PAIN IN THE ARTS

Byline: Merle Ginsberg

NEW YORK--Just when you thought those Eighties-style recovery programs--for everyone from shoppers to women who love too much--were on the wane, comes one for suffering artists.
But "The Artist's Way" isn't another 12-stepper. It's a 12-week course that has gradually blossomed all around the country, thanks to its adjunct book of the same name.
Jeremy Tarcher initially printed 7,500 copies of Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan's oversized paperback in 1992. Since then it has sold approximately half a million copies and has made bestseller lists in The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Denver Post.
This week, Cameron, a novelist, poet and screenwriter who was married to Martin Scorsese, and Bryan, a teacher and writer, are in New York for workshops at The Learning Annex and The Open Center. There is a reading at a Barnes & Noble on Thursday. And everywhere they go, a crowd seems to follow. They are the current gurus of the creative process. As one assignment, the group of about 60 at The Open Center (a holistic learning facility in SoHo) were asked to create "creativity dolls" for their next meeting. It's one of a series of exercises--including writing "morning pages" upon awakening--designed to "unblock" blocked artists.
One young man holds up a vibrator with a toothbrush and dollar bill attached--his creativity doll. "It's about my metallic sexuality," he says. "I grew up with it as my identity; that's how I dealt with the world. I didn't know how to be anything else."
A young woman holds up a branch with a gooey-looking plastic spider suspended from it. "My favorite childhood story was 'Charlotte's Web,' " she announces to the group. "Through her creativity, she saved lives. I know my creativity is related to my darkness. It creates a web."
"Basically, what the book or workshops do," explains Cameron, "is give you the permission to trust yourself." Has the method worked for Cameron and Bryan?
Cameron has just completed a new book, "Vein of Gold," and a musical. Bryan's book, "The Prodigal Father," is coming out, and he just sold a script to Showtime. Still, they won't give up teaching and spreading the word.
"We were just offered seven figures to franchise 'The Artists Way,' " Bryan says. "We wouldn't do it."
Someone at The Open Center asks Cameron what to do if he doesn't feel like writing three morning pages a day.
"I don't know," she snaps. "I only teach grownups."
"Be nicer," Bryan whispers to her. "You're being too mean."
"But these people are allowing themselves creative anorexia!" she exclaims. "People who are afraid of their creativity try to control it by not doing it!"
It all started as a salon in Cameron's Greenwich Village apartment in 1978. After a career in journalism, a divorce from Scorsese (they have a daughter, Domenica) and a stint in Hollywood as a screenwriter, Cameron moved to New Mexico. She helped Bryan, then a teacher, with his writing, and he convinced her to turn her teachings into a book. In 1990, Cameron and Bryan married. A year after the book came out, in 1993, they divorced. But that hasn't hindered their mutual creativity--nor others'.
Creative clusters that start in the 12-week classes have been growing all around the country. "It's a very large secret movement," Cameron says. "One of the themes of the work," says Bryan, "is that people intuitively know what's best for them. This is not just about art. It's about life. The work helps you do your life better.
"And believe me, I know," he smiles. "I morning-paged this morning." "Me, too," adds Cameron. "And I wrote a poem."

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