Tag Archives: Creativity

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

Summary

  1. With some simple but not easy routines, Cameron helps train creativity to be a steady flow rather than to come in fits and spurts

Key Takeaways

  1. Morning Pages – 3 pages of land hand writing in the morning
    1. A total brain dump to get your juices flowing and to unlock the flood gates
    2. Creates a direct link with the creator within, a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self – our map to our own interior
    3. When I feel lost, I go tot he pages and ask for guidance. I pose a question to myself and write from both question and answer perspectives
  2. Artist Date – a once per week solo adventure, about 2 hours
    1. Move from broadcast to receive, from problems to solutions
  3. Other
    1. In short, theory doesn’t matter as much as the practice itself does
    2. Remember that this is a spiral path. You will circle through some of the issues over and over, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path. Our aim here is to find the trail, establish our footing, and being the climb. The creative vistas that open will quickly excite you. 
    3. A word is in order here about logic brain and artist brain. Logic brain is our brain of choice in the Western Hemisphere. it is the categorical brain. It thinks in a neat, linear fashion. As a rule, logic brain perceives the world according to known categories. A horse is a certain combination of animal parts that make up a horse. A fall forest is viewed as a series of colors that add up to “fall forest.” It looks at a fall forest and notes: red, orange, yellow, green, gold. Logic brain was and is our survival brain. It works on known principles. Anything unknown is perceived as wrong and possibly dangerous. Logic brain likes things to be neat little soldiers marching in a straight line. Logic brain is the brain we usually listen to, especially when we are telling ourselves to be sensible. Logic brain is our censor. Artist brain is our inventor, our child, our very own personal absent-minded professor. Artist brain says, “Hey! That is so neat!” It puts odd things together (boat equals wave and walker). It likes calling a speeding GTO a wild animal: “The black howling wolf pulled into the drive-in…” Artist brain is our creative, holistic brain. It thinks in patterns and shadings. It sees a fall forest and thinks: Wow! Leaf bouquet! Pretty! Gold-gilt-shimmery-earthskin-king’s-carpet! Artist brain is associative and freewheeling. It makes new connections, yoking together images to invoke meaning: like the Norse myths calling a boat “wave-horse” In Star Wars, the name Skywalker is a lovely artist-brain flash. Combining both is a powerful mixture

What I got out of it

  1. I’m intrigued enough and will make it a monthly challenge at some point to do both morning pages and the artist date

Chase, Chance, and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty by James Austin

Summary

  1. “The original intent remains: to provide a brief, personal story of the ways persistence, chance, and creativity interact in biomedical research…This is a story of the ways persistence, chance, and creativity interact in medical research. My thesis is that novelty in research is like that in any endeavor-it springs from the dynamic interplay among several ingredients: personal lifestyle, people, luck, intuition, and system.”

