small post about reading the book “the War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. It was a good book, and it got me thinking about how resistance has started to plague me and my photography. I had some questions that were more photography specific than the book was, but¬† book reading is a one way medium right?

Apparently not. First, Steven is blogging, and has a Wednesday column that talks more about the things he mentioned in his book. The second, is that I was contacted by Callie, who works with Stephen and had seen my blog post, to see if I was interested in submitting some questions that I could then blog about!

The first thing that hit me was resistance telling me that my questions would be no good, and that Steven wouldn’t even want to answer them. How appropriate! I shook it off, wrote down my questions, and sent them off. Here are the answers that Steven provided.

Chris: Your book seems to be directed at writers and painters. Do you think that the principles of fighting resistance apply to photographers as well?

Steven: Absolutely.  I didn’t think so at first, but that was just because I was dumb.  I originally thought the principles of Resistance would be of interst only to writers; in fact the title I had in my mind was “The Writer’s Life.”  My editor and publisher, Shawn Coyne, said, “No, this is much bigger than that; this applies to all artists.”  So he came up with “The War of Art.”  But since the book has been published and I’ve gotten letters and e-mails from readers, I’ve learned that Resistance is out there everywhere.  What has surprised me most is the number of letters I’ve gotten from entrepreneurs—and the number of coaching/management/leadership/business blogs and seminars that have responded with great enthusiasm to the book.

What is an entrepreneur?  Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach has a great definition.  He says an entrepreneur is someone who “does not expect to receive compensation (i.e. money) until he has created value for somebody else.”  That would be all of us artists, including photographers.

For me, from what I’ve learned since The War of Art was published, I’d say that anyone who is trying to follow a vision—writer, photographer, business person—will experience Resistance.  Anyone who needs to self-motivate, self-discipline, self-validate will find himself fighting that fight and facing those demons.

Chris: You mention both art and craft in your book. I think many photographers, myself included, go back and forth thinking their work is art, or craft. Is it both, or does it not matter, and it is just another form of resistance?

Steven: Photography is both art and craft, wouldn’t you agree, Chris?  The technical side of it could be called craft, just as in writing, stuff like structure, composition, etc. is craft – that is, it’s something that can be taught and something that can be learned.  But of course photography is art too.  That’s the part that can’t be taught.  Resistance, I think, comes in to the art part.  It’s not so hard to learn craft; we can apprentice ourselves to a master and learn it, just like going to school.  But the art part can only come from our own vision—and for that we have to face Resistance on our own.

Craft can be a huge help to overcoming Resistance, I think.  It gives us the tools we need to enact our vision.  And just the doing to something physical—the lighting, the composition, the tech stuff—can help get our momentum going.  After that though, it’s all up to us and our vision.

Chris: What is it about resistance that makes it so strong when we try to move from taking pictures for fun to trying to make a living from them? What do you think the best tool for photographers would be trying to make that transition, and battling resistance?

Steven: Wow, that’s a great question.  I’m not sure I have a good answer.  I think what you mean is that Resistance kicks in hard when the stakes are raised, when we go from being an amateur (whose heart is only partly invested in the act) to a professional, who is in it, heart and soul.  This comes down to a question of courage and commitment.  How much do we want it?  How important to us is pursuing our dream?  The more Resistance (i.e. fear) we feel, the surer we can be that we have to do it, for the sake of our owns souls – and the greater the damage will be to our inner world if we fail to do it.

There’s a tech term in mountaineering called “exposure.”  A climber is “exposed” when there is a drop underneath him.  By that definition, we can be ten feet from the summit of Everest and not be exposed, if there’s a nice shelf two feet underneath us.  On the other hand, we can be exposed when we’re only ten feet above sea level, if that ten feet is a pure drop.  What’s the answer when we’re exposed?  Whatever it takes to give us the courage to keep going.  It does come down to that, I think.  It may be recklessness that works for us, or a vision of ourselves as warriors or professionals or gunslingers or “chosen ones.”  Maybe we just see ourselves as crazy and go for it.  Or the pain of not doing it may be so great that we have no choice but to do it.  The best I can say, Chris, is that EVERYBODY feels it.  Nobody’s immune.  It’s kind of like a first-time Mom giving birth; it seems absolutely impossible when you think about it—and yet women have been doing it for millions of years and they keep on doing it.


Thank you very much Stephen. I appreciate that you took the time to answer my questions. I am sure that the people reading your answers got something out of it. Readers, don’t forget to check out Steven’s blog, and Wednesday column.

13 thoughts on “Interview with the War of Art author Steven Pressfield

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  2. Wonderful idea to contact him, Chris! I just read this book over the weekend and it hit home for me on so many different levels. I’ve been a Steven Pressfield fan since I read The Legend of Baggar Vance back in high school. I kept thinking about how incredibly applicable to photographers everything he wrote was. And it finally gives me a label to be able to personify resistance and to beat it back. Every time we chicken out grabbing our camera because it’s too cold outside to shoot, it’s too wet, it’s too hot, I think we’d get in trouble for going over there to shoot, etc., etc…it’s all resistance. Once we begin doing, the Muse opens up doors we never knew existed. I think this might be the original meaning of “God helps those who help themselves.” So odd that it always seems to work that way.

    Great post, and great interview. Thanks so much for smacking resistance down and writing to him!

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  5. Hm. Interesting ideas. I’m entering here in the middle, this may not be relevant. Keying on ‘resistance’ and ‘The Art of War’. There is a notion of an internal critic (or judge) we all live with (known in some circles as the Superego), and it can be quite the war to overcome this domination that separates us from our self. To wit, if you didn’t have the ego telling what is and isn’t best for you, you would simply do what’s best. Resistance. Why should there be resistance? What is the source?

    Really, I was just here to learn about lytebox. Thank you Sir Christopher. You do take some sweet pictures.

    Ahoj !

    • Glad you found the site. Stephen labels ‘resistance’ as the force that prevents us from doing the things we want to do. Give the book a read. It can apply to everyone, not just photographers, writers, and other artists.

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