Self-Imposed Book Report, by Tiffany Besonen

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth
Gilbert is a call for creative action, play, and trust.

Shut Fear Up
Written in her girlfriend-at-a-coffee-shop voice,
Gilbert gives many great examples of ordinary people
with "stubborn gladness" hammering out their creative
work despite insecurities and fears. Most memorable for
me is her note to fear, "Dearest Fear: Creativity and I
are about to go on a road trip together. I understand
you'll be joining us, because you always do... understand
this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be 
making decisions along the way... You're not allowed
to touch the road maps; you're not allowed to fiddle
with the temperature. Dude, you're not even allowed
to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old
familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive."
Yes! Fear may be present, but don't empower it.

Stop Complaining. Just Stop.
And here is another thing that shouldn't get much of
your time and attention, negativity and complaining.
Gilbert says, "Of course it's difficult to create things;
if it wasn't difficult everyone would be doing it, and it
wouldn't be special or interesting." She says by
complaining, "you are scaring away inspiration." Good
reminder that the tortured artist image is just an image
that will actually work against you. She who spends less
time with angst has more time to make art. And, art is
what I want to do, right? Yes. Also, EG has the audacity
to suggest that creating is pleasurable and fun, even
sensual. I happen to totally agree, and when it isn't so
fun, I know it will be soon. Complaining and having a
tortured-artist-fit, will prolong getting to the good part,
right? Do we really want things to be easy all the time?
Where is the challenge and reward in that?

Perseverance + Done Enough vs. Perfectionism
Gilbert starts to get to the core of why we make art.
Hint, not to get famous or make money. (Although
she is an example of someone who has gained both.)
She doesn't dig as deep as I'd like into the why of
creation, but most of her point is to not take it all
so seriously. Just do it. Don't worry about whether it
is good or important. Just get it "done enough", she
says, so it isn't just another inspired, but unfinished
creation hanging out there. Gilbert pretty convincingly
tells us that we owe it to ourselves and our inspiration to
follow through, or inspiration will not find us as often. 
Done enough vs. Perfectionism is always an issue with
creators, and probably the difference between the doers
and the quitters. The quitters/non-finishers always have
excuses, but mainly it is because they did not persevere
and allowed their perfectionism (expecting perfect
conditions, perfect materials, perfect timing, perfect
results) to stop them, end of story.

My MFA Dilemma 
I doubt Big Magic will be required reading in MFA
programs, especially since Gilbert says that most MFAs
are too expensive and  unnecessary to actually making
art. While this really is a great thing for me to hear right 
now while I don't have an MFA and probably won't be
in an MFA program in the near future, I have to disagree
with dismissing MFA programs completely. Obviously,
an MFA is required for some jobs (mainly fine arts
professors), but also I believe education (if it's the right
program for you) is an efficient avenue to growth and
transformation. As a teacher, I see evidence of this every
day when students are challenged out of their comfort
zones and then supported and encouraged to new heights.
As an artist, I also want to experience an atmosphere of
support and challenge, in ways that I could never do on
my own. That being said, I cannot sit around waiting for
an MFA to make art; artists always find a way to make
art, as well as find encouragement.

Playful Fox vs. Suffering Martyr
When Gilbert discusses how creativity should be more of
a playful trickster than a suffering martyr, I immediately
got  the image of the fox that keeps showing up in my work.
I imagine my fox playing and creating when Gilbert says,
"I believe that the original human impulse for creativity
was born out of pure trickster energy. Of course it was!
Creativity wants to flip the mundane world upside down
and turn it inside out." My fox has become my inner stinker,
the playful companion who bores easily with my self-pity,
and does not want to stop even when I run out of paint or
time or both. Obstacles like needing sleep or the high
cost of art supplies are nothing to this fox; there are always
ways around, under, or through them.

Curiosity, The Best Meat
Finally, toward the end of Big Magic: Creative Living  
Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert gets to what I consider
the really meaty stuff. My inner-fox devoured it up and
wanted more. EG says if you are fascinated by or have an
interest in something, pay attention. "It might seem like
nothing, but it's a clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will
lead you next. Then follow the next clue, and the next,
and the next." This is some of the how of making art. Life
is not boring, look around. "And since creativity is still the
most effective way to access wonder, I choose it."

Vulnerability & Fierce Trust 
Then it is time to let go of your work and share it with
others, and in my opinion it really isn't art if it isn't
shared, becoming more than just yours. It is scary and
there are no guarantees that it will be well received.
"Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work
anyhow, because fierce trust knows that the outcome
does not matter." If you truly want to make art, it does
not matter how it is received. IF I TRULY WANT TO

Unbound, 2015, acrylic (including metallic copper) on canvas

Tiffany Besonen is an artist and art teacher who lives in rural Northern
Minnesota on a century old farmstead with her family. She teaches 
grades 3-12 Art in the Nevis School District, and has exhibited her 
work throughout the Midwest and at the SOHO20 Gallery in New York 
City. She writes about the challenges and joys of art-making.


create everyday said...

I love your inner-fox! thank you for reading and sharing, Ti.

tibesonen said...

Thanks Kari!

Anonymous said...

Hey Ti and Kari,
Tis I, Julia, currently living in St. Louis MO [SLoMO]. Missing MN. I am leading an Artist's Way group currently and there is some talk about this book. One of our group is a bookseller, so we are hoping she will get us some copies. Glad to hear your take on it, Makes me think it will be worth the read!

tibesonen said...

Hi Julia!
I have read many Julia Cameron books, how great to lead a group! Big Magic would work great with a group to discuss. No exercises, but definitely a lot to discuss.