Greetings, Internet! It was a beautiful week last week up here in North Idaho. Summer is finally (sort of) here. I could live without occasional thunderstorms, but only because my dogs are ridiculous about the tiniest little rumble miles and miles away. Personally, I love a good thunderstorm.
I’m finally getting back into my reading habit. I’ve gone back to reading first thing in the morning, because if I wait until evening, I just fall asleep without making progress. This is part of me trying to cut back on screens and social media during the day, because honestly, I’m pretty much over all of it (more about that later). For a long while, I’ve been getting up at 6am to read my Bible and pray, and then I feed the dogs, eat my own breakfast, and wait a bit to digest and have a little coffee before heading out for exercise. That waiting time was too often wasted on silly Internet things, so I’ve replaced it with reading a real honest-to-goodness paper book, which I think is better for my brain than reading an e-book or spending time on social media, news sites, or computer solitaire.
In any case, my non-fiction book club book for this month was The Creative Act: A Way of Being, by Rick Rubin. I’m not sure I would have picked it up if it hadn’t been assigned to me for the club, but I’m glad I did as it dovetailed nicely with my efforts to improve my brain health and get my head back in the game with all my various fiction projects. Read on for a more comprehensive review…
I’m a little conflicted about this book. On the “con” side, the writing is kind of simplistic, and large parts of the book are a little too “woo woo” for someone as practical as I am. On the “pro” side, buried in this book are many, many, many nuggets that speak to deep truths, spark ideas worth ruminating on, or reframe the peculiar issues of artistic life into something easier to integrate into a whole way of being. Overall, I liked it and would recommend it to anyone trying to live a more creative life.
The Reading Experience
Even though this book is a smidge over 400 pages, it’s a quick read. Chapters are very short; some pages contain only a few lines of text, and there are lots of blank pages. If I weren’t so dang busy right now, I’d have finished this book in just a couple of days, most likely.
I’m conflicted about the writing style. In some sense, it felt like Rick Rubin was talking down to me. The sentences are very simple and short, and I tend to prefer writing that’s a little more complex. However, given that some of the nuggets herein were very deep, I can see how stripping away any complications crystallized the ideas.
An Artist’s Handbook
I think the opening page summarizes the point of the book:
The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable. – Robert Henri
This quote seems to sum up what Rubin wants you to know. The opening “chapter” (he doesn’t call them “chapters,” but rather “Areas of Thought”) is titled “Everyone is a Creator.” From there, Rubin moves methodically through something like a creative process, each idea building on the previous one through the end chapters. It moves from setting a foundation to think of oneself as an artist to producing the actual work to dealing with the internal critic to embracing an identity as an artist.
Though the middle part was good for me to read, I think the end was possibly what I needed the most. The last full chapter includes this quote:
You are you.
The work is the work.
That’s tough to embrace, honestly, but so much of the end of the book is about accepting one’s identity as an artist and also separating oneself from the work. This is an idea that I have struggled with for years, but Rubin’s perspective helped me reconcile some of my own struggle and accept my identity as an artist.
Nuggets of Truth
Here are just a few of the little gems that stuck out for me:
It’s worth remembering that we are blessed to get to create. It’s a privilege. We’re choosing it. We’re not being ordered to do this. If we’d rather not do it, let’s not do it.
Rules direct us to average behaviors. If we’re aiming to create works that are exceptional, most rules don’t apply. Average is nothing to aspire to.
Art made accidentally has no more or less weight than art created through sweat and struggle. Whether it took months or minutes does not matter. Quality isn’t based on the amount of time invested. So long as what emerges is pleasing to us, the work has fulfilled its purpose.
The book is chock full of little nuggets of wisdom that come from decades living as an artist and existing in an artistic world, and yet it strikes me that this books is both generic and highly personal. What stood out to me might not stand out to you, but I can almost guarantee that you will find something in this book that speaks to how you want to embrace your own creativity.
This book challenged me to start thinking of myself more as an artist–to embrace a way of living that prioritizes art and creativity. While Rubin definitely leans toward what I might call a sort of generic, universal spirituality, I found myself nodding along and agreeing with a lot of his perspectives. While he might say “Source” and I might say “God,” we can both agree that our creative spark is something outside of us–that we channel a kind of flow of creativity that drives us to craft something for others to consume.
Rubin also framed a few things in new ways that helped me reconcile personal conflicts. For example, when it comes to imitating those who came before us, Rubin says that’s just collaboration. “Being made happy by someone else’s best work, and then letting it inspire you to rise to the occasion, is not competition. It’s collaboration.” I love that. He also points out that sometimes, when we collaborate through imitation, we accidentally innovate, too.
The point is that we all stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, and acknowledging this is okay.
Would I Recommend?
I do recommend for anyone who is open to considering a more creative, artistic approach to life, or to anyone who is struggling to reconcile a pull toward artistic endeavors with the realities of life.
Will I Read More of This Author?
I don’t know. This is Rubin’s debut book, so he would first need to publish something else, obviously. It would entirely depend on the subject of subsequent books. I am open to reading more of his thoughts on creativity and artistic life, though.
What’s Next on My List?
I’m working on finishing up Lonesome Dove, and then I don’t know. I need to catch up on my Goodreads challenge, so I’m trying to find some shorter works… I also want to work some more speculative fiction back into the rotation.
Right now, though, Lonesome Dove is sort of firing my imagination, so maybe I’ll stick with some westerns for a while. These could be helpful when I finally get back to that dragon-western-with-witches that I intend to write…
Speaking of future works… Next week, I’ll have some project updates and a NEW COVER to show you! See you then!