Book Takeaways: The Creative Act: A Way of Being

March 3, 2024 • BooksTakeawaysConnect ↗

Transposed image of The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

I am winning back so much piece of mind by simply reading a book every two weeks this year. The perspective I gain is compounding my momentum when contrasting the time I invested into these books — especially considering how long it takes me to write these takeaways. That said, The Creative Act by Rick Rubin was my 4th book of 2024 (4/24). The ideas throughout the 404 pages of this book are profound to say the least. Profound because they are simple. Profound because they just make sense — not just to a specific niche audience, but to life itself. Because simplifying the complexity of life and creativity is art in its own right. It’s no easy feat. But Rick Rubin did it.

So without further ado, here are my top ideas from Creative Act: A Way of Being — most in my own words, the ones directly taken out of the book, you will notice in quotes”.


Repeating themes


Key ideas & takeaways

[00] Why? → Why is beyond our comprehension.” There doesn’t need to be a why for as long as we love what we choose to create.

[01] Why make art? To say I was here… its to leave a mark for the remembrance of your presence on earth.

[02] What is creativity? → it is the path beholding an unrealistic standard of dedication.

[03] The work of the artist is two-fold: 1. The work of doing & 2. The work of being.

[04] Life as an artist → living life as an artist is about one thing: practice to improve — this is the only way to fulfil your purpose. The work is not the output, but the way of being. The work is the process, not the result. Artist or not. This is all of us. So you are either living like an artist, or you are not living at all.

[05] The Creative Act in 4 stages:

  1. SEED → capture an exciting idea — context and time are key here, for context changes the content.
  2. EXPERIMENTATION → discover what a seed has to offer — have an open vision and follow where the energy/excitement pulls you.
  3. CRAFTING → apply a filter to build up and break ideas down — be realistic about your seed.
  4. COMPLETION → ensure the highest standard — know what arriving at just right” feels like.

[06] The simplified creative act → source makes available → the filter distills → the vessel receives. The creative act is taking the sum of our vessel’s contents as potential material, selecting, using and representing those that seem useful or significant in the moment.

[07] Do it for the thing. Not the status the thing brings. Create to express who you are, not for the world to notice and validate you. Do it for it. Create in service for art.

[08] Experimenters vs. Finishers → the experimenter plays and dreams more, whereas the finisher is the mirrored image. Both can learn from each other.

[09] Good ideas → a good decision/idea needs no persuasion. Persuasion leads to mediocrity.”

[10] Failure → Failure is the information you need to get where you’re going.”

[11] Awareness & environments → Awareness is a presence with and acceptance with what is happening the eternal now.” The analysis of of the object that strikes your attention happens after. Awareness therefore needs constant refreshing. Create an environment where you are free to express what you’re afraid to express.”

[12] How to be aware? → Zero into the unity of heart and mind and focus on your hearts inner voice to experience life fully.

[13] What forms art? → art is as much the output as it is the contents of our thought energy present in forming the creation process.

[14] Taste → is revealed in what we include, what not and how the pieces are created together. Look for what you notice, but no one else sees.” Taste is our ability to distinguish good from very good and very good from great. Taste = understanding of greatness. Which is to develop an internal meter for greatness, not to mimic it. Greatness therefore is completion. And every work of art is an iteration.

[15] Art = excitement = energy from within → your trust in your instincts and excitement are what resonate with others”. Seek and follow the rush of energy. Avoid ideas, where the inner excitement voltmeter doesn’t (or even barely) jumps. A seed that makes the needle jump is worthy of your attention. The best work is the work you are excited about”.

[16] Life is always in flow → every lifeline after each choice is new. Newness therefore is to be found in the inspiration of everyday things. The way of an artist is an ever evolving state of growth geared for momentum.

[17] Imperfections → make or break us, so embrace them. They make you human. Being human makes others connect with you. So don’t let imperfections stop you from sharing. Sharing art is the price of making it. Exposing your vulnerability is the fee”.

[18] Art ≠ perfection. Avoid perfectionism: it gets in the way of fun, so does judgment. Avoid imposing notions of right and wrong to stay in flow. Avoid all or nothing thinking: it is a nonstarter. Settle for just right”. Hence, the work is done when you feel that point is reached. Overcoming perfection means enjoying art.

[19] Your voice → you’re the only one with your voice. So sharpen your skills regardless to realise your vision. No matter what tools you use to create, the true instrument is you.” Art may only exist if artists complete their work. Don’t cling tightly to the output the work. It doesn’t define you.

[20] Fear & doubt → Adversity is part of the artists process. If you cannot embrace/deal with the judgment, this path isn’t for you. Ultimately your desire to create must be greater than your fear of it.”

[21] Work → The purpose of work… to awaken something inside of you first, then allow something to be awakened in others”. Release your grip on the work itself: disengaging can sometimes be the best way to engage. The work reveals itself as you go”. Trust the process. And take art seriously without going about it in a serious way.”

[22] Meaningful work → comes to life once an inspired idea is followed through. Don’t work on something so long, you loose connection to it. Know what seed to stick to and what to quit. The right work makes you energised to share. That’s your destination/result to strive towards.

[23] The cycle of work: begun → completed → released. Over and over again.

[24] Great work → The sum total of the tiniest details because the smallest elements weigh the most together. And since perfection gets lost in the details, great work carries many mistakes.

