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Reading time – 3 books on creativity

Reading time - 3 books on creativity (Steal like an artist, Big Magic, Flow)

For a long time I was thinking about creativity-books the same way as sex: those who can do, will do it, those who can’t, will speak about it. However, some of these books have popped up in front of my eyes so often that I grew too curious and had to read them.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi : Flow

Reading time - 3 books on creativity (Steal like an artist, Big Magic, Flow)

Csíkszentmihályi has actually written a book called ‘Creativity’, but this time it was ‘Flow’, which I managed to lay my hands upon, even though it touches the matter of creativity only slightly. According to the book “flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity” (source). I know this state pretty well, every time I paint I absorb in the activity so deeply that the outer world disappears completely, but I hadn’t met the academic approach of this sense before. To make it perfectly simple, according to Csíkszentmihályi the key to happiness is to experience flow as often and in as many activities as possible.

Since its first publishing (1990) Flow has reached world-fame and is now an internationally-acclaimed Bible of positive psychology, so I guess I won’t be popular if I voice the opinion that this book is actually outdated. Sentences like “live in the present instead of watching stupid TV shows” (this kind of sentiment imbibes the entire piece) probably sounded cool in 1990, but in 2017 they seem such horrible clichés that you wouldn’t say it among friends, let alone write it down on paper. The book speaks in the language of psychology, which makes it a little difficult to read but this is the least of my worries about Flow.

With all this said, I think the notion is indeed revolutionary. I suppose the greatest proof is that the word ‘flow’ has evolved into every-day language in the same context as it’s described by Csíkszentmihályi. You can find the author’s TED-talk about the subject here.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Big Magic – creative living beyond fear

Reading time - 3 books on creativity (Steal like an artist, Big Magic, Flow)

I suppose in 20 years time Elizabeth Gilbert’s book will be just as outdated as Flow (perhaps a lot more so), but at the moment it has definitely grabbed my attention – I’m always hungry for the popular genre. It wasn’t the first time that I’ve come across the main concepts of Big Magic: Elizabeth has talked about some of the main ideas of this book in her TED-talk – which has, by the way, become one of the most watched presentations of all time.

The author’s big hit was Eat, pray, love (the novel), so she mainly approaches the subject of creativity through a writer’s point of view. However, she has managed to convey the message in a way that it can be applied perfectly well on any other creative field. The book has an enjoyable, easy style and I guess I read it at the right place and the right time, as my diary is now full of quotes I scribbled down while reading. I am not going to bore you with those, except for one, which I cannot resist:

I never wanted to burden my creativity with the responsibility of paying for my life.

(hint: if you are smart, you will now know what my plans are for my current job).

If I want to be too picky, I would mention a few clichés here as well (“[Perfectionism] is what I call the haute couture, high-end version of fear”), and it could seem controversial that the book is titled “creative living beyond fear” and a few pages later Gilbert states : “Creativity and Fear are in fact conjoined twins; […] they cannot be separated without killing them both.” However, these are really just small things, on the whole, I have had several “aha-experiences” while reading Big Magic, and also enjoyed myself a lot.

Austin Kleon: Steal like an artist – 10 things nobody told you about being creative

Reading time - 3 books on creativity (Steal like an artist, Big Magic, Flow)

Austin had no easy job with me: by the time I managed to lay my hands on this book I had read so many articles about it that I had high (perhaps a little too high) expectations. This piece actually balances on the verge of being called a ‘book’. It can be read in a total of 1,5 hours, so the title ‘comic’ or ‘blogpost’ might fit it too. I suppose by now I have been told several of those 10 things about creativity – like sharing my art with the world via internet. On the other hand, the book is full of quotes by famous people, which can be very entertaining for minds hungry for popular culture like mine. For example, here is one by Bill Cunningham that I read with a lot of nodding:

If you don’t take their money, they can’t tell you what to do.

As I have said in this blogpost, the idea of ‘stealing’ from other makers is a positive one to me, and I also love the way Austin tries to destroy the popular stereotype of ‘I am an Artist’ – though this should be obvious from the title already.

That whole romantic image of the creative genius doing drugs and running around and sleeping with everyone is played out.

The graphic look is pretty, and basically, it woke my thirst to own it, as a publication.


I hope you enjoyed this little review. Have you read any of the books above? What do you think about them?

Reading time - 3 books on creativity (Steal like an artist, Big Magic, Flow)


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