Every now and then I like to give myself a creativity boost by reading something inspirational about the process of "making". In the past, I have relied on Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. I posted on this blog about the latter book some years ago.
This new book, Big Magic by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) is my latest find, and I would recommend it.
Pressfield's text uses forceful military imagery (the book's subtitle is "Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles"). This is unsurprising, coming from a former Marine, an honorary citizen of Sparta, and the author of Tides of War, The Afghan Campaign, and The Warrior Ethos. Much of Pressfield's book deals with resistance, and what is needed to overcome resistance.
Where Pressfield sees creativity as a Warrior, Gilbert views it as a Trickster. To quote her, "Trickster energy is light, sly, transgender, transgressive, animist, seditious, primal and endlessly shape-shifting."
Gilbert proposes that ideas drift through the ether like fireflies, looking for a likely host who will receive them, nurture them, develop them, and birth them. Creativity is built into our genetic code, and is responsible for the survival of the species. In a sense we are all born creative. We may express it as potters, composers, problem-solvers, or ice-skaters. We may not achieve acclaim or financial reward from what we make, but we can all live "a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear", "an amplified existence".
Many of us think that if we cannot support ourselves through our art, that we have no right to call ourselves artists. Gilbert reminds us that putting financial pressure on fragile gifts is a sure way to crush them. She encourages us to "stick with our day jobs", and allow our creativity to flourish without requiring it to buy the groceries.
Some of us may fear that if we can't make something truly original, it's just not good enough. Gilbert prefers authenticity over originality. If we can make something that allows our individual voice to come through, then we have made a unique and valuable contribution to the world.
Finally, Gilbert is all about the joy of embracing our creative inclinations, because that is, in the end, what gives value to our lives.