A review of Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel

What Maisel presents here is a primer on how to live a life worth living. If you’re a blocked artist, Coaching the Artist Within will certainly help you get to the root of what is troubling you, while always spurring you forward to do more, more deeply, and more meaningfully. Even if you aren’t blocked, this book is an excellent resource to help you get the most out of life, to work to your best, and to create a broader vision to encompass your creativity.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Coaching the Artist Within
By Eric Maisel
New World Library
Paperback: 256 pages, February 2005, ISBN: 1577314646

What’s a creativity coach? Although perhaps the concept is as old as creativity itself, as a field of practice, Eric Maisel may have been the originator. A creativity coach is someone who helps those who are creatively challenged in some way. The scope of this challenge is broad indeed, since it is the very nature of creative challenges which spur creative responses. In other words, all artists are creatively challenged at the start and throughout each of their projects. It’s when the challenge becomes so great that the work stops or an emotional crisis ensures that the work of a creativity coach becomes valuable. Eric Maisel is more than a creativity coach, although he has written a number of books and countless articles on the topic, and does expensive coaching sessions for some rather famous artists. His latest book, Coaching the Artist Within is more like Anthony Robbins without the overt hype, and targeted directly towards people who need to be creative. It is motivational, inspirational, and touches on more than an artist’s output.

The book is written in simple, accessible prose and is full of real life stories from Maisel’s practice–tales of rock stars who are feeling dissatisfied with their music, singers who have too much anxiety to perform their best, painters who no longer want to paint in the style their customers expect, and writers who can’t finish their writing. Coaching the Artist Within is designed to turn the reader into his or her own self-creativity coach, and is set out in twelve lessons and a number of related exercises. These skills include such things as how to become an effective self-couch, passionately making meaning, getting a grip on your mind, eliminating dualistic thinking, generating mental energy, creating in the middle of thing, achieving a centred presence, committing to goal-oriented process, dealing with anxiety, planning, upholding dreams in the face of reality, and maintaining a creative life.

It’s a misnomer however, to think of these “skills” in the same way as one might think of learning to use a carpenter’s saw or learning to speak another language, though Maisel suggests that even things like emotions and beliefs can be dealt with through creating positive habits, mental exercises, and repetition. The second skill, passionately making meaning is the key which underlies the entire book–that just getting through a day, finishing a project, or even making good money really isn’t enough. Life is all about deciding that our lives have meaning. Maisel presents this as a deliberate choice, and a learnt skill through a series of exercises like creating a life purpose statement, and holding, always, the intention to fulfil that life purpose. This is not subtle, nor is it difficult to grasp, but it also as powerful as religion in providing a sense of purpose to life. There is much of Walter Pater’s classic conclusion to The Renaissance here: “To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.”

This is true life coaching, but Maisel is never corny, nor does he preach or ever come near to didacticism in his writing. In most instances, he shows us what others have had to deal with and we are able to recognise ourselves in the many examples (which are fun and even hedge on the gossipy) scattered throughout the book. At the same time, the book doesn’t oversimplify, or pretend that the road to self-actualisation is an easy one. This isn’t about cheerleading, and there is most definitely no chapter on food combining or how to lose weight. The exercises, though powerful, are surprisingly simple, and include such things as keeping a journal devoted to dream upholding, a life plan, a series of pre-performance questions designed to get at the roots of anxiety, dropping everything and making creativity a priority, centring yourself through a series of breathing and speaking exercises, or using affirmations as substitutes for negative thoughts. If you’ve read many self-help or motivational books, you’ll probably recognise some of these, however, what make this book so powerful is the way in which Maisel puts it all into the broader context of creativity being at the heart of a positive and fulfilled life. Those working in a creative arena will understand and feel deeply the importance with which Maisel views their work, and the intimacy of his understanding of the problems which can occur. As Maisel himself is not only a coach, but also a novelist who understands how to use language, this is a book which reads well, handling large and difficult notions with ease:

We must dream large, and we must also reality-test well. It is imperative that we do both. A person who dreams large but doesn’t effectively test reality ends up in a fantasy world. A person who tests reality well but doesn’t nurture large dreams lives paralyzed in the ordinary world. A peson who manages to do both occupies the only heaven heavenly enough to suit our creative soul, a heaven where creative projects are incubated and made manifest in the crucible or reality.(175)

What Maisel presents here is a primer on how to live a life worth living. If you’re a blocked artist, Coaching the Artist Within will certainly help you get to the root of what is troubling you, while always spurring you forward to do more, more deeply, and more meaningfully. Even if you aren’t blocked, this book is an excellent resource to help you get the most out of life, to work to your best, and to create a broader vision to encompass your creativity. It always comes back to the reader, and ultimately this book will have you answering your own questions. This is one for every artist’s bookshelf, and perhaps also for the broader community as well.

For more information visit: Coaching the Artist Within

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