Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Just about every writer on creativity has some major agendas when it comes to their work, and this writer has several agendas, some of which are not offensive at all, which is quite a surprise given my reading on the subject so far. That isn’t to say that all of the agendas of the author are so benign, though. What agendas does the author bring into this book? Well, she is a writer herself whose irregular life has led her to become famous for her book Eat, Pray, Love, which I have not read and cannot therefore recommend. Part of her agenda is in defending the legitimacy of her own approach to writing and creativity. Part of that agenda is in promoting a vision of the artist as a friendly and well-adjusted sort of person and not the sort of tortured misanthrope that people envision when they hear the word artist. Part of that agenda, and probably the least praiseworthy aspect of it, is her belief in creativity as some sort of internal divine spark that creative people must explore and follow, if not necessarily passion than at least persistent curiosity.
This book of more than 250 pages that is nonetheless a very quick read (I managed to read it in its entirety during the course of a lunch hour at work) is divided into six sections where the author spends a lot of time talking about her opinions on creativity and creative people. The author begins by talking about courage, in that creativity requires the courage to put something out in public that other people may not appreciate very much. After that the author speaks of enchantment and how it can sometimes fade over the course of a project, as with the author’s abortive novel on an spinster in the Amazon jungle. This leads the author to talk about permission, namely the way that an author gives permission to the reader to read or misread the work and to respond authentically to it. After this comes a discussion on the persistence that is needed to create and create on a regular basis. The author then discusses the need for authors to choose wisely in what they trust, even as the source of their creativity. Finally, the talks about divinity, although not in the sense of giving honor to God above, but rather seeking some sort of divinity within as is the nature with so many of our bogus contemporary New Age thinkers.
The author defines creativity as the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration. This seems somewhat insufficient. Surely animals can be creative at least in a limited sense, like those birds that create fancy nests out of plant matter and the occasional bottlecap and other human junk. And surely God is creative; after all, He created us. And the connection with the mysteries of inspiration is highly questionable as well, for it connects any creativity to some sort of mysticism without giving credit either to the natural or the supernatural aspects of creation, but rather viewing mankind as some sort of semidivine being in our own right. Be that as it may, the author’s accounts of creativity as resulting from openness to one’s observations and as following one’s sense of curiosity and sustained interest make a great deal of sense and there is a lot to appreciate in the author’s discussion of her own creative efforts. If I don’t consider myself a particular fan of the author’s writing–this is the first book of hers that I have read, at the very least it makes me mildly curious about her writing with the potential of reading more of it in the future, and of considering her a genuinely creative person, which is mild praise but praise enough.