In the changing world, we find ourselves in, it can be easy for an artist to lose focus and get into a state of creative block. So today I want to share my 5 must-read books which can help inspire and boost your creativity.
I won’t lie and say reading a book will get the creative juices flowing again. But (in my opinion) the books in this post have some great advice which can help you make changes in your life so you always feel inspired to create.
5 Must-Read Books to Boost Your Creativity
The Practice by Seth Godin
If you’re the type of person who says to an artist; oh I could never learn to do that, I have the perfect book for you. The Practice by Seth Godin challenges the idea that creativity is an innate talent which only a select few possess.
Instead, Godin argues that creativity is a skill which can be developed through consistent practice. He puts forward the idea that creativity is not a feeling or a state of mind. Rather, like any other skill, it can be mastered through the habit of making work. To seal a phrase – and shoutout a particularly good podcast – do it for the process.
In The Practice, Godin offers a step-by-step guide for practising creativity. First, find a group of like-minded people who share similar ideas. Then acquire relevant knowledge and feed your brain with wisdom related to your niche. Finally, practice consistently. Dedicating an hour of your day to creative work. Focusing on the process rather than the desired outcome.
Out of all the books on this list, this is the one to read if you have doubts about your creativity.
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon is a fantastic book, it’s so good I have cited it in university essays. If you are a working artist, or just want to make art, this book along with the two sequels is a fantastic resource. Not just for inspiration, but they will help motivate you to keep making art.
In the book, Austin writes that there is no such thing as an “original idea”. He suggests that every piece of art is an updated version of something which already exists. Throughout human history, we have created art as a reaction to what came before. We’re still doing the same thing today, with Lin Manuel Miranda citing The West Wing as the inspiration behind Hamilton.
The key to being an artist (and therefore stealing like an artist) is to stop believing that your art needs to be entirely original. There is a fantastic quote from Issac Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”, I’ve seen this used specifically concerning calligraphy, but it works for any form of art. Rather than seeing inspiration as taking something from those who came before. Think of it as building on what is already done. The thing which makes your art unique is only you can make art the way you do.
As one of my university lecturers used to say; be a magpie. Look at as many sources as possible and pick out the details which inspire you, don’t worry about creating something original.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a classic which has helped countless people tap into their creativity. It’s laid out as a 12-week program which guides you through a series of exercises designed to help you break through creative blocks.
I tried the Artist’s Way method not too long ago (and wrote a post about it). Though I had some issues with elements of the book, the key principle, of writing daily morning pages was massively helpful to me and is the true value of this book. The book is intended to guide struggling artists to overcome their inner doubts and fears which hinder their creative expression.
It does this by asking you to begin your day by writing down all your thoughts and anxieties of the day. Doing so leaves you room to be creative without all those bad thoughts circling in your head. Though this book is aimed at artists, this style of journaling extends beyond just creative endeavours and can benefit almost anyone seeing focus and direction in their life.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is all about creative living, and how to live your life driven by curiosity rather than fear. Gilbert shares stories and ideas of how to embrace the creative process and overcome obstacles that can stand in the way of creating something new. If you think this sounds similar to The Artist’s Way you would be right. Elizabeth Gilbert was inspired to write Eat, Pray Love after reading The Artist’s Way.
Big Magic has become a bestselling book in its own right, inspiring readers to live a more authentic life by confronting their fear of failure. Similar to The Artist’s Way, the book guides readers on how to dismantle their creative barriers (though this time, not through journaling).
Gilbert tends to use a research-oriented approach to writing and this book is no different. Using facts and anecdotes to reinforce her ideas and principles. By reading Big Magic, you’ll gain the confidence and motivation to be more imaginative in your personal and professional life.
You Are An Artist by Sarah Green
While the last four books have been a meditation on creativity, this final pick asks you to go out and create something. You Are An Artist by Sarah Green is a collection of assignments from current working artists.
Sarah Green, wife of TikTok sensation (and author) John Green, is an art curator and runs the YouTube channel The Art Assignment. You Are An Artist could be thought of as the book version of the YouTube channel. While most art books teach you to work in one medium or learn one specific skill, this book gets you to try a more conceptual method of making art.
The assignments in this book don’t ask you to create a specific ‘thing’. Rather it asks you to respond to an idea or a challenge. The final product you create is up to you. It doesn’t even need to be a piece of art in the traditional sense. Out of all the art books I’ve read over the years this book is the closest thing you can come to a modern contemporary art practice education. Create a response to the assignment, the idea is where the real art lies.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resources for boosting your creativity. There are so many books out there it would be impossible to mention all of them. But the important point, which runs through all these books is the same. Creativity is a process, you won’t get better at it without doing it. Rather than think of creativity as an end goal, see it more as something you can constantly be doing.