I had the chance to meet Elizabeth Gilbert in Berlin, during the tour for promoting The Signature of All Things, a book that I particularly loved for its well researched plot and inspired characters. But before reading the book, I was for ever charmed by the author's personality: bubbling, always smiling and happy to answer questions. For her, every person she was signing the book for was there, in the front of her, not as I've often noticed in other cases, just the bearer of a book where you leave your signature and you pray that everything finishes as fast as possible (Salman Rushdie, for instance). Usually such an impression might bring more substance to the reading experience (but I will still keep reading Rushdie's books, regardless of what I felt).
Big Magic has a bit of Gilbert personality and out of her books - I've read them all - is very direct, creating a lively dialogue with the readers. It can be read quite fast, not because it is very easy, but because you feel that you need to sip every single word. It is a lot of inspiration for creative people - although focused particularly on writers - without being a guide of becoming a writer, or a successful artist. The main concept is to create for every human with a penchant for creativity the premises to continue or start improving his or her gift and 'living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear'. 'A creative life is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life'. I know, personally, a couple of people who, even late in late, decided to fill their time creatively and I could see how happy art makes them. They not necessarily dream of having exhibitions or selling their art, they just enjoy the act of doing art in itself.
Honesty is another important feature of this book. You will not be advised to leave your job and start doing art, or lied that from now on, all the pain and unhappiness will disappear once you have the easel in your hand. Rather the contrary. You should regard your creative gift as serious as possible, without losing contact with reality. 'I believe you can live a creative life and still make an effort to be a basically decent person'. The creative life is difficult and full of disappointments and ups and downs, and anxiety, but once you realize that you cannot live without it, you shall continue working hard, for every bit of word. Until the laws of the universe will make the big magic happen. Warning: there is no guarantee this will happen to you during this life span. The good news: you can keep exploring your creative side without bothering to check what other people think about you. '(...) always remember that people's judgement about you are none of your business'.
As for the critics distinctions, you better follow Gilbert's own example: 'I cannot even be bothered to think about the difference between high art and low art'. This is one of the things I noticed this weekend, while at an exhibition of contemporary arts at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. The 'democratization' of arts allowed a high diversity of exploration of various creative paths. You can beatify and dignify anything only by adding a text or changing the location or the context or creating a different context yourself.
Between the fear of exploring your creativity and sharing openly your ideas and works, and curiosity to explore more, including your own limits, the choice should be for the latter. Start working with 'stubborn gladness' and bring more reasons into your life. For various reasons, I personally went through different anti-creative stages in my life, but always returned to my creative world more determined than ever to stay there as much as possible. An aim that I am more stubborn than ever to focus on accomplishing, be it writing - my main life mission, or photography, or travel, or arts.
It is a book that every creative being should read, because it gives you more than one reason to be yourself and cope with all the challenges and temptations of the life of the spirit. It gives a lot of hope for humanity and for the life of ideas, without being openly optimistic. It opens the door to a world that I had the chance to discover many years ago, when reading The Glass Bead Game, a book I wished it was quoted in the Big Magic. Regardless of this omission, I feel like I woke up from the creative sleep. Suddenly, I have so many things to do to keep my creativity alive and improve the life of my ideas.
Rating: 4 stars