Books on creativity

This is following up the blog with a selection of my favorite documentaries on creativity

I love reading books, I think it’s probably the single greatest thing that happened to humanity. Today we are overwhelmed by the amount of information and books are part of this ocean. It can be difficult to find the good ones among the not so good ones or the complete crappy ones. 
Here is a list of suggested readings (I put the Amazon links to the English versions, I imagine you could find these books in different languages):

Zen In The Art Of Archery (Eugen Herrigel)

Since its original publication in 1953, Zen in the Art of Archery has become one of the classic works on Eastern philosophy, the first book to delve deeply into the role of Zen in philosophy, development, and practice of Eastern martial arts. Wise, deeply personal, and frequently charming, it is the story of one man's penetration of the theory and practice of Zen Buddhism. 

Eugen Herrigel, a German professor who taught philosophy in Tokyo, took up the study of archery as a step toward the understanding of Zen. Zen in the Art of Archery is the account of the six years he spent as the student of one of Japan's great Zen masters, and the process by which he overcame his initial inhibitions and began to look toward new ways of seeing and understanding. As one of the first Westerners to delve deeply into Zen Buddhism, Herrigel was a key figure in the popularization of Eastern thought in the West, as well as being a captivating and illuminating writer.


The War Of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

A succinct, engaging, and practical guide for succeeding in any creative sphere, The War of Art is nothing less than Sun-Tzu for the soul. hat keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do? Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor—be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece? Bestselling novelist Steven Pressfield identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success. The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline. Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself. Whether an artist, writer or business person, this simple, personal, and no-nonsense book will inspire you to seize the potential of your life.
 

How To Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: 7 Steps To Genius Every Day (Michael Gelb)

Gelb discusses each of the 7 principles in relation to what da Vinci accomplished, thereby giving this book a built-in history lesson.
  1. Curiosita: An insatiably curious approach to life. 
  2. Dimonstratzione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience. 
  3. Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to clarify experience. 
  4. Sfumato: A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. 
  5. Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination ("whole-brain thinking"). 
  6. Corporalita: The cultivation of ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. 
  7. Connessione: A recognition and appreciation for the connectedness of all things and phenomena; "systems thinking."


This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession (Daniel Levitin)

What can music teach us about the brain? What can the brain teach us about music? And what can both teach us about ourselves? 

 In this groundbreaking union of art and science, rocker-turned-neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin (The World in Six Songs and The Organized Mind) explores the connection between music - its performance, its composition, how we listen to it, why we enjoy it - and the human brain. Drawing on the latest research and on musical examples ranging from Mozart to Duke Ellington to Van Halen, Levitin reveals: 

  • How composers produce some of the most pleasurable effects of listening to music by exploiting the way our brains make sense of the world 
  • Why we are so emotionally attached to the music we listened to as teenagers, whether it was Fleetwood Mac, U2, or Dr. Dre 
  • That practice, rather than talent, is the driving force behind musical expertise 
  • How those insidious little jingles (called earworms) get stuck in our head 

Taking on prominent thinkers who argue that music is nothing more than an evolutionary accident, Levitin poses that music is fundamental to our species, perhaps even more so than language. A Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist, This Is Your Brain on Music will attract readers of Oliver Sacks and David Byrne, as it is an unprecedented, eye-opening investigation into an obsession at the heart of human nature.


The Mysticism Of Sound And Music (Hazrat Inayat Khan)

Music, according to Sufi teaching, is really a small expression of the overwhelming and perfect harmony of the whole universe—and that is the secret of its amazing power to move us. The Indian Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927), the first teacher to bring the Islamic mystical tradition to the West, was an accomplished musician himself. His lucid exposition of music's divine nature has become a modern classic, beloved not only by those interested in Sufism but by musicians of all kinds.


Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (Stephen Nachmanovitch)

Free Play is about the inner sources of spontaneous creation. It is about where art in the widest sense comes from. It is about why we create and what we learn when we do. It is about the flow of unhindered creative energy: the joy of making art in all its varied forms. 

Free Play is directed toward people in any field who want to contact, honor, and strengthen their own creative powers. It integrates material from a wide variety of sources among the arts, sciences, and spiritual traditions of humanity. Filled with unusual quotes, amusing and illuminating anecdotes, and original metaphors, it reveals how inspiration arises within us, how that inspiration may be blocked, derailed or obscured by certain unavoidable facts of life, and how finally it can be liberated - how we can be liberated - to speak or sing, write or paint, dance or play, with our own authentic voice. 

The whole enterprise of improvisation in life and art, of recovering free play and awakening creativity, is about being true to ourselves and our visions. It brings us into direct, active contact with boundless creative energies that we may not even know we had.


Stockhausen On Music

If a genius is someone whose ideas survive all attempts at explanation', writes the well-known contemporary musicologist Robin Maconie, 'then by that definition Stockhausen is the nearest thing to Beethoven this century has produced. Reason? His music lasts. 

With penetrating philosophical and spiritual insights Stockhausen describes, in this collection of lectures and interviews conducted in English, a whole new universe of sounds and events.


Conversing With Cage (Richard Kostelanetz)


This book is the ideal introduction to John Cage's world, offering in the artist's own words his ideas about life and art.
 

