I remember a talk given by an educational consultant to an audience of returning teachers and administrators in my local school district. It was years ago, but his words have always stayed with me.
If you go into a classroom of preschoolers or kindergartners and ask, “Who can draw me a sun?” All hands will eagerly go up. “I can, I can.” By the fourth grade, not all the hands will raise. By high school, only a few hands will go up, usually with a comment, “Oh, John is an artist.” By adulthood, the lines are clearly drawn on those who consider themselves artists and those who do not. Most have given up on any notions of having fun with words, colors, or music-making.
As we grow and are influenced by society and our surroundings, we lose what we once thought possible: the act of freely creating and expressing ourselves.
Back to the Beginning
Perhaps that is one of the reasons that I was drawn to Rick Rubin’s “The Creative Act: A Way of Being.” His first chapter, “Everyone is a Creator,” had me hooked. But I need to clarify. The book is divided, not into chapters but into "78 Areas of Thought."
You could easily open to any one of them and be refreshed and renewed, but they are best savored sequentially as Mr. Rubin has an orchestrated, but very open plan to move the reader forward, delving deeper into all the myriad layers and complexities of the creative act. It is a stunning achievement.
Mr. Rubin is known in the music world as a legendary music producer with hundreds of record labels to his credit, in addition to numerous awards and honors. He is also known as a mentor: helping people, giving them space, to connect or reconnect with their creativity.
This is his first book compiled from a lifetime of reflections. His words of wisdom, written simply and with much honed clarity, are sure to resonate not only with artists, writers, sculptors, and musicians but to everyone who honors their relationship with the world. Creativity has a place in all of our lives. As Mr. Rubin writes:
"The reason we’re alive is to express ourselves in the world. And creating art may be the most effective and beautiful method of doing so. Art goes beyond language, beyond lives. It’s a universal way to send messages between each other and through time."
Awaken My Soul
If you’re looking for this book in a bookstore, it will most likely be shelved under "personal growth." But, after reading it, it could well be placed with spiritual volumes. Rubin’s insights into what makes great art crosses over into the sacred and divine.
While he doesn’t name God specifically or talk in depth about various religions, he does refer to the Source as a higher power, a force that works through nature and manifests itself in beautiful and surprising ways in humankind.
His “Thoughts” run the gamut from “Awareness" and "Self-Doubt” to “Listening," "Patience," "Inspiration," "Collaboration," "Greatness," and "Success.” One of his themes that runs through many of his “Thoughts” is the ability to remain open to all data and not immediately discount ways of doing things or seeing things because of preconceived notions.
Mr. Rubin clearly cherishes those early, energetic and enthusiastic childhood impulses that haven’t been curbed or diminished when exploring creativity. Awe and wonder can be recaptured.
Mr. Rubin manages to share distinct and insightful reawakenings of the soul in each of his short musings. The reader may be inclined to take notes. At the end of the book, much like a course of study, there are lined pages, perhaps, for that purpose.
Decluttering, in all its various forms, seems to be a hot topic these days. Sorting through closets and organizing shelves is one thing. Rubin takes the concept a step further. He refers to the Buddhist word of "papancha" in the Pali language. Basically, it is a proliferation of thought or mental clutter, which can act as a deterrent when focused energy is needed.
A "sangha," a Buddhist gathering of monks, is another term that Rubin finds useful encouraging artists to have a like-minded community to share ideas and receive support.
This book is devoid of a book jacket. Rubin had a direct hand in the design, choosing a textured cloth hardback binding with a strong graphic image gracing the cover. It’s minimal but very powerful as is the content. This is a luminous read. It has a calming effect. Its narrative is reassuring, hopeful and crafted with gentleness and grace. It is a distillation of one man’s lifetime of reflections shared in a handsome volume.
The power to create will be rekindled and moments of joy reawakened. It will leave readers exhilarated.
‘The Creative Act: A Way of Being’
By Rick Rubin
Penguin Press, Jan. 17, 2023
Hardcover: 432 pages
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Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Va. She can be reached at [email protected]