Key Takeaways

  1. Chance
    1. Know something about the structure of luck so that at least you don’t do anything to discourage it. Chance I is anyone’s luck; Chance II is anyone-in-motion’s luck. Chance III is luck that comes from one person’s discernment; Chance IV is luck that flows from one unique person’s actions.
    2. The second simple-minded axiom follows from the first: the more diversity among these individual varieties of chance, the more unique is the creative product when their lines intersect. Luck comes in degrees. So does novelty, the hallmark of the creative process, and the yardstick by which its product is measured. A key agency of this novelty is intuition, a process reaching far beyond ordinary logic.
    3. I find medicine and science are meaningless unless they are interwoven with the rest of nature, the arts, and humanities.
    4. Because many new (and some useful) ideas about experiments or methods flash into my thinking anywhere and anytime, I keep a shirt pocketful of file cards to quickly jot down these ideas before they vanish.
    5. Research proliferates,’- and for a simple reason: as one question is answered, at least two new ones arise.
    6. My own research has been indelibly influenced by my personal beliefs and style of living. Nonscientific interests have repeatedly come back to enrich and invigorate my scientific career.
    7. Rather, what seems to be superimposed on the conscious work are some personalized drives and sensibilities interacting with chance. Later, we will say more about the qualities of mind, temperament and instinct that underlie this kind of experience. For the moment, let me note that the episode with Tom the dog can he used as an example of the “barking up the right tree” phenomenon. It means that if you happen to be the kind of person who hunts afield, it may be, in fact, your dog who leads you up to the correct tree, and to a desirable conclusion.
    8. If you are completely candid with yourself, you will soon discover how much your discoveries hinge on contingencies. Every now and then, when you happen to combine both boldness and skill, you may be able to exploit a few of the lucky situations that arise. But skill alone will not be enough, for much of the novelty in creativity is decided only when you are bold enough to thrust at chance.
    9. To sum up, serendipity is the facility for encountering unexpected good luck, as the result of accident and sagacity, as can occur in the course of more generalized, relatively unfocused exploratory behaviors, even meanderings.
    10. The four kinds of chance each have a different kind of motor exploratory activity and a different kind of sensory receptivity. The varieties of chance also involve distinctive personality traits and differ in the way one particular individual influences them.
  2. Chance I – Blind luck. Chance happens and nothing about it is directly attributable to you, the recipient. No specific personality traits are needed
    1. In Chance I, the good luck that occurs is completely accidental. It is pure blind luck that comes with no effort on our part. No particular personality trait is in operation. If, for example, you are sitting playing bridge at a table of four, it’s “in the cards” for you to receive a hand of thirteen spades, but statisticians tell us it will occur on an average only once in 635 billion deals (635,013,559,600).’ You will ultimately draw this lucky hand, but it may involve a rather longer wait than most have time for.
  3. Chance II – The Kettering Principle. Chance favors those in motion. Events are brought together to form “happy accidents” when you diffusely apply your energies in motions that are typically nonspecific. Those who are curious about many things, persistent, willing to experiment and explore benefit from Chance II
    1. Years ago, when I was rushing around in the laboratory working on sulfatides, someone admonished me by asking, “Why all the busyness? One must distinguish between motion and progress. “Yes, at some point this distinction must be made. But it cannot always be made first. And it is not always made consciously. True, waste motion should be avoided. But, if the researcher did not move until he was certain of progress he would accomplish very little. There’s no “standing pat” in research; the posture of creativity is forward-leaning. A certain basal level of action “stirs up the pot,” brings in random ideas that will collide and stick together in fresh combinations, lets chance operate. Motion yields a network of new experiences which, like a sieve, filters best when in constant up-and-down, side-to-side movement. Consistent centrifugal types of motion are what distinguish Chance II; its premise is that unluck runs out if you keep stirring up things so that random elements can combine, by virtue of your and their inherent affinities.
    2. An element of the chase can be involved in Chance II, but action is still your primary goal, not foreseeable results. The action can be an ill-defined meandering, or a restless driving, but it depends on your basic need to release energy, not on your conscious intellect. 
  4. Chance III – The Pasteur Principle. Chance favors the prepared mind. Some special receptivity born from past experience permits you to discern a new fact or to perceive ideas in a new relationship. A background of knowledge, based on your abilities to observe, remember, and quickly form significant new associations
    1. Chance III involves a special receptivity, discernment, and intuitive grasp of significance unique to one particular recipient. Louis Pasteur characterized it for all time when he said: “Chance favors only the prepared mind. “Pasteur himself had it in full measure. But the classical example of his principle occurred in 1928, when Sir Alexander Fleming’s mind instantly fused at least five elements into a conceptually unified nexus. He was at his work bench in the laboratory, made an observation, and his mental sequences then went something like this: (1) I see that a mold has fallen by accident into my culture dish; (2) the staphylococcal colonies residing near it failed to grow; (3) therefore, the mold must have secreted something that killed the bacteria; (4) this reminds me of a similar experience I had once before; (5) maybe this new “something” from the mold could be used to kill the bacteria
