Julia Cameron on why creativity can’t be learned, but must be recovered

The bad old days when people were taught that creativity was only for a special, talented few are over. Most of us know we have the potential to be creative. But unleashing that potential can still be a tremendous struggle. Great artists of all kinds – writers, painters, musicians, dancers or any person accomplished in creative discipline – can often seem almost superhuman, able to achieve heights of creativity that are hard to imagine when we are stuck in the routines of daily life. So it’s natural, and all too easy, to confuse the technical skills those artists hold, with the basic human potential for creativity that we all possess.

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

The Artist’s Way : A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

In her seminal book on higher creativity, writer and filmmaker Julia Cameron shares her rich experience of helping artists reach their full creative potential, developed over hundreds of taught workshops with thousands of struggling creators.

The central idea of The Artist’s Way is that creativity is a fundamental quality of being human. We are all, every one of us, innately creative. But we lose our creative potential in the contest with daily life, and all of the stresses, pains and fears that are part of our lives. And because we are already creative, we can’t learn creativity, instead we must recover it.

The Artist’s Way is structured as a 12 week programme of creative recovery, modelled on the 12 step programme used by many alcoholics and others recovering from addiction. Cameron employs this radical approach because the causes of our lost creativity are very much like the causes of addiction. Her recovery programme employs many techniques and imparts many useful ideas, but at it’s heart The Artist’s Way is about learning to love ourselves, trust in our innate creativity, have faith in our potential, and recover the creative strength and courage that exists in all of us.

Cameron’s lessons use two words that many readers might struggle with – spiritual and God. But the relationship between humans as creators, and the creative potential of our universe, is fascinating to consider.

“Those who speak in spiritual terms routinely refer to God as creator but seldom see “creator” as the literal term for “artist”. I am suggesting you take the term “creator” quite literally. You are seeking to forge a creative alliance, artist-to-artist with the Great Creator. Accepting this concept can greatly expand your creative possibilities.” ~ Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

I have a long history with Julia Cameron’s wonderful book. I saw it in a bookshop when I was 12, and not being able to afford to buy it, I sat and read The Artist’s Way for two hours until the bookshop closed. Many years later I found the book again after it was recommended by a friend. Then finally in early 2014 I made the time to follow the entire 12 step course. It helped me realise how I had been knocked off my own creative path many times by fear and a lack of faith. It’s a book I can’t recommend highly enough, and an investment of time that will pay back many times over as your own creative recovery unfolds.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

6 thoughts on “Julia Cameron on why creativity can’t be learned, but must be recovered

  1. Great article on art and creativity, Damien. Her appraisal of the artist as a creator God had long-ago inspired me as a career working artist. In spite of all the judgments and financial disappointments, a working artist finally develops an inner strength and perseverance, realizing there is no way he or she can fail. Whatever that has been created out of nothing, has to be a success. I salute anyone who writes a poem, or an article, or a book, draws a drawing, paints a painting, throws a pot or builds a sculpture, landscapes gardens, designs beautiful dwellings, buildings, playgrounds, toys, makes music with their voice or an instrument, stands on a stage, speaks or acts or performs in any way, learns to move the body in dance, yoga or martial arts. Art as a self expression, art for art’s sake; seen, heard, read, done and praised, is the healing remedy for all who choose to affirm life. Hurray for all Creative Arts and Artists and guiding lights like Julia Cameron, and you for bringing this to our attention.


  2. I (face palm for the passing years), read the Way when it first came out. I filled a couple of journals, babbling my way through Julia’s questions, challenges and ‘contemplatives.’ It felt like a life dump, everything I had to get out of my system, before I could get out of my own way as a writer. Silence finally arrived. (I thought she’d never shut up, LOL.) And when I returned to story, my voice, not some amalgam of what the market wants, finally spoke.


  3. I just started reading The Artist’s Way (and doing the morning words) and happened upon a website complaining that it was “creepy” and “cultish.” Serendipitous that I happened upon your positive post, too.



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