I know a bunch of you are wondering over the title of this Book Notes post and thinking “This is supposed to be book reviews for artists, why would we read a book about reading literature?” Let me tell you why! This book is all about recognizing references and symbolism in literature. You know what else operates with symbolism and references to other works that have come before? Art! If you read this book and substituted “reading” for “seeing” and “writing” for “painting” it would work perfectly.
Confidence is a big issue. It’s taken on an almost magical quality. It’s definitely a buzzword. It makes things happen, makes people want to be near you, makes entering that roomful of strangers a breeze, right? Well, not necessarily. Confidence is often confused with extroversion, self-esteem, self-worth, and unfortunately with arrogance. So what IS confidence? And how do artists strengthen their confidence?
If you have ever been “in the zone” or, as the author calls it, “flow” in any activity you know the joy of getting completely absorbed in what you are doing. You lose sense of time, you lose sense of effort. Everything seems to work together. You feel lighter, faster, smarter, more clever. Don’t we all wish we could work in that mindset all the time? But doesn’t it feel like completely unpredictable magic? The author calls this “flow” state an “optimal experience” and breaks down exactly the conditions needed to get into flow in any activity, and maintain it as long as we want.
Talking about our work is hard. Selling our work is even harder. Very often in our art careers we are called to speak about and explain our work—whether it’s lecturing a class, or especially when setting up crowdfunding campaigns — and knowing how to do it effectively can take the squirm out of selling that many of us feel when we have to speak about our art. Resonate is the book that helps you see the patterns in every good presentation and breaks them down into a template you can use to make an audience feel (and do) what you want.
This is another book I resisted reading for a while, even after multiple recommendations. But over the years Gilbert’s TED talks and her podcast have won over more and more of my creative friends and I decided to give Big Magic a try. I’m glad I did. It’s the pep talk I think every artist, author, and maker-of-stuff needs from time to time, especially right now. Gilbert has a great way of reframing things you’ve heard a thousand times before (“Failure is good for you” “Everyone has self-doubt” “Fear means you’re doing something right”) in a way that’s incredibly relatable and down-to-earth. This book feels like the cup of tea and warm hug every artist needs right now.
Anaïs Nin’s early journals focus on her life in Paris in the 30s, with the threat of World War II looming. She was not only central to the world of artists and writers and intellectuals of that (in)famous Paris scene, she was somewhat of their den mother. She was the one to buy Henry Miller a typewriter and get his first book published. All the while she was toiling away at her own novels. She kept the journals as a way to record observations of life she might spin into fiction later, and her notes on the lives of those artists are a treasure trove for anyone struggling with the creative life.
Joseph Campbell is a philosopher, writer, and researcher into comparative mythology, picking up where Carl Jung left off with his archetypes and focusing mostly on the Hero story. The Hero’s journey (Superman, Luke Skywalker, Thor, Beowulf, etc.) is really a metaphor for the Artist’s journey. The Hero is one who is called to challenges and face themself and make their way into the underworld and bring back a great treasure for mankind. The Artist is one who is called to challenges and face themself and make their way into the subconscious and bring back a great treasure for mankind.
This book makes the case that the world is entering a new technological age that will require creative and empathic skills to flourish. The Industrial Age relied on the strength of the workers, the Information Age required data and processing power from the people. We are now in the Conceptual Age, which is all about creativity and ideas, putting these skills in higher rather than diminishing demand. So artists, read on and rest easy.
The idea that artists are somehow slackers or a drain on society is an old message, and while it’s easy to laugh off on the surface, it’s much more insidious because we have all internalized it. We are told what we do, as artists, is decoration. It’s entertainment. It’s not necessary. It’s not important. And thus, once internalized, that message turns into a inner shame. And an outer embarrassment. We don’t want to ask for help because it makes us worry that we are a failure if we need help. We need to learn that asking for help can also be a gift to others.
I wholeheartedly recommend these 2 books to all artists. Not only do they speak directly to many emotions and traumas artists feel about themselves and their own work, but the story of how Rupi Kaur was discovered should be a beacon of hope for all the artists waiting for their break. Make work from your heart, get it out there in front of people, build your authentic audience. Success will find you working.