  5. Chance IV – The Disraeli Principle. Chance favors the individualized action. Fortuitous events occur when you behave in ways that are highly distinctive of you as a person. Let us define it as the facility for encountering unexpected good luck as the result of highly individualized action. Distinctive hobbies, personal life styles, and activities peculiar to you as an individual, especially when they operate in domains seemingly far removed from the area of the discovery. 
    1. Chance IV is the kind of luck that develops during a probing action which has a distinctive personal flavor. The English Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, summed up the principle underlying Chance IV when he noted that, as persons, “we make our fortunes and we call them fate.” Disraeli, the practical politician, appreciated that by our actions we each forge our own destiny, at least to some degree. Chance IV comes to you, unsought, because of who you are and how you behave. Disraeli was aware that our so-called “quirks of fate” are often one-man-made. They are a highly individual matter
    2. There is no mystery about Chance IV, nothing supernatural about the way it generates an uncommon discovery. But you do have to look carefully to find Chance IV for three reasons. The first is that when it operates directly, it unfolds in an elliptical, unorthodox manner. The second is that it often works indirectly. The third is that some problems it may help solve are uncommonly difficult to understand because they have gone through a process of selection. We must bear in mind that, by the time Chance IV finally occurs, the easy, more accessible problems will already have been solved earlier by conventional actions, conventional logic, or by the operations of the other forms of chance. What remains late in the game, then, is a tough core of complex, resistant problems. Such problems yield to none but an unusual approach, much as does the odd lock in an old door open only to the rare key. 
    3. The most novel, if not the greatest discoveries occur when several varieties of chance coincide. Let us call this unifying observation the Fleming effect. His own life exemplifies it so well, and it deserves special emphasis.
  6. The early chapters of part III will reveal sagacity to be an important attribute, and we haven’t yet fully described its decisive ingredients. Keen powers of observation are among the first of these components, powers so keen that they can quickly “arrest an exception.” Each scientist began by sensing some novel incongruity in the fact in front of him, discerned at once that this anomaly didn’t fit the pattern of other concepts available during that era. Charles Darwin’s son, we will find, employed this “arresting” phrase to describe his father’s characteristic attribute. Beyond this, we will also find that each scientist was astute, a word meaning that keen intuitive powers were an integral aspect of his sagacity. Each man realized that his new observation was part of a pattern that could satisfy a huge information gap and comprehended how significant this fact was in its new larger relationship. So, he did more than simply “arrest” the exception. He realized that he would need to handcuff it, subject it to rigorous cross-examination, and report details of his investigation in print.
  7. Creativity
    1. A moment of creative inspiration is rare. It has both a long incubation period and, if it is to prove fruitful, a lengthy subsequent development. We find that the creative experience in science begins with an unconventional person, of abilities both diverse and contrasting, who is well grounded and receptive in his professional field. He not only prefers but needs novelty, for he is bored if not disenchanted by a physiological status quo. He has grown up to be a questioning, “adverbial man” whose curiosity is piqued to solve problems for more reasons than he is aware of. His search incorporates some elements of the primitive chase, brings all his senses to a peak, and sweeps him up in a tangle of stimulating ideas. He employs logic as far as it alone can go. Soon, however, his progress is blocked, and he may appear to have abandoned a fruitless struggle. But preconsciously, his mind probes and scans for clues throughout all his sources of information and experience, rapidly discerning those that will fit, neatly discarding the others. He keeps on going. Often, through an accident that has a distinctive personal flavor, he will finally stumble on a fresh clue. At a conscious level, the clue might appear irrelevant, but it immediately opens up wide avenues of useful information. He suddenly finds himself in a state of enhanced awareness. His thoughts steer themselves at lightning speed to a new conscious insight. The new solution is vivid and intensely satisfying both intellectually and emotionally. His visual recollection of the moment is usually indelible. The “moment” may be a major flash of insight, or it may be an attenuated “spark,” or a related series of faint glimmers spread out over months or years.
    2. The creative individual is a person who regularly solves problems, fashions products, or defines new questions in a domain in a way that is initially considered novel but that ultimately becomes accepted in a particular cultural setting. Howard Gardner
    3. Some would restrict creativity solely to the flash of creative inspiration. I can’t agree. I would emphasize that these brief moments are rare, that they have a long prelude, and that they must be followed up if they are to be productive. Still, whenever you have an intense episode of illumination, you know that it is a profound and very special experience.
    4. A sensitive perception of details in the world of nature and the world of man; an awareness of and concern about unsolved problems-the attitude of inquiry; fluency of thought. Ideas come readily; later they are evaluated for quality and logic;” concentration-ability to enter wholeheartedly and personally into an experience; integration-ability to find unity in the diversity of nature, to discover unexpected likenesses, and to relate or connect things not previously related or connected; flexibility and spontaneity guided by a goal or purpose; originality and individuality. The creative person has the courage and inner directedness to resist conformity. Not content with what is now accepted, he looks forward to what may be accepted; ability to analyze and abstractor ability to synthesize; ability to go beyond the facts and discern new implications, to imagine more than evidence obviously shows, to speculate on relations that may not at present be verifiable;* keen satisfaction in creative activities; vivid imagery; Superior abstract and verbal intelligence.
