As you can probably guess from some of my other articles, I have a passion for reading about the connections between psychology and creativity.
One of the books I picked up (early on, as a beginning artist) was Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel. It’s a book I’ve hung on to over the years because it contains useful theories, inspiring quotes, and thought-provoking exercises that help me renew my focus on creativity.
Fearless Creating takes readers through the entire creative process, from the conception and nurturing of an idea to the completion and publication or display of the finished product. Throughout the book, Maisel references the stories of creative people through the ages, both famous and not well-known, sharing the struggles and joys of their artistic careers.
Maisel takes a proactive approach to the concerns and pitfalls many artists face, including creative anxiety, a need for meaning in their art, going against the grain of society, and self-sabotage. The author has extensive experience working with creative patients, and provides exercises to re-route the reader’s thoughts so they can become part of the creative process.
I’ll admit that I didn’t stop and try each exercise as I read (spoiler alert—one of them involves throwing a hot potato) but I did use many of the written exercises, and still refer back to them if I’m having trouble at a particular stage of creating.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the abundance of sidebar quotes from creative personalities of all disciplines. Even when pressed for time, I often find a quick bit of inspiration just by opening Maisel’s book and reading a quote.
Reading through the theories, completing the exercises, and digesting the sidebar quotes, I come away with a sense of creative community. The struggle to bring creative ideas to fruition is often misunderstood by the community at large, so it’s reassuring to read a book that affirms the value of artists and their work.
Fearless Creating encourages artists to embrace their unique qualities. Themes such as “wildness” and “tameness,” “fifteen active qualities of the artist,” and “appropriate clarity” highlight the need to know and express your authentic self as an artist.
The beginning of the book, in which Maisel describes the idea of “Hushing and Holding” an idea, was most useful for me as a visual artist. I used to just throw myself into painting projects without giving ideas much time to develop; hushing and holding gives me the opportunity to be more selective and nurture an idea before I begin a painting.
The author devotes the last chapter to showing and even selling your work, and includes a twenty page appendix with strategies to manage anxiety at the end (this appendix alone makes the book worth hanging on to, in my opinion).
If you spend long hours on your own and could use a quick pep-talk, Maisel’s book is definitely a handy one to keep in the studio.
Fearless Creating is probably not a book you’d want to read in one sitting. However, I would suggest reading it through in chronological order at least once, as the book is designed to help the reader break down and analyze the creative process from beginning to end.
There’s a lot to digest throughout the book, and because it’s psychology-based, you’re more than likely to come away with new ideas about yourself and your work habits—all of which will take time for your brain to process and utilize.
One caveat is that the book can be a bit didactic at times (“you must” and “you will” are phrases that make frequent appearances). Being a free-thinking, creative artist you probably don’t like being told what to do—but then again, who does??
However, if you can accept the occasional forceful language in the spirit of personal growth, you might find yourself returning again and again to Fearless Creating for its wisdom as you grow and change as an artist. Just keep a pencil handy as you read it!
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