A curated collection of publications at the frontier of contemporary art literature
This book is a must read for anyone pursuing creativity of any kind, that means not only a path or career directly related to what we would usually associate with the word creativity: practices such as art, design, poetry, creative writing and so on, but indeed any practice in which instead of merely imitating, we are in fact, creating.
I also found this book indispensable for my own journey towards setting up Three Graces Galleries, a project that I felt deeply devoted to but that at first seemed so big and out of my comfort zone, and that confronted me with many fearful questions: Could I do it? Did I have the resources? Would anyone care? Would people criticise me? And so on. In BIG MAGIC Liz Gilbert exposes these kinds of fears for what they really are, how they can be overthrown and how they are fundamentally linked to the fact that many of us spend much of our lives waiting to be given permission by others: to do that thing which we have always dreamed of doing, to be the person who we really authentically are or to become who we really want to be apart from the various expectations that surround our every waking moment. We too often wait for someone else to tell us we are worthy of what we want to be.
Liz explains that in this state of mind we are forgetting that it is we ourselves who have the power to give that ‘permission’, and that this power should never lie with someone else. You are an artist when you say you are. You are a creator when you create, despite all your fears, and no one else has the permission to tell you “you are not” or “you can’t”. Most of the time, she says, it is we who hold ourselves back, telling ourselves there is a bottomless list of reasons why we can’t live a more creative life, why we’re not good enough, why someone else would do it better or why we are not ready and so on. Liz opens part I, entitled COURAGE, by addressing some of these fears:
You’re afraid you have no talent.
You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticised or ridiculed or misunderstood or - worst of all - ignored.
You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
And so on…
She then divides her book into 6 chapters, each addressing a key theme for carving a fearlessly authentic creative path or as she puts it "Creative Living Beyond Fear”, they are:
Below are what I consider to be some key excerpts from each part of the book BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert, to give you a feel for the text, in the hope that you too will be inspired to discover this essential, potentially life changing book!
PART I - COURAGE
“Now you probably think I’m going to tell you that you must become fearless in order to live a more creative life. But I’m not going to tell you that, because I don’t happen to believe it’s true. Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognise the distinction”.
“Just because you don’t need your fear when it comes to creativity, of course, doesn’t mean your fear won’t show up. Trust me, your fear will always show up—especially when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative. Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into the realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome…This is all totally natural and human. It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something that very much needs to be dealt with”.
PART II - ENCHANTMENT
“I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you—but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator. This happens to people a lot actually. This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or produced your movie, or founded your business, or launched your restaurant, or patented your invention—or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had years ago, but had never entirely cultivated, or had never gotten around to finishing. This may vex you, but it really shouldn’t, because you didn’t deliver! You didn’t show up ready enough…or openly enough for the idea to take hold within you and complete itself…”
“A different way is to cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with inspiration…You can clear out whatever obstacles are preventing you from living your most creative life, with the simple understanding that whatever is bad for you is probably also bad for your work”.
PART III - PERMISSION
“Defending yourself as a creative person begins by defining yourself. It begins when you declare your intent. Stand up tall and say it aloud, whatever it is: I’m a writer, I’m a singer…a photographer…a dancer…an inventor…I am this, I am that…I don’t yet know exactly what I am, but I am curious enough to go find out!”
“Hell, let you know you’re there-because this statement of intent is just as much an announcement to yourself as it is an announcement to the universe or anybody else. Hearing this announcement, your soul will mobilise accordingly…But you must be the one to start the conversation, and you must feel entitled to stay in that conversation”.
PART IV - PERSISTENCE
“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust-and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible”.
“Why do people persist in creating, even when it’s difficult and inconvenient and often financially unrewarding? They persist because they are in love…because they’re hot for their vocation…you know how people who are having extramarital affairs always seem to manage to find the time to see each other in order to have wild, transgressive sex?…they still somehow always manage to find the time to sneak off and see their lover—no matter what the difficulties, the risks, or the costs…When people are having an affair…they will blast through any obstacles, in order to be alone with the object of their devotion and obsession-because it matters to them. Let yourself fall in love with your creativity like that and see what happens”.
PART V - TRUST
“Far too many people have been taught to distrust pleasure and to put their faith in the struggle alone. Too many artists still believe that anguish is the only truly authentic emotional experience….we must be wary of the Tormented Artist, because sometimes it’s a persona- a role that people grow accustomed to playing”.
“I’ve never been attracted to the icon of the Tormented Artist…What’s more, I’ve passed through enough seasons of depression, anxiety, and shame in my own life to know that such experiences are not particularly generative for me…I’ve noticed that my creative spirit becomes cramped and suffocated…”
“…my desire to engage with my creativity as intimately and as freely as possible—is my strongest personal incentive to fight back against pain—and to fashion a life for myself that is as sane and healthy and stave as it can possibly be. But that’s only because of what I have chosen to trust, which is quite simply: love. Love over suffering, always”.
PART VI - DIVINITY
“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes”.
BIG MAGIC is available in multiple languages and Liz's Magic Lessons podcast series comes highly recommended and is free to access and download. In Magic Lessons she talks to people all over the world about why they’re struggling to live an authentic creative life and to get to where they want to be, offering her own sound guidance and bringing in other trail blazers like Glennon Doyle Melton, Brené Brown, Rob Bell and Cheryl Strayed to name just a few, to further enrich discussions that are relevant to so many of us.
HOW ART CAN MAKE YOU HAPPY
BRIDGET WATSON PAYNE
“Fall in love with art—whether for the first time or all over again—and bring more art happiness into your life”. (BWP)
This fantastic book asks two fundamental questions:
Why is art magical?
How does it make you happy?