    5. The visual element of creativity is not a single skill, but one separable even in children into at least three components: a preference for complexity, a skill at handling complexity, and an ability to complete what is unfinished. Beyond these gifts the adult researcher needs a special permissive attitude, one that enables him to “see” deeply into a problem, then to find relationships between many seemingly unrelated items, and finally to forge links that connect them. He is not only adept at recognizing a cluster of facts, but he is utterly transfixed when he notes an exception to the rule. Incongruity in a situation snaps him instantly to attention. Charles Darwin’s son described this quality in his father as follows: “There was one quality of mind which seemed to be of special and extreme advantage in leading him to make discoveries. It was the power of never letting exceptions pass unnoticed. Everybody notices a fact as an exception when it is striking or frequent, but he had a special instinct for arresting an exception.””
    6. If I were to limit myself to the five most important traits, I would quickly select: curiosity, imagination, enthusiasm, discrimination, and persistence. But this would be like trying to define the complex operations of a whole human being in terms of his five most vital organs: nervous system, heart, lungs, adrenals, liver. They are essential, but they, too, are only part of the total picture.
    7. An interesting kind of fluid intellectual instability has been noted by Barron, who finds that the effectively original person is one who can regress very “far out” for the moment, yet still be able quickly to return to a high degree of rationality.’ As he does so, he can take back with him the fruits of his earlier regression to fantastic modes of thought. If the person is basically confident of his own ability to discern reality accurately, then he can afford to give free rein to his powers of imagination.
    8. Good role models are absolutely essential. Because we are motivated in many ways to live up to our models, no one is ever a “self-made” man. Examples of how to do something and-fully as important-how not to do something, exert their pervasive influence during one’s formative years.
    9. As we ascend the phylogenetic scale, the amount and complexity of the cerebral cortex increases enormously. In man, a whole new realm, the intellect, has been added. And in man we can observe that the search for stimuli takes on a new dimension-that of a quest. The quest is both psychologically utilitarian and intellectually satisfying. Man’s search to satisfy the physiological needs of his cerebral cortex now takes on a greater meaning, not only to himself but to society as well.
    10. The approach you take when you raise a good bird dog for the field is similar to that involved in trying to raise a creative child or researcher. You start to refine the chase into the quest even before the litter is conceived. First you search for the very best mental and physical pedigree you can find, balancing the sire’s known assets and liabilities against those of the dam. This gives you the optimum opportunity to have the best “hard wiring” already built into your pup’s nervous system at birth. Then you select the boldest, healthiest-looking pup as best you can tell from the way he stands, runs, cocks his ears, and socializes with you. Finally, you give him as much affection as you can without spoiling him. He’ll not only thrive on this, but you later won’t have to discipline him as much, for a word or a gesture will suffice instead of firmer measures. You’ll give him as much wide-open country to explore as freely as possible, graduating to tougher cover only when he’s tall enough for it, always trying to achieve that happy balance between preserving his intense feral qualities and keeping him out from under your feet. You’ll show your enthusiasm with praise when he goes staunchly on point on a pheasant, and your disapproval when he chases a rabbit. If you and hare especially lucky, you’ll have an older, wiser dog he can imitate, from whose experience he can quickly learn the wisdom of the chase that takes years to accumulate. Gradually, he’ll learn that fun and serious work are not incompatible. Ultimately, then, what you will have tried to do is to supplement his basic genetic constitution with the best “soft wiring” you can help him add from his environment-this will include behavior that he’s learned for himself, from you, and from another dog. Your goal is a strong, bold, wide-ranging dog, capable of practical, instinctive action in the field and still house-broken at home, a joy to watch in the field as well as to live with. If you should ever err, your bias should be in the direction of his independence in the field.
    11. As Plato said, “What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.” Even programmed instruction can enhance creativity in children, but it must be properly prepared so that it reinforces many different responses.
    12. These researchers were more effective when there was a “creative tension” between sources of stability and disruption, between security and challenge.
    13. Big problems must first be defined in the mind, however vaguely, before they can be effectively approached in the laboratory.
    14. One cannot rely on the processes of conscious or subconscious memory to pull out the right facts at just the right time. (At least, my brain doesn’t function that way.) Instead, I supplement what is inside my head with a fairly elaborate filing system. The individual topics are listed in large, bold print, color-coded so they can be seen-a file folder full of enzyme reprints here, a folder on a certain disease there, a file of methods farther on. With luck, connections will emerge between one file and the others. Sometimes they do, but rarely.