School For Cool: The Academic Jazz Program And The Paradox Of Institutionalized Creativity (Eitan Wilf)

 

Jazz was born on the streets, grew up in the clubs, and will die—so some fear—at the university. Facing dwindling commercial demand and the gradual disappearance of venues, many aspiring jazz musicians today learn their craft, and find their careers, in one of the many academic programs that now offer jazz degrees. School for Cool is their story. Going inside the halls of two of the most prestigious jazz schools around—at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York—Eitan Y. Wilf tackles a formidable question at the heart of jazz today: can creativity survive institutionalization? 

Few art forms epitomize the anti-institutional image more than jazz, but it’s precisely at the academy where jazz is now flourishing. This shift has introduced numerous challenges and contradictions to the music’s practitioners. Solos are transcribed, technique is standardized, and the whole endeavor is plastered with the label “high art”—a far cry from its freewheeling days. Wilf shows how students, educators, and administrators have attempted to meet these challenges with an inventive spirit and a robust drive to preserve—and foster—what they consider to be jazz’s central attributes: its charisma and unexpectedness. He also highlights the unintended consequences of their efforts to do so. Ultimately, he argues, the gap between creative practice and institutionalized schooling, although real, is often the product of our efforts to close it.



I would love to hear your thoughts about these books. Don't hesitate to comment below, I'll be happy to discuss! 
If you like these books, don't let your friends ignorant, share this page with them!

3 comments

  • Brian De Lima

    Brian De Lima Ontario

    Wilf nailed it… You can't teach jazz in an educational environment, the socio-cultural constructs that are always present within the execution of music are then stripped away— leaving a rote "paint by numbers" scenario…

    Wilf nailed it…

    You can't teach jazz in an educational environment, the socio-cultural constructs that are always present within the execution of music are then stripped away— leaving a rote "paint by numbers" scenario…

  • Alex Terrier

    Alex Terrier

    Hi Brian! I wouldn't made such a drastic conclusion. There are pros and cons and I think both are clearly discussed in the book. Arts Institutions have been around for quite a while, the Greeks got a few interesting people out their institutions! We can find examples of very creative people who evolved inside institutions and others who were completely rebellious. I'll just share my personal experience. I have studied in the conservatory in France and at Berklee College Of Music in Boston. I'll tell you: although there were things at Berklee that I hated and I found very "uncreative" (namely "the rational, bureaucratic, organizational structure of the university"), I think it gave me the tools to be more creative. It is not to the institution to make the student creative, but to the student to have the curiosity to explore, the courage to experiment and the will to work hard. The institution has to give you the tools, the knowledge, the facility and the time. One of the problem with institutions is that it kind of take you by the hand, and you can go through 4 years doing what you're told to do and get your degree without much effort or stepping out of the box. Or you can also take what's to be taken, pass the tests, and do more on your own. I had teachers that truly opened my mind and my ears. I learned different styles of big band arranging with Greg Hopkins, I learned how to open my musical mind with George Garzone and Joe Lovano, and I composed what I consider my most creative work, a dodecaphonic 16 minutes piece for big band (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4ZpnlMNHUY). Most importantly, I was exposed to artists from all over the world who were super creative, and that type of community is very hard to find outside of an art institution. I myself teach quite a lot. Although I do not teach at the present moment in an institution, I would love to and be around of other creative people and learn from them. You are right, a "paint by numbers" scenario is a risk, and a number of students can fall into that trap. But that is not an inevitable path!

    Hi Brian! I wouldn't made such a drastic conclusion. There are pros and cons and I think both are clearly discussed in the book.
    Arts Institutions have been around for quite a while, the Greeks got a few interesting people out their institutions! We can find examples of very creative people who evolved inside institutions and others who were completely rebellious.
    I'll just share my personal experience. I have studied in the conservatory in France and at Berklee College Of Music in Boston. I'll tell you: although there were things at Berklee that I hated and I found very "uncreative" (namely "the rational, bureaucratic, organizational structure of the university"), I think it gave me the tools to be more creative. It is not to the institution to make the student creative, but to the student to have the curiosity to explore, the courage to experiment and the will to work hard. The institution has to give you the tools, the knowledge, the facility and the time. One of the problem with institutions is that it kind of take you by the hand, and you can go through 4 years doing what you're told to do and get your degree without much effort or stepping out of the box. Or you can also take what's to be taken, pass the tests, and do more on your own.
    I had teachers that truly opened my mind and my ears. I learned different styles of big band arranging with Greg Hopkins, I learned how to open my musical mind with George Garzone and Joe Lovano, and I composed what I consider my most creative work, a dodecaphonic 16 minutes piece for big band (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4ZpnlMNHUY).
    Most importantly, I was exposed to artists from all over the world who were super creative, and that type of community is very hard to find outside of an art institution.

    I myself teach quite a lot. Although I do not teach at the present moment in an institution, I would love to and be around of other creative people and learn from them. You are right, a "paint by numbers" scenario is a risk, and a number of students can fall into that trap. But that is not an inevitable path!

  • Alex Terrier

    Alex Terrier

    I will keep writing some thoughts as they come. One thing with schools is that for the most part, they don't really develop curiosity, they don't like ambiguity, they don't encourage question-asking behavior. They want the student to give the "right answer" dictated by the authority. Again, that is to the student to have a pro-active mind and go beyond the limitations of the institution, thanks to the tools and knowledge acquired by that same institution.

    I will keep writing some thoughts as they come. One thing with schools is that for the most part, they don't really develop curiosity, they don't like ambiguity, they don't encourage question-asking behavior. They want the student to give the "right answer" dictated by the authority. Again, that is to the student to have a pro-active mind and go beyond the limitations of the institution, thanks to the tools and knowledge acquired by that same institution.

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