Proposing atheistic translations, asides and abridgements to a classic much-loved text, starting with the Basic Principles…
The Artist’s Way is a book and 12 week course by Julia Cameron, published in 1992. I began doing the course in January 2021, having completed it twice before in 2018 and 2019. Its ideas and teachings help me to be more creative, to understand what creativity is and to embrace my creative self. And they’re helping plenty of other folks too.
Increasing access as an act of appreciation
Julia Cameron states that you don’t have to believe in God to use The Artist’s Way, yet the religious language – for example, “Creativity is God’s gift to us” – is a barrier for some atheists and other secular folks.
“God is useful shorthand for many of us[…]The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, page xii
Do not call it God unless that is comfortable for you. […]
If you remain forever an atheist, agnostic—so be it. You will still be able to experience an altered life through working with these principles.”
In appreciation of this much loved work, I want to reduce and remove barriers to engaging with The Artist’s Way. So, I’m suggesting translations for the god talk that I hope are in the spirit of the work as a whole. By replacing the religious language with secular interpretations, I hope those who don’t find theology helpful will be able to use The Artist’s Way.
Getting creative with a secular companion
In 2018, I started writing a book — a secular companion to The Artist’s Way. This article is the first part of that work that I’m sharing publicly, covering the principles and tools of The Artist’s Way, so that folks can get started now, instead of waiting for the book to be published.
I would love your feedback on the following excerpts from this work, and this concept in general. I’m hosting a discussion in February, where we can get into the topic, and I’m including a feedback form. Details at the bottom.
The Basic Principles …without the god talk
➔ Julia Cameron’s original text: The Basic Principles of the Artist’s Way, also known as “Spiritual Electricity: The Basic Principles” in the book, is studded with religious language.
My proposed secular translation and abridgement of her guiding principles:
Living is creating. Creating is living.
- Life is creative energy. Creativity is inherent to life.
- Creative energy infuses all life and everything living, including us. All that lives is creative — everyone and everything.
- When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creativity around us and unlock the creativity within us.
- We have a creating instinct, just as we have a survival instinct. Being creative is part of who we are.
- Creativity is a gift. Using our creativity is how we show appreciation for, and make use of, that gift.
- Being creative is part of being alive. The refusal to be creative is self-sabotaging, threatening health and happiness.
- When we open ourselves to creativity, we open ourselves to flow — being ‘in the zone’ — to energised focus, enjoyment and engagement.
- We can expect many gentle but powerful changes as we open up to being creative.
- It is safe to open up to greater and greater creativity.
- Our creative dreams and yearnings are intrinsically valuable. As we move towards our creative dreams, we move towards realising our superlative potential.
Side-by-side comparison of original and translation:
Religious language and secular edition
|Original text||Suggested translation|
|1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.||Life is creative energy. Creativity is inherent to life.|
|2. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.||Creative energy infuses all life and everything living, including us. All that lives is creative — everyone and everything.|
|3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.||When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creativity around us and unlock the creativity within us.|
|4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.||We have a creating instinct, just as we have a survival instinct. Being creative is part of who we are.|
|5. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.||Creativity is a gift. Using our creativity is how we show appreciation for, and make use of, that gift.|
|6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.||Being creative is part of being alive. The refusal to be creative is self-sabotaging, threatening health and happiness.|
|7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction.||When we open ourselves to creativity, we open ourselves to flow — being ‘in the zone’ — to energised focus, enjoyment and engagement.|
|8. As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.||We can expect many gentle but powerful changes as we open up to being creative.|
|9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.||It is safe to open up to greater and greater creativity.|
|10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.||Our creative dreams and yearnings are intrinsically valuable. As we move towards our creative dreams, we move towards realising our superlative potential.|
So, what do you think? How would you interpret The Artist’s Way to get the most benefit from it for yourself? What resonates with you? What doesn’t?
I’m hosting a discussion: How can atheists traverse The Artist’s Way? If you have half an hour or so and you’d like to spend it exploring ideas from The Artist’s Way with other folks, you’re very welcome.
Get your invite to join Update, 6 Feb: We have a date. Join us on Tue, 16 Feb at 17:15 GMT online to explore themes of access and amendments to The Artist’s Way. Request an invite by sending me a message. Show up on the day by joining the session online. You don’t need to do any prep beforehand or bring anything with you, just curiosity. Select dates/times you can make because that will help me to schedule the event. (The name and availability you give to When 2 Meet will be publicly available. Feel free to use a pseudonym. You’re not making a commitment to attend by saying when you’re free.)
I’d love to know what you think about this article and about the concept in general. Whatever you have to share, whether long or short, it’s all welcome. Get in touch!
Thank you, I look forward to travelling alongside you on our creative journeys.
I’m so grateful for all the loved ones and teachings that have supported the creation of this work.
Thank you Tim Byrne for gracious edits and suggestions in this article, and for your enduring support. This work would not exist without you.
Lately I’ve been learning a lot from:
- Slay Your Schedule by Amy Hoy
- Just Fucking Ship by Amy Hoy with Alex Hillman ($19)
- Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck on the power of “…not yet”
Here, we’ve covered a secular translation of the Basic Principles of The Artist’s Way. Next, check out Morning Pages and Artist Dates: What’s in the pot?, connecting the Basic Tools visually and sharing 10 key things. What will you try? ☛
I’m exploring The Artist’s Way Friday, 16 Sep 2022, and you’re invited!