    15. In my own experience, the most productive free association occurs in the early morning reverie just before arising. In this fluid state, halfway between dreaming and waking, reasoned analysis is suspended. Problems, long unsolved, float up toward consciousness, and then seem easily to attach themselves to solutions, or to ideas for solutions.
    16. Sensing which ideas to ignore is probably more important than generating many of them.
    17. Thus, with regard to Francis Crick’s epic DNA research with James Watson, we find Crick remarking: “The major credit I think Jim and I deserve … is for selecting the right problem and sticking to it. It’s true that by blundering about we stumbled on gold, but the fact remains that we were looking for gold.”‘
    18. Moreover, suppose you start with the two abilities-one, the capacity to focus your concentration, the other the capability to browse internally in a more unfocused manner. It is not to your advantage constantly to deploy one at the expense of the other for hours on end. In fact, what you really need is to be able to shift flexibly, and repeatedly, from one mental mode to the other at exactly the right time.
    19. The master word… is directly responsible for all advances in medicine during the past twenty-five centuries… the master word is Work. Sir William Osler
    20. We recall that the sequences usually quoted are, in order: interest, preparation, incubation, illumination, verification, exploitation.
      1. Interest. Only if you are really interested in a topic will you persist in it, see it through to completion. This holds whether the topic is colors, dogs, mathematics, law, or whatever. Therefore, you should seek out those areas that serve a deep, long-standing personal need. You won’t know, in the abstract, which are your areas of special interest; you will first have to try many of them on for size. Those that fit naturally will “turn you on,” and only then will you really know. The interest that strongly motivates you will be the one that enlists all your energies and brings forth skills you would never be aware of otherwise. Your best work will be a projection of self. Trust yourself to know when you’re on the right track. …Soon, you will find that you’re engaged in something of a quest. At all times, seek out lively vital people-good teachers, in particular-for they will both kindle your interests and be inspiring role models in many critical ways. Get involved with them. Ask them questions. Select guides, not drivers, bright persons you can respect, mentors wise enough to help you find your own way, secure enough to keep your own best interests in mind, mature enough to let go at the right time. If need be, adopt some active hobbies that provide contrast. If you are a verbal, precise, systematic type, get into something loose-something visual or musical that you can actively participate in, whether that means finger painting, pottery, or the guitar. Engage all the nerve cells in your whole right hemisphere in active pursuits, not just in passive listening and looking. 
    1. Preparation. You must study to become well-grounded in your field, mastering its basic techniques until they are second nature. Then, practice your craft by solving problems of increasing complexity. Before long, you will find yourself out at some frontier of the field.
    2. Incubation. Preparation is followed by more work. When you work on a good new problem, you will become committed to it to the point of an obsession, wrestling with it months or years before you solve it completely. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each big problem consists of a whole series of smaller problems that need to be pieced together…Earlier, you needed time to browse; now, you must create solid undistracted blocks of time to work. These blocks of time tend to be more fruitful in the morning or in the evening…Sooner or later you will run out of ideas. If you then persist with the intensity you should, you will become frustrated by your lack of progress. Relax at this point. Let go. Free the problem to “go underground.” Set it aside to be worked over at all levels of consciousness. Here, again, other diverse interests will provide a refreshing change of pace, give you a breather while you incubate the first problem, afford other problems you can still make progress on in the interim…Define passive activities, such as listening to music, that help you relax, unfocus your thinking, and loosen up your free associations. 
    1. Illumination. Solutions do leap forth by themselves, but a clear, relaxed, well-slept mind generates more innovative ideas. Get enough sleep. Stay alert for the intuitions that flicker in from the margins of consciousness, especially during the phase of reverie after awakening. Major insights can be unforgettable, but they are rare. Most other flashes of insight are of lesser intensity, and they can vanish quickly unless you immediately write them down.
    2. Verification. If a solution has arisen, it is still only one possible solution. If a hypothesis springs forth, it remains to be tested. Again, hard mental and physical work enters in. You will save much time at this point by shifting into hypercritical gear, deferring all leads save those most pregnant with new possibilities. Ask the “so what” question.
    3. Exploitation. Keep the emphasis on ideas, theories, and hypotheses that can lead to action. If your creative efforts are ever going to cause change, you can’t stop now. You must follow through on the project, investing more of yourself to make sure that change does, in fact, occur.
  8. Other
    1. the arts and crafts you are interested in involving taking an adult education course, and you haven’t got the time to explore such new ground, take the time.
    2. True creativity is characterized by a succession of acts, each dependent on the one before and suggesting the one after. Edwin Land
    3. Discovery is pluralistic. It springs from a dynamic interplay between one’s own lifestyle and that of other persons, between intuition and reason, between the conventional scientific method and chance in all its forms. The more diversity there is among these elements the more unique is the resulting creative product.

