I very much enjoyed Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It wasn’t earth shattering or groundbreaking as a book, nor did it cause me to have any kind of epiphany or breakthrough. But what it did do — and what keeps the book from being just another book on creativity — is speak honestly, plainly, and compassionately while also being encouraging but not in a rah-rah unrealistic or impractical fantasy life way.
What Gilbert does so well in this book is counter all of the “I can’t be creative because…” baloney I am certain most of us are familiar with. You know what I am talking about, these are the excuses we make for why we can’t write the novel or paint the picture or sew the quilt or fire the bowl or plant the garden. We say we don’t have enough time but there is likely a spare ten or fifteen minutes in a day at the very least. Gilbert herself wrote all of her books before Eat Pray Love while working a full time job. Then there is the I’m not going to bother even trying because it’s not high art/won’t win the Nobel/isn’t important. Who cares? Your art does not have to save the world! As long as you enjoy making it that is the important thing. What if people hate it? So what? Be creative for the sake of your own soul not to impress others and win accolades.
Gilbert tells some good stories in this book. One of my favorites comes at the end. It is about an artist who was traveling and got invited to a costume party. He made himself a lobster costume. He showed up to the party to discover that the room was filled with European aristocrats (including the Queen of Beligum) and costume meant medieval period costumes. He could have turned around and left but he didn’t. He joined the party. And yes, everyone stopped and stared at him when he walked into the room. But he smiled and told everyone that he was the court lobster and they loved it and him for being so different and daring and fun and friendly and genuinely himself.
The story reminded me of a cyclocross bike race I heard about that happened a few years ago. A guy showed up in a giraffe costume. Granted, others were wearing costumes because it was that kind of race, but this guy instead of having a reasonable giraffe neck, went all out in a ridiculous way. He got laughed at, yes, but he made the race memorable for everyone there. And he became a little famous on the internet. Cyclists who weren’t even there talk about him and, in order to remind each other that cycling is supposed to be fun and we shouldn’t take things too seriously, say things like “be the giraffe.”
I couldn’t help but like Gilbert for reminding me that we are all entitled to be creative simply because we are human. She also repeatedly insists that the foundation of creativity is curiosity and if all you ever do is follow your curiosity wherever it takes you and end up never creating anything amazing, at least you have lived an inquisitive life and that is a lot more than a good many people can say and is entirely worthwhile all on its own because an inquisitive life is an interesting life. I also appreciated that she insists going to school for an MFA or other advanced degree is not worthwhile (unless you have plans to teach or pursue a profession where the degree would be helpful) because one does not need a degree to be creative or a good writer or a good artist. She says she finds that most of the time people who go into debt to get these degrees are really looking for permission to be creative and one doesn’t need to empty the bank account for that.
Big Magic is a reminder about why it is great to spend time doing something that brings you joy even if it will not make you rich or famous.