If you are reading this, then it’s pretty safe to assume you’re a creative of some kind, be that professionally or otherwise. And unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, there’s a very slim chance you’ve missed the release of Rick Rubin’s new book - The Creative Act.
There’s a lot to be said about the man, the myth, the legend - Rick Rubin. Covering that alone would require an entirely separate set of articles. So I’ll spare you all of his musical and career achievements. You can google those yourself. What would be difficult to experience from a Wikipedia page though, is the man’s utterly prophetic way of speaking about the act of creating. If there ever was a Messiah of the “creative religion”, he would probably look a lot like Rick.
You get a sense that his words are coming from a place outside of the man. As if he’s channeling a metaphysical radio station, locked into Plato’s cave of shadows. Only we’re all the prisoners of the cave, facing the wall and shadows projected on it while Rick is gazing directly into the fire without flinching. Each of the 78 Chapters covers a wide range of subjects, all relating to the act of creation in what feels like a lightly redacted stream of consciousness form. They’re all weirdly and beautifully insightful.
And while I’ve already read through the book twice and keep coming back to different chapters sporadically, here are my top three takeaways thus far.
Number one. Great art passes through you, it doesn’t come from you. You are just the vessel, not the owner.
I turned 30 last year and as someone with nearing a decade of experience in my field, I can feel the arrogance of my 20s being pushed away by the maturity of my 30s. There is a profoundness and humility in accepting that you are not as much “the shit” as you’ve thought you were. I’ll be the first one to say that my best ideas have come to me from outside. Whether it’s while I’m out on a run, surfing a point break or snowboarding through a tree line on a bluebird day, I’ve made it my pastime to intentionally get out of my way. In doing so, I have consistently found the answers to my burning creative questions. In a cliché way, I’ve managed to channel the muses, realizing that I am merely a vessel for what they had to say.
So, in a sentence - try to be the best vessel you can possibly be.
Numero dos. Go into problems with a beginner’s mind.
Rick is definitely not the first to talk about this. But maybe it’s something in the way he phrased it in the book or maybe it’s just the sentiment finding me again in the right place at the right time that just made it click for me. At the start of my professional path, there was always this part of me that wanted to stand out. Call it Ego, call it overcompensating (like Bobby Kim from the Hundreds, I am also a Law School disappointment), but it was always there. Looming over me, clouding my judgment. Keeping me constantly on edge, afraid I might say or do something that would make me look… foolish. Unprofessional. Out of place. I wasn’t allowing myself to be vulnerable and maybe even a bit naive. Which are both prerequisites to a tabula rasa mindset. Now, ten years down the line and a lot of self-work behind me, I can confidently stand up in any room and ask the obvious questions. It’s surprising how often this has been the right thing to do.
And lastly, number three. And this one is related to both numbers one and two. Don’t overthink it.
This is coming from a chronic overthinker, ridden with an OCD-wired brain (not using that term lightly). Having the luxury of looking back at a body of work and distancing myself from the feelings then and there, I can now attest to the fact that some of my best stuff has been the one that has not been overly analyzed. Or more precisely, it has been initially, then scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up, mainly guided by intuition. This modus operandi is so deeply ingrained into my work process at this point that every time I do a voice over session with an actor, in the end I always opt for a last take with the words “Now take all the direction I just gave you and throw it out the window”.
That take is usually the best one.
So after all of the above, why do I hate “The Creative Act”? I hate it because after all of its captivating 78 chapters (or Areas of Thought, as Rick has aptly named them), it does not soothe an artist’ worried soul. It does not give you the answers, it merely raises more questions. It throws you into a sea of ambiguity and instructs you to arm yourself with a keen ear for your gut’s feelings. And this is why I absolutely love it.
On a side note, the book is listed under “Psychology & Counseling” on Amazon which is absolutely nonsensical. This is a quintessentially philosophical book. And moreover, I feel it’s a book that will stand the test of time.
To close this rant out, I want to send you off with the quote Rick opens the book with.
The object isn’t to make art,
It’s to be in that wonderful state
Which makes art inevitable.