What I got out of it

  1. If there’s anything we can do to bring about more luck into our lives, seems like we should take advantage of that. Blind luck, luck due to motion/velocity, luck due to preparation, luck to individualized actions/hobbies

Show Your Work: 10 Ways to SHare Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

Summary

  1. “If Steal Like an Artist was a book about stealing influence from other people, this book is about how to influence others by letting them steal from you.

Key Takeaways

  1. You don’t have to be a genius
    1. The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. Find a scenius [an “ecology of talent”], pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they’re not sharing. Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with your own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first. Don’t worry, for now, about how you’ll make money or a career off it. Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same thing will find you.
    2. We’re always being told find your voice. When I was younger, I never really knew what this meant. I used to worry a lot about voice, wondering if I had my own. But now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow
  2. Think process, not product
    1. Take people behind the scenes – show them your process, that life isn’t perfect. Be authentic, real, vulnerable
  3. Share something small every day
    1. Gets people to open up and trust you, becoming part of their every day lives
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities
    1. There’s not as big a difference between collecting and creating as you might think. A lot of the writers I know see the act of reading and the act of writing as existing on opposite ends of the spectrum: The reading feeds writing, which feeds the reading. “I’m basically a curator,” says the writer and former bookseller Jonathan Lethem. “Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.”
  5. Tell good stories
  6. Teach what you know
    1. Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how to do your work, you are, in effect, generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.
  7. Don’t turn into human spam
    1. Sharing something small every day does not mean overloading people with your email. The spectrum is: hoarder – contributor – spammer. Aim for contributor
  8. Learn to take a punch
    1. Don’t be discouraged by haters – keep improving your craft and being open and vulnerable
  9. Sell out
    1. Don’t be afraid to ask a fair price for work you’re proud of and think adds value
  10. Stick around
    1. Keep at it and give yourself enough shots at bat to keep doing what you love

What I got out of it

  1. A quick, fun read. Teaching what you know has been a driving force behind The Rabbit Hole since day one and the “share something small every day” seems counter to how I work but might be an experiment worth trying…

The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life by Robert Fritz

I got so much out of this book that I made a bit of a more formal write-up.

If you want to learn more about the power of creating, why the structure in your life impacts your behavior more than your willpower, the importance of facing reality without obscuring it, and so much more, this book is for you.


If you’d prefer to listen to this article, use the player below.

You can also find more of my articles in audio version at Listle

The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning by Steven Pressfield

