It’s a simple question that Asheville performance poet, actor, writer and world traveler James Navé likes to ask the creative people he’s encountered while teaching The Artist’s Way course, something he’s been doing now for 20 years. The course is based on the popular book of the same title, published in 1992 by journalist, artist and filmmaker Julia Cameron. The answer to that question is key to helping everyone from writers and painters to entrepreneurs and actors get started down a path that will free them up to reach their creative potential.
Navé and Asheville yoga teacher Anna Ferguson will facilitate a new 12-week course based on The Artist’s Way starting Feb. 10. Here’s a Q&A with Navé about helping creative people fire up and reach for their passion.
Q: What’s at the core of your course on The Artist’s Way?
Navé: The Artist’s Way got fast traction once it was published because it was a fairly easy program that had a big payout. When people finished, they had a better focus on what they wanted to do creatively, and in the course of 12 weeks, they discovered little strategies that allowed them to reach farther than they thought.
For example, in the course, you do an inventory and you ask the question, “what are you busy doing?” Is it time I’m spending on social media, trash-reading? Is it time wasted, or is it adding value to projects I’m interested in? What you find often is that it’s not adding that much value and you discover that you have much more time that you think you do.
I remember reading a book about a character from India, and he described many ways we are busy doing things – eating, sleeping, walking. And he would say, “I’m busy being.” I think The Artist’s Way asks you to take a look at that. When you’re busy creating, you are in the moment. You are being with the art, the music, the poetry. You feel you’re existing with it.
Q: How did you get started teaching The Artist’s Way?
Navé: I met Julia Cameron in 1995 in Boulder, Colo., after she wrote the book. She was teaching a workshop at Border’s in Boulder. I thought wow, it was free, so I attended. After the class, I asked Julia what it would be like to climb the ladder of being an elder and teaching, and she said, “That’s up to you.”
We later met in Taos and went to dinner and that’s when we connected – her experience as a poet and writer, my experience as a performance poet and writer. I later invited her to Asheville and gave her a tour.
She was a recovering alcoholic and she’s written that that was one of the things that motivated her to write The Artist’s Way. It dawned on her that her lifestyle was not supporting her creative greatness. She began to notice some common themes as she saw her creativity improve as she got sober. She claims she just had a calling to teach a workshop, and she divided it into 12 weeks. She knew that 12 weeks is a growing season – that’s enough time to plant a seed and grow something. Any change a person makes takes about 90 days. Along the way, her notes and essays became the book.
Q: What do you think the biggest benefit is of the course?
Navé: What I find is that no matter how far along you are in your creative work, no matter how accomplished you are, no matter how many Academy Awards or other superlatives you have, the canvas is blank every day and it’s a new day to move forward into the unknown and to lose your energy and get so weary of it that you can’t go on. That reminds me to always to connect with my awareness and the curiosity of it, and while I’m an adult, I can look at the world through child-like lenses. I can be surprised. I’m not jaded. I’m not cynical. I’m not despondent. I am curious; It helps me stay connected. It helps me with my own trajectory and reminds me that everyone has their own, too.
At minimum you spend 12 weeks thinking about yourself – thoughts about your destiny and what you’re here on earth to do and why you’re here to do it. You probably never fully answer that. But to think about that for a growing season, that’s a worthy thing to do.
Q: What’s the benefit of going through this class with a group?
Navé: The main value of the group is the community that grows out of the gathering, the connections people make, the insights each offers, and how everyone in the group becomes a teacher as well as a student. In the group, you’re able to explore the common issues people have, so you don’t feel so alone. There’s something about those connections that endure.
Q: Does this course help people address that ever-present inner critic that can be so crippling?
Navé: Yes. There are always those obstacles of “I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough.” But the more creative work you do, the less you hear the inner critic.
If a baby is really tired and screaming, you will not be able to go the baby and say stop screaming. But if you pick the baby up and sing a lullaby and put it in its crib and make the room soft, the baby will stop crying. It’s the same thing with your creativity. Put it in a safe space where it’s warm and functioning and make it feel valued and worthwhile.
Somewhere along the way you have to commit to yourself. It’s all about committing to yourself for 12 weeks. Will you shut the internal critic up forever? No. Will you soften its voice? Absolutely. Will you end up with a deeper insight into what you would like to do creatively? Yeah, you will.
Apologies, I meant to say the AA program inspired The Artist’s Way.
Julia and I have worked together for over two decades, so I know from experience how many ways one can offer Artist’s Way Classes. Some do it on their own. Others organize creative clusters of 4-8 and do it for free like you did.. Then others facilitate the course on a more public level like Anna and I are doing.
We do charge a fee which covers promotional offerings like online ads and print ads. The fee also covers the production and admin time before the event, prep, and the time we spend teaching the class for 12-weeks. This kind of fee-based offering falls in the same category as a writer’s workshop, song-writing workshop, yoga instruction, acting classes, photography classes.
Yes, the AA 10-step program was inspired by The Artist’s Way. But it’s much more than an hour-long meeting once a week. It’s a two-hour course which covers topics like poetry, yoga, public speaking, as well as the core Artist’s Way topics like how to avoid being a shadow artist, how to identify a creative U-turn and other idea that fuel strategies that help you follow through with what you want to do creatively.
I’m surprised you’re allowed to charge money for this.
Besides, isn’t that like charging for AA meetings or something….?
I did this for free with some people about five years ago. It was great.