And in the authors own words…
“This book offer the keys to unlocking a rich and rewarding new source of joy in your life.
Maybe you feel like you don’t have the time to look at art. Maybe you’d like to learn to appreciate art but don’t know where to begin. Perhaps you already love art, or you’d like to make art, or you don’t yet know that art is out there waiting for you.
This little guide makes it easy to add art to your life—with tips on how to go to blockbuster shows (or not), how to talk about art at cocktail parties, how to look at art without leaving the comfort of your sofa, and how to let art wake you up to the world around you.
Forget everything you think you know, and start enjoying everything art has to offer. How Art Can Make You Happy is for you”. (BWP)
This little guide is right on point and it’s humorous twists will have you sailing your way through once stuffy art galleries and "high brow” conversations on art, anytime, anywhere. Bridget Watson Payne takes the stress out of it all and finally leaves space for all the juicy, rich and wonderful sensations and emotions that art can plant in each and every one of us. Space too for a free and open forum for actually enjoying talking about art with others. And the permission to peel off all those pretentious and exclusive layers of the art scene and art destinations, and get to the core of art and the direct and personal, soul nourishing relationship that we can all have with art if we put ourselves in front of it.
Pablo Picasso said “Art is theft”. So what’s the secret? How can we learn to steal like a true Artist? Enter Austin Kleon and his
New York Times bestseller:
STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST
10 THINGS NOBODY TOLD YOU ABOUT BEING CREATIVE
Get ready to see a world you thought you knew, turned upside down! This book is a springboard to an unchained, unburdened, guilt-free creative life.
Have you ever sat at your desk for hours, screwing up bits of paper and rubbishing perfectly good ideas, trying desperately to come up with something completely “new”, unheard of, unthought of, something the world has never seen, a ‘they don’t know what’s about to hit them’ kind of idea?
Austin has news for you, stop burdening yourself with this task, it’s not possible and what’s more it kills your creativity! “What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original”.* In fact, esteemed writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something “original”, 90% of the time they just don’t recognise the references or know about the creator’s original sources.
So embrace influence and get down to the business of stealing like an artist!
In chapter 1, Austin breaks down the fundamentals of becoming a seasoned and discerning idea collector, and shows you how to construct your own kind of creative family tree that you can climb and climb, to get right where you want to be. "Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff. I hang pictures of my favourite artists in my studio. They’re like friendly ghosts… The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work”.*
Key in chapter 2 is not to wait until you know who you are, or to be told you're ready, to get started in your business of creating. If we waited for that feeling or permission, nobody would ever begin being creative. Even successful creators often suffer from “impostor syndrome” because in the end, we’re all, even the most successful of us, faking it until we make it! Just as William Shakespeare pointed out:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts”.
William Shakespeare in “As You Like It”
The point is says Austin, “All the world’s a stage. Creative work is a kind of theatre. The stage is your studio, your desk, or your workstation. The costume is your outfit—your painting pants, your business suit, or that funny hat that helps you think. The props are your materials, your tools and your medium. The script is just plain old time. An hour here, or an hour there—just time measured out for things to happen”.*
So start collecting and copying, copy what you love, what and who inspires you, we learn by copying. Steal, copy, practice and repeat! It’s not warns Austin, about plagiarising other people’s work, it’s about taking it apart and seeing how it works and understanding the thinking behind it. Then doing that over and over again, all the way up your creative family tree, stealing from each and every one of your heroes. Steal, and then put it in your own voice and in doing that, you’ll eventually find yourself and your own voice streaming out from the darkness. And then, as legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola said, “…one day someone will steal from you”.
There’s a wealth of knowledge, inspiration and expertise on offer in this book, another 8 chapters worth in fact, if you’re longing for a better way to inject creativity into your life and work, get your hands on this book now!
*indicates a direct quotation from the book
ART AS THERAPY
ALAIN DE BOTTON AND ROBERT ARMSTRONG
Art as Therapy written by philosopher Alain de Botton and philsopher art historian John Armstrong, is a book described by The Times newspaper as being ‘one of the most intellectually exciting books’ to be published in 2013.
Both thinkers were ahead of their time in anticipating the now central discourse surrounding art and its potential as a tool to help us overcome the challenges we face in our contemporary world. That art in some way allows us to temporarily transcend the shallower everyday flow of our lives and in doing so leaves us better equipped to deal with the particular challenges, disappointments or griefs we might suffer in being of the human condition. de Botton and Armstong assert seven main human frailties, seven psycho-emotional processes that we human beings are constantly striving to master, but that we often find difficult. These are; remembering, feeling a sense of hope, dignifying sorrow, staying balanced, self-knowing, extending our horizions and appreciating what we already have. In assisting us and extending our natural capacities, art can ‘…guide, exhort and console its viewers, enabling them to become better versions of themselves’. Culture can offer support to us in our lives as a source of selfhelp for our innermost problems, the problems of the soul. de Botton and Armstrong are calling for a reframing of the way we look at art so that we can release its power to help us.
The two thinkers ask the following key questions of the moment, under six subtitles:
What is the Point of Art?
What Counts as Good Art?
What Kind of Art Should One Make?
How Should Art be Bought and Sold?
How Should We Study Art?
How Should Art be Displayed?
In this innovative work de Botton and Armstrong offer a groundbreaking and rounded theory of art that deserves attention and implementation. Their theory offers readers a completely new way of relating to art that puts the power in our own hands to reap the benefits of art and its power to serve as; a corrective of bad memory, a purveyor of hope, a source of dignified sorrow, a balancing agent, a guide to self-knowledge, a guide to the extension of experience and a re-sensitisation tool. Most of us are only at the tip of the iceberg but the possibilities in art are boundless, we need only know how to approach art in a different way and we need never look back.