The Creative Act
Rick Rubin's The Creative Act is a set of meditations on what it means to be creative and do creative work. For this one, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook vs reading the physical thing. Rick Rubin's mic setup is transcendental.
This book is popular because it both feels timeless and universally actionable. Though Rubin could name-drop any number of musical artists... he doesn't! The entire book is setup as a series of zen meditations (complete with a bell sound between each one).
Creation is inherent in our being – you might think of creation as 'creating some physical piece of art', but Rubin argues it's really much more comprehensive than that. Anytime we take in some piece of information and share it with someone else in our own way, we're being creative.
The source, the vessel, the output – in a more cosmic sense, the universe is consistently giving us new information. We've been honed to notice patterns in that information.
Getting better at noticing – notice the little moments that take your breath away and improve your sense of noticing. As the vessel for the world's information, you can improve what it is you notice.
The rules – the best artists notice when there are inherent rules and then try and break them. They know the rules so well, they know what to break. Artists who have never learned the rules also do quite well here. Most art that is novel pushes the rules in some new dimension.
The beginners mind – constantly view the world as if it were new. Imagine if you grew up in the middle of the country and had never seen the sea. You would marvel at it far more than if you grew up near the ocean. There's an anecdote about AlphaGo in here... that it was effectively trained with the "beginner's mind" in Go.
Inspiration – the moment when inspiration strikes, you owe it to yourself to follow it wherever it leads. Stay up late. Write it all down. Follow it.
Habits – inspiration alone can't be relied upon. You need to create habits in your day that free yourself up to be most creative. Figure out how to structure your day so that you have developed some time for pure, playful creativity. Take care of everything else so you don't have to figure out "when to fit time in".
Art is the universal way we communicate our anxieties, fears, and hopes – This was a new way of thinking about art to me. Rubin points out that it can be a publicly acceptable way to share ones darkest inner thoughts. Things you can't say in polite conversation are fair-game in art.
The best art takes the artist's lens and intention on the world – as an artist, you can never expect the audience to perceive the art in the exact same way you do. Instead, use the art to capture some taste or view you have on the world.
Focus on what's in your control – the perception of your art is out of your control. Whether it will make you famous or support you isn't within your ability. Don't focus on these things, just focus on making great work.
Art -> Culture -> Art cycle – some artists worry about 'stealing' ideas from others. Rubin has a different take. ALL art is really just a product of the culture. The artist notices some thing in the physical world, and then contributes it back to the culture. You must acknowledge that you are constantly being influenced. It is important to share your work back into the culture as part of this process.
The quality of the work must come first – a consistent theme is you must value the work's quality above all else. If you are doing anything besides trying to value the work, you will have a corrupted
Momentum – keeping up momentum is one of the hardest things to do as an artist. In the early days, you might want to set deadlines. An important part of keeping up momentum is viewing your journey as a continuum. Instead of thinking "this is the last art I will ever create", acknowledge your career is long, and figure out how to keep advancing it.
Art as seeds – Rubin views early artwork as 'seeds'. You can see where they go, but sometimes it might not be the right time or place for a seed to grow. If that happens, it's okay! The seeds weren't meant to be.
Time away – sometimes it's easy to get "too close" to the work. I've noticed this myself on projects that I'm building, and I see it ALL THE TIME in friends startups. You are so close that you notice all the little imperfections and start tweaking things that aren't that important.
Cooperation – good cooperation always puts the work first. You take yourself out of the equation, and don't think about ego or who was right. You always want to build in-service of the 'best possible result'.