About the Book by Rick Rubin Titled “The Creative Act: A Way of Being”

From a Wall Street Journal review by Dave Shiflett of the book by Rick Rubin titled “The Creative Act: A Way of Being”:

While many of us strive to avoid the dangers of positive thinking, a consensus seems to be growing that a change in the national temperament would be welcome right about now. Dare we dream of a society free of malignant memes, craven cancellations and dramatic displays of puritanical fervor?

Rick Rubin, the noted record producer once named one of the 100 most influential people on Earth (by Time magazine), offers an interesting alternative to internet bickering and similar modern maladies: creating art. While he isn’t pitching “The Creative Act: A Way of Being” as a guidebook for national rejuvenation, his relentlessly positive message may help readers shed a few blood-pressure points and possibly suspend plans to jump off the nearest cliff.

Mr. Rubin starts on a high note, insisting that all of us have a creative streak. “Creativity is not a rare ability,” he writes, but a “fundamental aspect of being human.” Better yet, the entire universe is ready to cooperate in our artistic endeavors. All one need do is tap into the Source—the endless supply of creative energy and cosmic “data” that we can absorb and convert into whatever art floats our boat. The possibilities can range from composing a musical or literary masterpiece to cooking a virtuosic Philadelphia cheesesteak or even designing a space shuttle, something Mr. Rubin sees as a work of art as much as science.

Harvesting this magical data can be a blissful process. Forests and quiet seascapes “are fine locations to receive direct transmissions from the universe,” he advises. He also offers tips on expanding awareness, including “looking at sunlight before screenlight,” taking a cold shower, and opening a book “to a random page and reading the first line your eyes find”—a strategy well known to desperate motel-room perusers of Gideon’s Bible.

Mr. Rubin, a majestically bearded man who seems to have avoided the Keto craze, has guided many artists toward glory, including Adele, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and the artist once known as Kanye (in his pre-Hitler period). All told, he’s won nine Grammy Awards. Yet he’s a gentle soul, without a trace of the drill sergeant. “Do what you can with what you have,” he counsels. “Nothing more is needed.” For those who fear failure, he reminds us that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was an “error.” Indeed, when a work “has five mistakes,” he says, “it’s not yet completed. When it has eight mistakes, it might be.” He sings a similar song to readers who might not have excelled in STEM classes: “The world of reason can be narrow and filled with dead ends,” while for spiritual truths “no proof is needed.”

While perpetual grousers might accuse Mr. Rubin of groping for progressive profundity, much of his thinking will appeal to traditionalist ears. Those who consume classic literature every day instead of journalism will “have a more honed sensitivity for recognizing greatness from the books than from the media.” He writes that “discipline and freedom . . . are partners,” and he is no fan of the tendency to romanticize addictions. Readers exhausted with preachy celebrities will be deeply pleased by his advice to avoid infatuation with political sermonizing. People who believe in socially responsible art, he writes, don’t have “a clear understanding of the function of art,” adding: “Wanting to change people’s minds about an issue or have an effect on society may interfere with the quality and purity of the work.”

The artistic life isn’t always easy, of course, especially for those in pursuit of fame, fortune and perhaps the occasional groupie. The chances of selling an on-spec screenplay are frightfully close to zero. New novelists (and plenty of published ones) routinely discover that, though there are thousands of literary agents, few to none of them seem interested in responding to authorial queries. A hope-blinded composer might spend tortured months, if not years, on a symphonic work that garners all of five hits on YouTube.

Mr. Rubin has this covered: Commercial success is “a poor barometer” of a project’s worth, he argues, and often depends on whom you know, the “mood of the culture,” having the good fortune to choose a release date that happens to be a slow news day, or other nonartistic factors. His bottom line: “You are the only audience that matters.”

Mr. Rubin tosses in some interesting tidbits, telling us that Charles Dickens carried a compass to make sure that he always slept facing North, which he believed kept him in creative alignment with the Earth’s electrical energy. The lyrics to the hit song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” were written by a man (Gerry Goffin). But his greatest gift may be what he leaves out: all traces of the political caterwauling that pollutes every aspect of contemporary life. The exclusion is almost jarring. It’s as if he’s from outer space.

He’s also an easy read, with some pages containing single points to ponder, such as: “The universe never explains why.” Or: “We are dealing in a magic realm. Nobody knows why or how it works.” A bit gauzy perhaps, yet far preferable to yet another Twitter twerp declaring the only acceptable pronoun to use when addressing a spayed cat. As such, “The Creative Act” can be considered a work of transcendent literature, one that suggests the universe still smiles upon us despite all indications to the contrary.

Dave Shiflett posts his original music and writing at Daveshiflett.com.

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