In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert is winsome and charming. She is also transparent and earnest. This feels like a book written by someone who has done hard work, grown and isn’t embarrassed in the least about her process. I didn’t love it. But I did like it and think it’s worth reading.
– I found her chapter on keeping your day job particularly helpful. In that section, Gilbert writes, “I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.” And I’ve seen the same. In fact, I’ve felt that myself and in the current season of my life, navigating the difficulty of art and money has taken a bit of a toll.
– Her advice about the limited value and helpfulness of school (Graduate work, specifically) is very helpful and practical. I love that she spent a chapter talking about it.
Here are a few lines I particularly resonated with:
“… the results of my world don’t have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That’s a hard enough job. I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody things about my work once it leaves my desk.”
“… too many artists still believe that anguish is the only truly authentic emotional experience.”
And I love what she writes about the value of curiosity (she commits a good portion of one chapter to it):
“Curiosity … keeps you working steadily, while hotter emotions may come and go.”
I do have to say that I really struggled with her personification of ideas. Gilbert suggests that ideas willfully approach artists and measure our readiness to be visited by them. To be entirely fair, I was just as put-off by the way Steven Pressfield personified The Muse in his classic work “The War of Art.” I guess that notion just bugs me in general. The prevalence of it almost had me put Big Magic down a few times. I got over it and I’m glad I did because there’s far more to the book than that.
That said, part of what she gets at with her philosophy of ideas is summed up by the line: “You aren’t a genius, you have a genius.” Good ideas and good work don’t just naturally flow from the hearts and minds smart, super-trained and “qualified” people; as if great artists just emanate brilliant art. Great artists are women and men who capture an idea and care for it. In the same way that great athletes are women and men who care for and develop their physical gifts/talents.
Big Magic is an approachable, charming and worthwhile read. Check it out.