I had no idea who Rick Rubin was when I chose this book for our Patreon Book Club. It appeared on my screen courtesy of the algorithms and I chose it 1. based on the cover – yes, I am that person and 2. the three words of interest in the title: creative, act and being.
I learned Rubin was a hotshot music producer shortly after I ordered the book and had in mind someone who looked quite a bit different from the silver-bearded, barefoot individual I’ve since come to recognise.
Rubin looks like one of my high-school pals, all grown up. We’re of a similar age, although he’s a wee bit older than me. There again, most of my high-school pals were, too. Looking at his photos, I feel something of an affinity, what with the silver locks – most of my old school pals either have no hair or have cut it all off by now, at least that’s true of the boys.
Anyway, the book. It’s lovely.
Here in (not so) Great Britain, the book’s published by Edinburgh’s Canongate and it’s good to know that it’s also printed and bound here.
I have a bit of a thing for cloth-bound books, especially when a ribbon is attached as a ready bookmark. Although I generally don’t enjoy hardback editions because they’re uncomfortable to hold, this 400-odd paged tome wasn’t so uncomfortable. The lack of a dust jacket definitely helps.
The design has a fair bit of Rubin’s minimalist/Zen aesthetic (I read that his home is basically a large space with a good sound system, a comfy bed and little else,) with just a hint of mysticism – the alchemical symbol for the sun dominating both the cover and throughout the chapter breaks.
When it arrived, I was a wee bit jealous. This is what my book would look like. At least one version of it would.
Did Rubin use my words and ideas inside, too? Truth be told, he did!
Not all of them, of course, but what I discovered upon reading was that he articulated some of them super succinctly;
“When we take notice of the cycles of the planet, and choose to live in accordance with its seasons, something remarkable happens. We become connected.”
For the next many chapters, Rubin goes on to articulate his somewhat metaphysical thoughts on the essential nature of the artist as a practitioner of being aware – of noticing.
He uses the term Source as a reference for the place whence our creative ideas and energy originate. This sits quite well with me as an alternative to the idea of a Divine Geometer. I prefer to think of that Source not as one point of origination, but rather as a realm (of the imaginal) made up of all of the experiences of life, the universe and everything since time began.
Rubin asks us to consider that our creative ideas don’t live within us but within the imaginal realm. (I wish he’d used this term in his book. I’ve a feeling it would make it more palatable for his more sceptical readers.) It’s down to us as artists to pluck ideas out of that realm in a timely way, he somewhat sagely advises, through the art of noticing/listening/practising awareness.
“The ability to look deeply is the root of creativity. To see past the ordinary and mundane and get to what might otherwise be invisible.”
For those not of a metaphysical bent and expecting some kiss and tell about the bands he’s worked with over the decades, the next few chapters might come as a surprise/disappointment.
This is where one of the big positives about the book comes in handy – the chapters are super short. The paragraphs are, too. The sentences are downright pithy. Finding it all a bit too woo-woo? then skip a few pages, dear reader. This book is made for the times. For those of us with the shortest attention spans and a super big to-do list.
Rubin is clearly a man who accepts the spiritual side of his being as fact. This might stem from the fact that he started meditating as a teen, prescribed to help reduce his stress.
Not long after I started reading the book, I listened to Rubin’s Desert Island Discs interview with the BBC. What a lovely man, I thought. And also, how lucky to have been gifted the positive upbringing/start in life that he had. I don’t know much about Rubin’s life as an adult, but I have an inkling that how he is able to be in the world has a lot to do with his early years.
It might be correlation rather than causation, of course, but I know that being supported in the way he was as a child must play a direct part in how he has been able to act as a vessel in the world and apply his filter of awareness to shape his unique lens of perception.
His wasn’t my story and I struggle with the consequences each and every day. How many kids have the potential to be as creatively successful as Rick Rubin but whose origin story is the complete opposite?
And perhaps this is where my biggest beef with Rubin’s book lies.
I am a HUGE proponent of practising the art of awareness as a primary act in my creative process. Taking notice, practising awareness, listening with an open attitude and editing my input to support my practices are key factors in my modus operandi.
For much of my day, I seek out beauty, comfort and harmony and greatly enjoy being in alignment with the cosmic order. I employ playful experimentation and apply limitations where necessary to help me expand creatively.
So much of what Rubin expounds in his book as practical examples of how to be an artist is true to my experience, and a lot of it forms part of my own teachings and yet, and yet …
The Creative Act: A Way of Being leaves me with the impression that Rick Rubin has mastered the art of gliding barefoot through his life, without much fear of cutting himself on the broken remnants of a shattered living room after a monumentally destructive parental episode, or simply a broken Buckfast bottle or ten, discarded on the side of the pavement.
Still, I’d recommend this book to any creative who needs a wee bit of encouragement in their practice.
I’d just add that they should also give a wee bit of thought to who travels through the world barefoot in these times – the folk who happen by accident of birth to be born in the global south and the privileged few who can afford a beachfront property in California.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh? Perhaps I’m being overly judgemental? Perhaps my Shadow is coming out to play and I’m simply jealous that Rubin has produced something of beauty in the world that I covet.
My conclusion is that the book feels rather self-indulgent overall, even at the same time as it is full of gems for those of us in the creative industries.
It’s as much a manual for life as for making art. But it isn’t a manual. It’s a series of sound bites from the imaginal realm pulled down from the cloud by an artist, Rick Rubin. They may not even be true. He tells us so.