Title: Big Magic
Originally Published: September 22, 2015
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Type: audiobook from Audible
It is a mystery to me how exactly I came across this book. Contrary to what might be naturally assumed, I have never read Eat, Pray, Love and had no exposure to Elizabeth Gilbert’s body of work prior to downloading the audiobook for Big Magic. I saw it come up on my recommendations on Audible a few times and in the back of my mind something told me I’d seen it before on somebody’s blog or website, maybe it was a reading list or a book review, I don’t know – but I had been aware of it subconsciously for several months without any intention of reading it. It wasn’t until I was getting desperate for an audiobook to get me through my longer office cleaning jobs that I decided to take a punt and buy it, safe in the knowledge I could return it if it didn’t interest me.
Having spent the first few years after leaving college telling myself that unless I was making money from my art, it was a waste of time and money to do it, it’s only been in the last 6 months that I’ve been gingerly trying to reawaken my creativity, gently nursing its wounded ego and trying to learn to just do it because I enjoy it, fighting against those familiar defeatist thoughts. To my delight, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses her views on creativity and her pledge to be a writer all her life because she loved the art, unconditionally, no pressure, and she encourages the same attitude in her book.
I listened to the audiobook twice, back to back. I loved so many of the things I read that I wrote them on a letter to an arty pen-pal of mine. I’ve taken photos of the quotes so I can share them with you lovely readers.
Some reviewers baulk at Gilbert’s assertions that creative careers are not essential to the human race, not like practical jobs such as plumbing, dentistry, banking etc, because they feel it is an affront to their passionate pursuit of a creative career. It is important to recognise that the purpose of the book overall is to encourage everybody to pursue creativity regardless of whether it pays the bills. Gilbert believes that creativity is a fundamental part of every person and can have a place in their life, enriching their experience of living.
Gilbert explores some of the roadblocks that a person can put up when it comes to pursuing creativity like fear of failure, budget contraints and perfectionism. She includes quotes and anecdotes alongside her own experiences in her career as a writer and how she came to have the good fortune to quit her day job and do what she loves full-time. Meanwhile, she pragmatically acknowledges that hard work is no guarantee of success when it comes to pursuing a creative career, so it’s important to not measure one’s talent by how much revenue one’s creativity generates.
This book motivated me to start sharing my artwork online, I set up social media for that very purpose which I never would have had the courage to do until I read it. In the past, the fear of criticism (or worse, silence) prevented me from putting my work out there for the world to see, I felt like until my work was “better” it wasn’t ready to be shown to others. Big Magic made me take my art more seriously, encouraging me to invest more time in it, whilst at the same time helping me not take it seriously at all, thereby not putting so much stock in what other people think of it. Gilbert strongly argues that a lack of professional training such as a degree or apprenticeship doesn’t disqualify a person from creating and sharing their creativity, however not being on a formal course is not a legitimate barrier to education.
In Big Magic, Gilbert shares some of her spiritual beliefs on ideas taking on a life of their own. She suggests that they are like living beings in their own right. I’m open to a bit of object empathy as a silly bit of fun, but I couldn’t tell if Gilbert was being serious or not. At times she insinuates that ideas are living entities looking for a host to inspire, a host who will do their bidding… that seems a little far-fetched to me. Personally, I simply believe there is no such thing as an original idea: we have all been influenced by what we have seen, heard, read… shaped by all our experiences, so as ‘spooky’ as it can feel sometimes when two people have the same thought, in my opinion it’s just one of life’s quirky coincidences.
As a bit of make-believe, Gilbert’s theory that ideas float around waiting to be realised is kind of sweet, but it has lead some reviewers to discredit her whole book. Regardless of whether she really believes in this or not, I didn’t feel like she was trying to make me believe in it, instead I got the impression Gilbert was trying to set the tone for the whole book, she didn’t write a guide on how to launch a creative career, a thesis on creativity or a spiritual guide – Big Magic is a book to entertain you, maybe to inspire you, but first of all it’s a book to start a conversation.