12 must read books for the artist & creator

The job of the artist is to be creative.  Not a bad gig!  The act of creating is exciting for artists, it provides a rush of excitement, connection, and flow.  We can expand the power of that creativity by educating ourselves and broadening the scope of how we use our creativity and what we use it for.  Reading is an essential tool to improving yourself and increasing your happiness and success.  I have complied a list of books that have reshaped the way I think about making art, productivity, and the promotion of creative work.

To me, every one of these books is a gem – I will be re-reading all of these books for years to come, and I’m certain they will inspire me to new action after each read.  The books cover a multitude of topics, yet are all very much related.  Some of the ground these books covers includes:  the creative process, learning new skills, the science of social media, saving and building money, saying ‘no’ to things, determining your life’s purpose, democracy & despotism, building relationships, and building your own business, to name a few.  I hope these books inspire new things for you.  Click on the book TITLES to link to the book’s Amazon page, or click your heels to get your ass down to the library.


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

An interviewer once asked jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis if the doubts that an artist feels go away once you reach a high level of craft & success.  He responded that they do not go away, but they change form and one learns how to manage them.  The War of Art is a tool for the artist to combat the deep doubts we can feel during the creative process or over the course of our careers.  The message of the this book is to power through and do what your calling asks you to do, regardless of your doubts and despite the voices that try to deter you from creating what you envision.  Doubts and distraction are something that every artist experiences.  The Pros know that negative thinking is all an illusion to be overcome.  This book is a map for overcoming the challenges faced when we create things consistently.


Essentialism:  The Discplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

The basic premise of this book is that there are very few things in life that are truly important.  It is up to you to determine what those few things are, pursue them, protect them, and disengage from things that are not important.  When we reach a certain level of busyness and success, we will undoubtedly be asked to do many things from many different people.  Because of our innate desire to please others and do good in the world, we say ‘yes’ to too many things because we believe that we can do it all.  Essentialism claims that we can NOT do it all, nor should we try.  We should instead figure out what is most important for us to do, and then decline things which are not in line with it.  This enables our best contribution to the world and our most personally fulfilling existence.   Saying ‘no’ is difficult to do and often uncomfortable because it is confrontational and sometimes can hurt or disappoint the people we say ‘no’ to. It is an important skill to develop because saying ‘no’ will lead to better ‘yeses.’

Money: Master the Game, by Tony Robbins

Ahhh, money.  So many artists are scared to think of money, desire money, talk about money, pursue money.  But why?   Money is not often talked about in detail, even among friends – so why would it be surprising that we don’t know a lot about saving, investing, and planning?  Some people seem to have a mental blockage around money.  To be free of this blockage, we simply must learn more about money.  This book starts from square one and is written in a  simple way.  The first game changer this book instilled upon me is to save a fixed percentage of each paycheck that you receive.  It doesn’t matter if that check is $75 or $6,000, put that 9% (or whatever you decide upon) into savings.  It also outlines all the places available to you to put your savings so that they will potentially earn money for you (AKA investments).  There is money to be saved in the world and there is money to be earned… one must only know how.


The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performace, by Josh Waitzkin

Author Josh Waitzkin was a world champion child chess prodigy who burnt out on chess and then became a world champion in the Tai Chi Chuan martial arts after only a few years of training.  His transition between the two disciplines made him delve deep into the learning process itself and this book is the result of it.  He uses both chess & martial arts as a vehicle for his self expression and creativity, no different than an artist.  Waitzkin dissolves a lot of the barriers we create between genres and disciplines, outlining the deeper commonalities between mediums.


Steve Jobs, by Walter Issacson

Steve Jobs was an artist across multiple mediums – technology, design, aesthetics, minimalism, psychology, business, and management.  There are thousands of ‘how to’ books for entrepreneurship, leadership, and business, but the first hand story of Jobs teaches lasting lessons by example and action.   He was deeply in touch with art and he utilized the problem solving techniques that artists use during the creative process.  He had a strong vision, the courage to pursue it, and executed his plans with enormous detail.  He was a perfectionist and he obsessed over each detail of his products, much the same as a creative artist.  His story is an inspiration for those striving to have an impact.


Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, by Cornel West

Every American should read this book.  The USA was founded upon the most forward thinking ideas for self-government humans have created – a beautiful ideal.  We, the people of a nation must first understand the true principles and task of democracy and then we must judge our government by these principals.  Is it actually democratic or is it not??  This book is a call to the minds of a sleepy nation to educate themselves and to keep their government in check.  West speaks a lot about the role of artist in societies throughout history, and calls on them to be educated, to speak truth, and to create art that is relevant to the times, for the benefit and enlightenment of the people.  It also illustrates the darkness of the human spirit instigated by oppression and imperialism, and why it is crucially important for our survival  to establish and maintain free nations.


The Alchemist, by Paulo Coello

This book is the story of a man who of takes a life plunge that is guided by intuition.  It is the story of a spiritual journey.  You don’t always know what you are getting into by leaving your comfort zone, but your inner compass will be your guide.   It is also the story of trust – trusting that you will be guided by unforeseen people, events, feelings, and circumstances to move in the right direction and arrive at your destination.  A beautiful reminder that life always has been and always will be a journey.


The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

This book opened a huge door for me and allowed me to begin navigating the music industry, artistic world, and life in general with a more entrepreneurial approach.  A few key concepts:  (1) Time is more valuable than money – the person who works 25 hours/week and makes $50,000/year is more wealthy than the person who works 80 hours/week and makes $100,000/year.   (2) If you arrange your work and business to be free of location, you can travel and experience more things in the world for a lot less money than most people assume.  (3) Life is not all about work!  But freedom takes planning and action.  Also, check out the Tim Ferriss podcast where he interviews top performers in various fields to better understand the inner workings of their success.


 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Most people believe that there is a great divide between “artistic” types of thinking (intuition, emotional expression, timelessness, spirituality) and “technical” thinking (problem solving, construction, engineering, scientific method).  Artists often feel that the two are at odds – the technique and the expression.  By applying ancient philosophies from various cultures and being deeply astute of our current culture, Pirsig shows that there are NOT two sides, but they are actually the same thing.  The book also focuses on the concept of ‘quality.’  Humans have an innate ability to measure the quality of something, and we may take it upon ourselves to be creators and curators of quality.  The beauty and wisdom of this book is certainly too deep to summarize in a paragraph, but hopefully you have been properly baited.


 Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook:  How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy World, by Gary Vaynerchuk

This is an instructional book that gives specific coaching on how to use social media most effectively.  Start by watching a few YouTube videos of Gary Vaynerchuk to get a feel for his directness and his ideas.  If you think that you need to use social media more, or have been using it to unsatisfactory results, this book is for you!  The guiding premise of Gary’s philosophies is that you must create content that is actually valuable, that people will find useful or entertaining – something people will want to share.  The title of the book refers to the ethos of give, give, give, give, ask – most people on social media ask, ask, ask, ask, ask… “Come to my show,” “Buy my album,” “Like my photo of me liking my own page.”  An important read for the times.


Never Eat Alone:  And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, by Keith Farrazzi

You’ve heard people say it a thousand times (and perhaps it’s annoying by now) – “It’s all about the relationships.”  Most people believe that being socially fluid is something you are born with or you are not.  This is not so – social chops are something that may be learned and improved upon, this book is a schooling in this world of interaction and relationships.


Strinking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living by Bruce Lee, John Little

Bruce Lee is a double threat.  He has immense compassion and spiritual depth, AND he is a master and an innovator of the martial arts.  The power of his ideas stand on their own, but he exemplifies the philosophies and manifests them through his martial art.  Each idea in this book is no more than a paragraph long, yet they each are deep enough to ponder for days.   A master of both the world inside our minds and the outside world, he is a teacher to listen to.

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