Summary
  1. The artist’s journey begins with the hero’s journey, it is merely the beginning and it allows us to begin living authentically, to self-actualize. It is the gift you get from going through the often painful hero’s journey, it is what you do with your gift, how you help the world and those around you.
Key Takeaways
  1. The artist’s journey is personal, solitary, mental, an evolution, a constant, about self-discovery (as opposed to self-expression), yet universal
  2. The Hero’s Journey has 11 steps:
    1. The call to adventure
    2. Refusal of the call
    3. Meeting the mentor
    4. Crossing the threshold
    5. Tests
    6. Approaching the innermost cave
    7. Ordeal
    8. Reward/Bliss
    9. The road back
    10. Resurrection
    11. Master of two worlds
  3. Subject
    1. We are all born to find our “subject”, it finds us and not the other way around. It is our calling, what we are meant to do. It is terrifying to try to find which is my so many people put it off. Once we find it, we can’t turn away from it but it takes a risk to act on it
  4. Voice
    1. We have to find our voice, how we best express ourselves
  5. Point of View
    1. Once the artists develops their “point of view”, they can answer any question about any aspect regarding their work, they know what “movie” they’re making and what it takes to get there – they have the hologram in the head
  6. Medium of Expression
    1. The artist must determine the medium for the message.
  7. Style
    1. Every artist has a style that they must develop over time. Hemingway didn’t write with short, simple words because he didn’t know more complicated ones – it was because it was his style
    2. Your style must blend seamlessly with the medium
    3. Style is inseparable from voice, it evolves out of subject and point of view and blends seamlessly with medium of expression.
  8. Subject, voice, point of view, medium of expression, and style are all different ways of thinking of your gift, which is the same as asking the question, “who am I?” Finding the answer to these questions is not a rational journey, it cannot be rushed or planned, we are born with all of these but they are out of our normal consciousness and it takes time, suffering and persistence to find them. We must give up our control, our ego, to find them. Once you discover your gift, you become an artist. To the outside, nothing may seem to change but internally everything changes. Everything in your life which is “not artist” falls away. Externally, your life may look boring with no drama, binges, disrespecting your gift/voice/talent, the artist is now on a mission and her life has acquired a purpose. Your life is now about following their muse, about becoming who you really are, and this journey will take you through the rest of your life
  9. An artist is in touch with their time, they speak of and to their time
  10. In this journey, all enemies are mental and self-generated. But, on the flipside, same with all strengths
  11. All progression is made by increments and is done by accessing the unconscious, your muse. Everything you create as an artist comes beyond your conscious awareness. Artists do not know what they’re going to do before they do it, and often don’t know what they’re doing while they’re doing it. This “second” you is the real you and it is much smarter than the “you” you normally associate with
  12. The artist’s journey lasts the rest of your life
  13. Resistance (fear, distraction, temptation, etc.) is a mini refusal of the call. You can get over this by meeting with the mentor – it can be external but even better you become your own mentor, helping yourself get past the Resistance. The aim is to make ourselves Masters – not just of our crafts, but of ourselves
  14. Index of basic skills acquired during the Artist’s Journey
    1. Learns how to start
    2. Learns how to keep going
    3. Learns how to finish
    4. Learns how to hang on
    5. Learns how to let go
    6. Learns how to be alone – learns how to gain energy from her work alone, and need for third party validation attenuates
    7. Learns how to work with others – would rather produce something better with others than they otherwise could have alone than get credit
    8. Learns emotional distance – learns how to detach from the judgment, their emotional needs
    9. Learns how to handle rejection
    10. Learns how to handle praise
    11. Learns how to handle panic
    12. Learns how to give up
    13. Learns how to go beyond what you know
    14. Learns how to be brave – run towards what scares you
    15. Learns how to keep the pressure on
    16. Learns how to kill – either the Resistance wins or you do, which will it be?
    17. Learns how to help others and how to be helped
    18. Learns how to steal good ideas
    19. Learns how to how the marketplace works
    20. Learns how to gain perspective on their work
    21. Learns how to learn from history
    22. Learns how to learn from the masters who have come before them
    23. Learns how to be humble
    24. Learns how to self-validate
    25. Learns how to self-reinforce
    26. Learns how to self-evaluate
    27. Learns how to commit for a lifetime
    28. The amateur is one who does not have any of these skills – they are not mentally tough, they don’t have persistence
  15. A better name for the unconscious is the superconscious. You must develop the ability to go from the conscious to the superconscious and back again often and effectively. Most people are afraid of finding out what’s truly in us, of what we really have, of finding out who we are
  16. The artist believes in a different reality and shuttles back and forth between realities
  17. How the world works – The universe exists on at least two levels – the material world (physical world) and the ethereal (the higher realm, the soul, it cannot be seen or summoned but can be felt, it is the plane we are trying to access as artists). An artist’s skill lies in shuttling between the normal mind and the higher mind. They cease direct thinking and shift to a more intuitive, non-linear mindset, this is what makes the process addictive
  18. All art is about the recognition of beauty and the articulation of empathy and compassion for the other – the artist is a force for unity
  19. Mankind’s original sin, what got Adam and Eve cast out of Eden, is identifying with the ego
  20. Daimon = genius. It is us, yet it is separate
  21. The secret that every true artist knows is that the profound can be reached by focusing on the mundane. Sit down at the keyboard, stand before the easel, you have to show up
  22. The mysterious flow of creativity can be prompted, primed like a pump, by emotionally and physically creating a habit and a space where you want that energy to flow
  23. Who you are is what you produce, what you write/produce/paint…
  24. The artist’s journey is the hero’s journey of the human race
  25. How do you know when you’re ready? You decide. You act
What I got out of it
  1. The artist is one who can shift between the normal everyday world and the higher plane where inspiration hits, where the daimon resides, and being able to translate this higher plane into art

