“The War of Art”

Disclaimer: This is not an objective review. Not by a long shot.

In the first section of “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield lays out his theory that any person engaged in a creative pursuit battles not so much the external world, but an invisible force that originates within. This force feeds on their fears and pursues its own goal: to prevent them from doing their work. He calls this force Resistance and over the course of a couple dozen short, breezy chapters describes its tactics, from distraction to addiction to illness to death.

In his chapter titled, “Resistance Plays for Keeps,” Pressfield writes:

Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.

Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

He’s more blunt in his following book, “Do the Work”:

It will kill you. It will kill you like cancer.

Steven Pressfield, “Do the Work”

This sounds dramatic, but Pressfield’s concept of Resistance grew out his own struggles as a writer. He blew up a marriage, gave up writing, and eventually found himself a broke, homeless, suicidal alcoholic because that was easier than facing the empty page every day.

Thankfully, the section ends with a promise that Resistance can be defeated. Pressfield turned his corner by locking himself away and writing every day. At the end, he had written something that in his own words wasn’t great, but it was done. He’d beaten Resistance.

The second section introduces the concepts of The Amateur, The Professional, and “going pro.” In Pressfield’s world, Amateurs are the wishers and daydreamers who get derailed by Resistance; the dogged Professionals who “do the work” do not. The remainder of this section shares various methods and processes for fighting Resistance. It’s practical, real-world stuff that doesn’t pack the same emotional gut punch as Book One, but if you buy into the premise of Resistance and see it in yourself, this is the most important part of the book.

The final section drifts through some heady musings on creativity, angels, and god that’s hit or miss depending on where you stand with those ideas, but closes with a paragraph that may be the most important bit of whole book:

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

Like most of the book, it’s simple on its face, but contains a profound and hugely empowering idea. Pressfield’s sparse text makes for a fast read but contains hard-won insight into the creative process and a deep empathy for those who pursue it.



Good art.

It took me a long time to come around to how important good art is to a band. I’ve always taken design and layout seriously, but sourcing a great image for a tshirt was definitely more of nice-to-have than a we-shouldn’t-go-forward-without-this. That was then.

Of course we all say we want good art, but many of us falter when it comes time to put money on the table because good art is usually pretty expensive. Unless you have a talented friend willing to hook you up, you’re looking at around $300-500 for a piece of a cover art, closer to $750-1,000 for a painting or really detailed drawing, and more yet if the artist has their own following (Dan Seagrave, Eliran Kantor, Niklas Sundin etc.). When we’re trying to make records for $1,500-3,000, spending 10%-66% of your budget on art is a hard pill to swallow.

But the interview I did with David Paul Seymour for Workhorse reiterated two things I’ve learned watching Suzy Bravo (our singer in Witchcryer) build our merch table over the last few years:

  • Bands run on merch
  • Good art sells a lot more merch than bad

It’s really that simple. If you want to record another album or fund another tour without dipping into your own pocket, you better start selling some merch, which really means you better get some good art.

If the thought of saving and spending $500 for album art feels like a drag, think of it instead as $500 for all the places the art is going to turn up:

  • All your physical formats
    • LP
    • CD
    • Cassette
  • All your digital formats
    • Bandcamp
    • Apple Music
    • Spotify
  • Certain merch
    • Tshirts
    • Longsleeves
    • Raglans
    • Hoodies
    • Stickers
    • Patches

If the album does well, you’ll use it all over again for additional pressings, new formats, new territories, reissues, box sets, etc. etc.

And then there’s all the less obvious places it turns up:

  • Every online store carrying the album (Amazon, etc.)
  • Show flyers
  • Tour posters
  • Band website
  • Label website
  • Individual member’s websites
  • All your social media sites
  • Emails to your mailing list
  • All of your marketing for the album cycle
    • New album announcement
    • Pre-release track announcement
    • Pre-sales announcement
    • Release day promotion
    • Promotional emails after release day
    • Holiday sales, etc., etc, etc…
  • Any YouTube videos that you, your label or your fans post for it
  • Wikipedia
  • Discogs
  • Year end lists

…and on and on and on.

It also impacts a lot of people you may not think about:

  • Labels you ask to release the album
  • Journalists asked to review the album and write about your band
  • Record stores asked to carry your album
  • Venues asked to book your show or tour
  • Potential new fans who have never heard of you before

Everyone who interacts with your band during the album cycle is going to see that art multiple times, in multiple places. And if this is your first album, the cover doesn’t just represent your new album, it represents you. They don’t know you, they don’t know your music, they definitely haven’t seen you live — they only see that cover, and if it’s garbage, they’re never going to hear the extra $1,000 you spent on mix changes you made that only you’ll ever notice (and have probably already forgotten about).

The decision you make on art today will be felt over and over again for years to come. If you cheap out, it hurts you over and over again, forever. But if you make it good — really good — it helps you over and over again, forever.

So don’t cheap out. Save your money, take your time, and make it good.