As a writer and musician, I’m always interested in others’ approach to the creative process. When that someone is legendary music producer Rick Rubin, I’m even more interested. Rubin’s decades-long career has seen him produce a wildly eclectic mix of musicians and bands – everyone from Slayer to Adele by way of Johnny Cash and the Beastie Boys – and that eclecticism suggests a man at home facilitating the creativity of others.
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Rubin has put all that experience into his new book, The Creative Act, a beautiful, cloth-bound hardback with the intriguing subtitle, A Way of Being. That subtitle hints at what’s inside, as Rubin’s approach is less a practical guide and more of an existential enquiry into the nature of creativity, art and being part of the human race. If that sounds a little ambitious and hifalutin, maybe it is, but Rick Rubin is sincere in his search for what constitutes creativity, and the importance of it in all of our lives. He argues that we’re all creative beings, and that creativity takes a myriad of forms. Part of the problem, he argues, is that most of us spend our time shutting ourselves off from the universe, from the ways in which we can create.
There follows 400 pages in which Rubin gives well-earned advice on ways to engage with the creative act. The key is leaving ourselves open to the wider forces of the universe, learning what does and doesn’t work for us, trusting in our inner voices, not letting ourselves be swayed by outside influence, but also finding the balance between these extremes.
Indeed, much of The Creative Act is about balance, more than once bringing to mind the existential teachings of Buddhism and other forms of spirituality. Anyone looking for Rick Rubin’s studio-based anecdotes about Paul McCartney or Rage Against the Machine, for example, will be disappointed. The Creative Act is not that kind of book – rather, it’s a deep look at the most fundamental of human impulses.
The Creative Act by Rick Rubin is out on January 17 (Canongate, £25). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.