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Summary

  1. One of the founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull, describes Pixar’s history and their creative process. Amazing to hear how difficult of a battle it is to have a great company that lasts.
Key Takeaways
  1. The culture at Pixar is unlike any other but what really sets it apart is its willing to acknowledge that it will face many problems and be blind to them
  2. Released toy story to huge acclaim and had to battle Disney to do it their way. Catmull lost his way a bit after this as one of his life goals had been achieved
  3. Wanted to understand why fantastic leaders of great companies often make very obvious, stupid mistakes. What was blinding them? – found that often so preoccupied with competition that they ignored other destructive forces
  4. Founders of Pixar (jobs, Lasseter and Catmull) goal was to create a company and culture that far outlived them. This book is about how that culture was built
  5. Best managers make room for things that cannot see, must loosen the control (not tighten it), and encourage candor
  6. In this period when computers and graphic design were improving by leaps and bounds, Catmull (now at Lucas Film) experienced tremendous push back from people who were afraid of change that would slow them down short term but improve their productivity 1,000 fold long term. Must have buy in from the community you are trying to serve!
  7. Visual polish matters much less if you get the story right
  8. John Lasseter got fired from Disney and then joined Lucas Film. Steve came in s year later when he bought the department from Lucas film and the three of them founded Pixar
  9. When good situations coexist with bad, people are unlikely to complain as they’ll be labeled complainers. Watch out for these situations and be proactive in getting a constructive feedback from people
  10. Pixar mantras – story is king, trust the process
  11. Pixar managed to do the impossible – revamp Toy story two in record time and make it better than the original
  12. Meeting the team right is more important than getting the idea right. They can either fix a mediocre idea or throw it out
  13. Merely saying something or repeating a mantra means nothing without action and dedication to that mantra
  14. Hallmark of a great organization is people feeling the freedom to be honest and candid. Lack of candor, over time, will degrade team dynamics and quality of work
  15. Candor only works if the person on the receiving end of the feedback is open to change
  16. People want honesty and direction from their leaders but also to let them know when they messed up and to be included in the correcting of course decisions
  17. Best leaders are able to understand and communicate to people’s different points of view (condominium metaphor where every person lives on a different floor and has a different view – point of view)
  18. Catmull goes on a meditation retreat every year in order to become more mindful
  19. Very difficult but important to determine what is impossible and what is simply a humongous reach
  20. Can’t let past success make you afraid of taking risks and perhaps failing
  21. It is vital not to become attached to your idea. Jobs and the leaders at Pixar were able to let go of ideas if proved wrong and not take criticism personally
  22. Principles for creativity:
    1. Give a good idea to a mediocre team and they’ll screw it up, give a mediocre idea to a good team and they’ll work wonders (get the team right)
    2. When looking to hire, give potential to grow more weight than current skill level
    3. Always hire people smarter than you; do not discount ideas from unexpected sources
    4. Must coax ideas out of your staff; manager’s job is to address reasons people aren’t candid
    5. Never be convinced you are right – always be open
    6. Do not measure outcome independent of process
    7. Must be willing to fix things as they pop up and understand their nature if they were unseen
    8. Not manager’s job to prevent risks but to make it safe to take them
    9. Trust means you trust them even when they screw up
    10. Finding and fixing problems is everybody’s job
    11. Show early and show often (iterate)
    12. People should be able to talk to anybody
    13. Do not create too many rules as it belittles people
    14. Impose strategic limits to force people to think differently
    15. It takes substantial energy to move a group
    16. Don’t confuse the process with the goal
What I got out of it
  1. Really interesting overview from Catmull on Pixar’s process. Inspiring to hear how much he and the whole team at Pixar cares