Required Reading for Artists

Over at Dave Ramsey’s company, the Lampo Group, there are books that are required reading for every new Lampo employee. It’s important because these books crystalize some of the ideas that are a big part of their culture. On the EntreLeadership podcast, they spent an entire month reviewing the books on this required reading list, and it got me thinking about what books would be on such a list for anyone in the arts.

So I made my own list of four books that artists should read.

The Artist’s Way

Author: Julia Cameron

This one is pretty well-known even among non-artists. I think it is geared a little more toward women than men, and there are some parts that might seem a little “froo-froo” or “touchy-feely,” but the two most important tools it provides are

  1. Morning Pages
  2. Artist Dates
Morning Pages is a practice where you essentially do an emotional brain dump, jettisoning all the things that are bothering you. You just write by hand for half an hour or whatever, and don’t read it for six weeks.

And if the Morning Pages is where you ask “the universe” questions, Artist Dates is where you start to get answers by “refilling the well.” You go on a date with your inner artist-child, doing fun stuff that part of you enjoys. It might be silly or serious.

A lot of the book is about taking stock of where you are as a creative and realizing that it’s okay to fail, and finding the gumption to get moving. I wrote about it a lot on my old Mysterious Flame blog, especially in this post about why artists should journal and this one about Refilling the Well and Reigniting Creativity, until I discovered the next book on this list, The War of Art.

The War of Art

Author: Stephen Pressfield

In many ways this is the opposite of The Artist’s Way since it takes a much more aggressive approach to creativity. In a sense art is a war to be fought, so buck up and dig in.

It’s a real kick in the pants. I need to re-read this every few years. Probably the most important concept in this book is that of “The Resistance”, the thing that keeps you from making art because it threatens the status quo. Seth Godin expands on the Resistance concept in his book Linchpin.

The second most important concept is that of “showing up.” Put in your hours and do the work, even if it seems crappy. Sometimes that crappy work teaches you something you need to get better at. The chapters are very short, usually one or two pages. You could read it almost like a devotional, reading a chapter each morning before you get into your work.

(My original review is here: Worth Reading: The War of Art)

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Author: Twyla Tharp

Making art is a discipline, and nobody knows that better than world-class dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp. Creativity is something you do every day. There are patterns that emerge, and if you recognize them, you can use them to your advantage. It’s like staying in shape. In many ways this book expands on the “showing up” concept, providing a practical framework for the artist’s lifestyle.

For me, the concept that stood out the most was the idea of “spine,” or overarching theme, even if it isn’t visible in the finished work. (I originally reviewed this here: Book Review: Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit)

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

Author: Michael Hyatt

While it doesn’t apply to artists per se, it is a great handbook for making yourself known in a world that has gotten increasingly noisy, especially on the internet. Michael Hyatt is good at taking seemingly complex ideas and making them understandable and practical.

Sure, you can glean a lot of the ideas in this book from his blog, but it is collected all in one place. There’s an audiobook version available, read by Michael himself, which makes it a lot like his podcast. The first part is pretty common-sense, but you know how uncommon common sense is. The latter part of the book is practical advice with actionable ideas regarding Twitter and blogging. There isn’t much advice on Facebook. He has since stated that Facebook evolves so much that as soon as anything is published it is out of date. So if you want to make a name for yourself especially in the social media space, this is the book for you.

What books have you read lately that you think artists should be reading? Email me or leave a comment. Thanks!

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