Rick Rubin is a music executive and record producer and for good reason, a legend in that world. He has developed a level of expertise that few achieve and has produced albums for some of the biggest names in rock and country music, including Red Hot Chili Peppers; Rage Against the Machine; Metallica; Aerosmith; Linkin Park; Johnny Cash. Now, after many decades of assisting creative people be creative, Rubin writes about what he has observed.
By conventional definition, the purpose of art is to create physical and digital artifacts. To fill shelves with pottery, books, and records.
Though artists generally aren’t aware of it, that end work is a by-product of a greater desire. We aren’t creating to produce or sell material products. The act of creation is an attempt to enter a mysterious realm. A longing to transcend. What we create allows us to share glimpses of an inner landscape, one that is beyond our understanding. Art is our portal to the unseen world. [p. 31]
The Creative Act: A Way of Being is divided not into chapters but into “78 Areas of Thought,” short reflections of aspects of the creative process, including “Everyone Is a Creator;” “Nature as Teachers;” “Distraction;” “Listening;” “Momentum;” “A Whisper Out of Time;” “Why Make Art?” Although the book is addressed to artists, non-artists will find his thoughts equally stimulating. After all, every person created in God’s image is creative, and every vocation invites creativity.
Sometimes, it can be the most ordinary moment that creates an extraordinary piece of art. [p. 303]
As I read, I could imagine using many of his 78 reflections for discussion in a small group or over dinner with friends or in a class.
Meditation in the Buddhist tradition is important to Rubin, and has provided him with insight into listening, the importance of silence, and a sense of spirituality in art, poetry, music, and nature.
There are those who approach the opportunities of each day like crossing items off a to-do list instead of truly engaging and participating with all of themselves.
Our continual quest for efficiency discourages looking too deeply. The pressure to deliver doesn’t grant us time to consider all possibilities. Yet it’s through deliberate action and repetition that we gain deeper insight. [p. 114]
I appreciate the way Rubin is eager to share what he has learned rather than instructing us in what we need to know. As I read, I felt I was listening to the wisdom of a friend rather than the lectures of a specialist. Even when I disagreed, he stimulated me to think.
Book recommended: The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin (New York, NY: Penguin Press; 2023) 405 pages + space for notetaking.
Photo credit: Photo by author with his iPhone.