Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Nonfiction, Self Help
Length: 288 Pages
Release date: September 22, 2015
Blurb via GoodReads:
Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.
If you’re in need of a burst of positivity, this is it. There are a lot of takeaway messages to this book, but my personal favorite was this: do not be afraid to make bad art. For the overwhelming majority of the human population, there is only one way to make great art, and that is to make a lot of bad art first. And even if you never achieve Great Artist status, if you enjoyed making whatever you created, that is reason enough. The pure joy of creation is reason enough. If you are the only person who ever gets joy out of your art, that is sufficient justification for its existence.
Gilbert also takes on the depressed, tormented artist stereotype in this book. She challenges the perception that deep inner turmoil necessarily makes for good art. (Side note: this section brought to mind Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special, Nanette, where she talks about Van Gogh and his struggles with mental health. If you haven’t watched it yet, at the very least, watch this clip.) Gilbert talks about writers she’s known who are afraid to seek help for their depression, substance abuse, or other mental health issues, because they are afraid that health and happiness will stifle their creativity. Gilbert contends that this is a deeply harmful mindset and that artists who succeed in the midst of mental health struggles do so in spite of those struggles, not because of them. (As a former psychology student, I’d like to break in for a moment to say that lack of motivation is a big symptom of depression; that’s not exactly a precursor for making great art.)
The main drawback I saw to this book, and perhaps you’ll see it differently, was Gilbert’s semi-spiritual connection to creativity as a concept. She seems to view inspiration as an almost sentient entity, one that can be reliably wooed if you create just the right mindset. Some of these passages got a bit too new-age for my taste. Art is practically a religion for Gilbert, and the goddess of creativity speaks to her.
Overall, this was a great read. Gilbert radiates positivity and reminds you at every turn that fear is boring. Learning to move beyond the fear and do what you love anyway is the most exciting thing you can do.