Finding Water by Julia Cameron is the third of what she calls “The Artist’s Way Trilogy.” I have not read the second book, Walking in the World, but I have read, more than once, The Artist’s Way. My mother gave me this book after we read the seminal first book but I’ve never read the second. I mention this because this review will only be a comparison between the two books.
In The Artist’s Way, Cameron described a few basic artistic practices, including daily Morning Pages, weekly Artist’s Dates, and walking. Each chapter ended with a reflection on the week’s practices (assessing whether or not you did each and how often, etc.). Each chapter also ended with a list of other tasks, so many that one could not reasonably do them in the single week’s time that each chapter is supposed to cover. For this reason, The Artist’s Way invited the reader to read the book more than once, to return to those tasks that were left undone, to live with the book beyond the twelve weeks and twelve chapters.
In Finding Water, there are once again twelve chapters to be read over a period of twelve weeks. There are a few journaling exercises in which you make lists or write something similarly simple, not affording room for much reflection unless you yourself choose to write more and longer. The book also encourages the reader to reach out to other artists, friends who can offer support to your creative path.
In both books, Cameron steeps her ideas in spiritual rhetoric. However, the former is perhaps more vague. Or it may be my own memory of the text that is vague. In Twelve-Step programs, the third step refers to a Higher Power, a “god as we understood him” in vague terms. In the second book, any ambiguity seems to be gone and Cameron speaks of God, not the Divine or Spirit or other abstractions. I’ve read accusations in reviews for the former book where readers were offended because it was too “New Age,” typically from Christians who saw the word “spiritual” in the title and hoped for something different and I’ve read reviews from others saying that the book is “too Christian.” I never felt either way—that the book was “too New Age” or “too Christian.” This book, on the others hand, feels far more Christian because only the rare euphemism used for God, who is also specifically engendered as masculine.
If the more strongly Christian rhetoric was unexpected, the 12-step rhetoric is not. Maybe it is just as endemic in both books. After all, each is divided into twelve chapters and I’ve no doubt that this is intentional. Whether it is truly more prevalent or not, I found it more tedious this time, a monotone note that is reiterated so frequently that one wonders whether there is anything new on these pages. Perhaps if I had read this third book first, I’d have found one this more inspiring. But why would anyone choose to read the third book before reading the first? Odds are, nobody would, and in the end this book adds nothing to the first. It’s good but not nearly as good and in setting her own bar so high with The Artist’s Way, Cameron simply fails to measure up in any of the books I’ve read that followed.
As for her rhetorical style in general, I offer the following paragraph as an example:
The tree beneath my writing-room window is a mystery to me. It has four-cornered leaves and large yellow flowers that are gold to the swarm of yellow jackets that feed and cruise and feed again amid its branches. This is the first summer that I have stayed on in New York rather than going on out to Taos, New Mexico. It is the first season when the tree has become a part of my story. I write at an IMB Selectric typewriter set on a small Chinese desk, up against a large window. The bees come to the window. They are large yellow jackets and they soar menacingly close. I remind myself that there is a pane of glass between them and me. I am grateful for the window. (212)
Let me just say it: I loathe this paragraph. The prose is ponderous, tedious, and dull. Previously in the book she mentions her decision to stay home in New York rather than take her usual trip to New Mexico, a decision she obviously thinks the reader won’t remember from one week to the next because she repeats this sacrifice over and over again. It’s not only that. There’s something so clunky about this paragraph. Or at least so it seems in my eyes. I can’t imagine that I would have read, let alone reread more than once, The Artist’s Way if her prose were this mind-numbing to read. One would assume a writer’s talent would grow over time. I suppose there are exceptions to every rule.
I can honestly say, after reading this third book, I have no desire to read the second book. It would take someone I love urging me to read it to make me even consider the possibility. Even then, he or she would have to assure me they would read it with me. And even then, I would want to make sure that they had not read The Artist’s Way already because I wouldn’t want to experience the disappointment and let-down multiplied through the shared experience.
As I said before, I’d only recommend this book to someone who has never read The Artist’s Way but even then I’d really urge them to just read the other book and skip this one altogether. As it is, now I have to decide if I want to bother reading The Vein of Gold or just forego it. I’ve had it for a while, considered reading it ages and ages ago, was prepared to add it to my Fifteen in 2012 list. But how many more times do I have to give Cameron a second chance before I give up altogether?
This is one of the Fifteen in 2011 books and also a Book I Should Have Read by Now. Only two more days to vote in the poll to help me choose of the books I'll be adding to the Fifteen in 2012 list. A special thank you to those who have taken the time to vote. I truly appreciate it.