[25] Process > result → keep your eyes on the path, not the result — you do not know where that is. Even if that means failing 100 times, only to find out 100 ways that did not work. Don’t avoid randomness, rather trust the process with every turn.

[26] One intention → you can have many goals, but the grand gesture of work knows only one intention. Intention is all there is. Work is just a reminder.” So approach it with as little limitations and/or rules as possible. So even if you have restrictions, consider if the opposite might be more interesting. The universe seeks balance. So only focus on making great work.

[27] Point of view vs. Point → A point is an idea intentionally expressed. A point of view is the perspective conscious and unconscious through which the work emerges.”

[28] Listening → To listen impatiently is to hear nothing at all. Listening is suspending disbelief.” It is the absence of doubt towards yourself and others. It is free from limitations. It is allowing things to be what they are.

[29] Time → You don’t have to practice todo list efficiency. Simply take action for the sake of staying in flow. We don’t have control over time. So forget the concept of time to be patient, so you can get in flow. Time is where learning occurs. Unlearning as well”.

[30] Discipline <> Freedom are partners. Discipline is a harmonious relationship with time.

[31] Habits → good habits create good art) The way we do anything is the way we do everything. Treat each choice you make, each action you take, each word you speak with skilful care. The goal is to live your life in the service of art.”

[32] Inspiration priority → 1. Spark of inspiration, 2. You next, 3. The audience last. Inspiration is awe. Inspiration is to breathe life into flow… When flowing, keep going.

[33] Audience vs. You → The audience wants to feel heard, not to told what to do. The result is a divided audience. If everyone likes your work, you haven’t gone far enough. But the audience isn’t you. Only you need to love the work. The work is for you. The work has fulfilled its purpose once it is pleasing to us.

[34] Constraints fuel the creative process. The more set the regime, the more freedom you have to express yourself in any given structure. Set the constraints, then explore all the ideas within its flow.

[35] Limitations → the presence or absence of limitations leads to discovery and rediscovery respectively.

[36] 80/20 rules → set your rules and know when to break them. Do what works 80% of the time. Experiment 20% of the time. ”A rule is a way of structuring awareness”.

[37] Comparison → is creating with the purpose of diminishing someone else. It is the thief of joy.

[38] Success → occurs in the privacy of the soul. Success has nothing to do with variables outside yourself”. Success happens in the multitude of arrivals at just enough”, where learning to let go sets in.

[39] Sober visions → Keep the scale of your ideas in check. A seed should not be more than it was intended to be. Always execute the most practical version of an idea (MVP), then see where it might lead you.

[40] Final piece of work → has a sense of balance and elegance. Feels just right — like it couldn’t have been arranged in any other way… The resulting quality of released works are detached from the wight of the process — light (easy) or heavy (struggle).

[41] Collaboration mismatch → if nothing special comes through many iterations, it is not the right match. If you always align from a taste perspective, one of you is obsolete and replaceable. To achieve good collaboration, we must be impartial, detached even from our own ideas. We all benefit from the chosen best idea, regardless of it being ours or not.” Find people to work with, where there is a mutual recognition of the best solution available. That’s where where greatness is born.

[42] Your story → the final chapter has not been written yet. Bad or good, nothing you are experiencing is the full story.


Favorite quotes

The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” — Rick Rubin

The goal is not to fit in. If anything, it’s to amplify the differences, what doesn’t fit, the special characteristics unique to how you see the world.” — Rick Rubin

Flaws are human, and the attraction of art is the humanity held in it. If we were machinelike, the art wouldn’t resonate. It would be soulless. With life comes pain, insecurity, and fear. We’re all different and we’re all imperfect, and the imperfections are what makes each of us and our work interest-ing. We create pieces reflective of who we are, and if insecurity is part of who we are, then our work will have a greater degree of truth in it as a result.” — Rick Rubin

Patience is developed much like awareness. Through an acceptance of what is. Impatience is an argument with reality. The desire for something to be different from what we are experiencing in the here and now A wish for time to speed up, tomorrow to come sooner, to relive yesterday, or to close your eyes then open them and find yourself in another place. Time is something that we have no control over.” — Rick Rubin

When you see what’s present around you as if for the first time, you start to realise how astonishing it all is. As artists, we aim to live in a way in which we see the extraordinary hidden in the seemingly mundane. Then challenge ourselves to share what we see in a way that allows others a glimpse of this remarkable beauty.” — Rick Rubin

As artists, we’re called to let go of these stories, again and again, and blindly put our faith in the curious energy drawing us down the path. The artwork is the point where all the elements come together the universe, the prism of self, the magic and discipline of transmuting idea to flesh. And if these lead you into contradiction into territories that seem unbridgeable or unknowable that doesn’t mean they aren’t harmonious. Even in perceived chaos, there is order and pattern. A cosmic undercurrent running through all things, which no story is immense enough to contain.” — Rick Rubin


Final thoughts

My next steps? Define my constraints. This is what I will be known for. I will take some time to find out what I want to take a stand for and what not — even if unpopular at first.

If you are into reading or have a goal for 2024 as I do, let’s connect on Literal. You can follow me via @julianpaul — I track my current read and progress daily.

Want to connect? Visit @itsjulianpaul on 𝕏.

Until next time.


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