–I was honored that clinical psychologist and Youtube superstar Jordan B. Peterson sent me a review copy of his book 12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos. This blog has a comparatively small readership and any review I write would hardly budge the needle of the book’s sales–which currently trends near number one on nearly every booklist. I appreciate Peterson’s generosity and willingness to share his book.
Peterson routinely talks with people such as Jonathan Haidt (who wrote one of my favorite books The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion) and recommends complex analysis of inequality in books such as The Great Leveler, published by Princeton University Press. I view Peterson as a force for rationality, but I knew his book would invite condemnation. Despite my expectations, I was surprised by an attack from The New York Review of Books. It was less a review and more a compendium of logical fallacies. Because of such attacks and such disregard for diversity of thought, I felt compelled to review Peterson’s book.
The bulk of the book offsets many erroneous and detrimental ideas. Young artists will find concepts to help with self-confidence (Standup straight with your shoulders back, rule 1), networking (Make friends with people who want the best for you, rule 2), finding an authentic style (Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient, rule 7), and how to write an artist statement (Tell the truth–or at least don’t lie, rule 8). The tone is as refreshing as the content and for most readers, there will be plenty to think about.
Ironically, 12 Rules for Life is not overtly political–there is little to object to from any political perspective. That isn’t to say there aren’t missteps. I felt his citation at the beginning of the book that order was a masculine principle and chaos a feminine one was sure to invite criticism. From Peterson’s lectures, I understand what he meant. The role of modern women (radically transformed via medical innovation) has no archetypal analogy. At 60 years of age modern womanhood is too new conceptually to have evolved a genuine cultural archetype. It would have been useful if Peterson had mentioned this perspective.
Some will find Peterson’s perspective at odds with art-house philosophy. But I challenge you to give his ideas a chance. Artists, above all people, should have the courage to think differently and Peterson’s ideas are currently out of step with current ideological fads. Don’t make Peterson an offender for a word but try to understand the concepts as he intended. Most artists will be greatly rewarded.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to mentor young artists. Their philosophies of art are often infused with an unfortunate postmodernism, especially if they’ve attended a public university. Such artists have a grudge against the rich, the very people who will buy their art. They embrace odd theories about art for the masses. One artist, a painter who had great potential, decided he didn’t want to sell his paintings anymore because it was “just rich people” who bought his work. I have met many wealthy people in my career, and I have yet to encounter one I would consider a “robber baron,” or anything even close. Most educated people see such stereotypes for what they are–crude attempts to dismiss intelligence and competency.
Highly competent people know how the world works, either intuitively or by experience, and what will make them better people. That is why they are successful. Their success is why they are rich. That is why successful people buy art and want to help artists with their careers. I reject the idea that art is only bought by the rich for suspect reasons, like trying to impress others. None of my patrons are compelled by such shallow motivations–primarily because such motivations are not conducive to success. Knowing that my art will inspire and challenge the owners of my paintings and, perhaps more importantly, their children, is a great source of satisfaction to me. Being a part of the upward drive of the human family is deeply humbling and rewarding.
One patron organized and sponsors a charity that does spinal surgeries for Peruvian citizens and has helped thousands to lead productive lives. Others fund arts events and organizations on a massive scale. Reflexively stereotyping people with money often means demonizing highly-competent and successful individuals–hardly a virtue.
It is likely that people who support the arts financially are going to be wealthy. This is true even with postmodernist art–an irony since postmodernists disdain the rich. This is reality: despite the utopian dreams of art professors, if you are going to have a career in the arts, you will be working with the successful and the wealthy. It takes care and character to treat people as individuals rather than members of a social group. But it is the right thing to do.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos is an excellent wakeup call to artists laboring under postmodernist burdens. Although the book is not specifically written with artists in mind each chapter details methods artists can use to have successful careers (and lives). His ideas are firmly planted in reality, with solid scientific research, and are an antidote to the patently erroneous theories plaguing so much of modern culture.
For many, it will take some humility to fully embrace Peterson’s ideas (he can be pugnacious at times). I was taught fallacious postmodernist theories 40 years ago when I was in art school. They didn’t work then, and they don’t work now. Success is predicated on an ability to deal with the world as it is–not as a theoretical utopian fantasy. Once you decide to make peace with reality Dr. Peterson’s ideas will begin to resonate.
If you are looking for a book that might not be your usual reading fare, I highly recommend 12 Rules for Life.
Brad Teare –March 2018
Above: Cypher Graphic Novel available at Amazon