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On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity Hardcover – March 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345456297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345456298
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #677,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What keeps us from becoming the artists we dream of being and living our lives to the fullest? Langer (Mindfulness), a professor of psychology at Harvard, shares her own journey as an untaught painter, casually scattering the names of friends and describing her own somewhat unsophisticated choices of subject matter. But her approach is also scientific: without becoming overly technical, she deftly weaves into her own story a wide variety of studies that examine the obstacles ordinary people put in the way of their own creativity. This isn't a collection of exercises or even an inspirational book as much as a gradual breaking down of what holds people back from living mindfully—fully present in the moment. Langer encourages her readers to recognize how fear of judgment, unnecessary self-comparisons and preconceived notions about talent impede artistic expression. Art, in her view, is a process rather than a product. And the very things that make the act of creating satisfying in itself—working in the moment, freeing oneself from judgment—also, she says, make for better art and a better life. Langer's work will strike some as a bit naïve—does she believe "real" artists are never self-critical? Still, Langer has much to say that's useful on art as self-revealing and life-enhancing that will inspire many readers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Just do it! says Nike, a command echoed by Harvard psychologist Langer, who takes up where she left off with Mindfulness (1989) and The Power of Mindful Learning (1997), in which she demonstrated the value of mindfulness, or engaged awareness. Here she outlines ways that are available to everyone to defeat impediments to the creative life, asserting that the doing of art makes us artists. Fear is the obstacle, she says, so set aside external evaluation and self-judgment. These are hardly new concepts, but taken in the broadest sense of Langer's stated goal--the engagement in new, creative endeavors--this energetically written title can help many invigorate their lives with artistic exploration, which is its own achievement. The embrace of uncertainty is as requisite as experiencing the creative moment for making authentic art, she argues, stating that we should value mistakes, and reject absolutes and social comparisons. Langer's latest encourages readers to bravely seek self-reinvention by creative action, and in so doing, find it. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

I was somewhat disappointed in this book.
L.A. in CA
P.xvii This particular book shares her personal journey in becoming curious and interested to being recognized as a renowned painter.
William Dahl
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable makes artistic expression more meaningful.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on May 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When we give up the tendency to compare ourselves to others - when we just do and don't judge - then we can create art.

Author Langer states in On Becoming An Artist, that most of us find it safer to put off doing creative things out of fear of making fools of ourselves. She asks: "What exactly are the obstacles that keep us from doing what we are drawn to do?"

Not everyone should strive for perfection but be part of the "school of the untaught." We can do art, be an artist for our own enjoyment -- without comparing ourselves with anyone else. Van Gogh was not famous in his lifetime. People do not like all the same kinds of art/creativity.

Langer's premise is based on mindful thinking. Mindfulness is simply the process of noticing new things.

Her writing made me think about how many times we are "our own worst enemy." We will start our creativity (paint, music, draw, write, whatever) tomorrow ... when we have time ... when we're empty nesters, etc. We do everything but create.

"Someday" could be tomorrow if you read and take to heart Langer's message. In our creativity we need to distinguish the end product from the art/experience of creating it.

Too many of us believe that a "rich creative life" belongs to a few select people. Wrong, creativity is in everything we do.

Refrain from judging and just do. Start your personal renaissance. Becoming An Artist may just be the jumpstart you need.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There is so much fear associated with performing, creating, or expressing any artistic endeavor. Langer holds up a mirror to these fears by describing many scientifically based experiments that reveal where the real problems lie:

1. Being critical of others prevents us from being vulnerable enough to be moved by something unique and wonderful. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable makes artistic expression more meaningful.

2. Assumptions about "prodigies," "talent," and "real" art, are often based on one experience, or one comment we may have overheard. The people we compare ourselves to may not claim to be any more of an expert than we are.

I am completely inspired by this book! Perhaps if enough people let go of their critical, doubtful selves and begin expressing themselves artistically, they would begin to understand how invaluable the arts are. Rather than talking about the arts as a core subject in schools, books like this convince me that "the basics" and all of general education would gain tremendously by learning from the arts.
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64 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Lover of Learning on August 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book with high hopes that it would contain some good advice about creating. It has some, but Langer surrounds it with a limp, academic prose that is at times painful to read. Langer uses the communal "We" throughout the book, which I find irritating and distracting.

Langer also relies heavily on personal anecdotes to illustrate her points, and many of them leave the reader wondering whether she could have found better examples.

I expected more from this book, considering that the author works as a Harvard professor of psychology.

The main points of this book are:

1. Pay attention to what you are doing when you are doing it.

2. Don't evaluate your work or let the evaluations of others interfere.

3. Welcome mistakes as learning opportunities.

4. Become comfortable with uncertainty.

A much more interesting book to read instead of this one is The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp, a well-known choreographer who provides anecdotes from her career, ideas about the creative life, and practical exercises in an entertaining and attractive format.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Tom Gilbert on January 30, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was quite disappointed with this book. I am an amateur artist who paints landscapes in a realistic style. Over the years I've produced many mediocre or poor paintings, and occasional good paintings. But, according to Ellen Langer's ideas, I shouldn't be so evaluative about my paintings. She seems to suggest one is just as valid as another. If one contains an area of distorted perspective, I can rationalize that by saying I chose to paint part of it from a different perspective, and that's just fine. Really? I disagree with the book's general contentions that the rules or standards for art are not important. If the quality of art is so subjective, how would I know if I'm improving as a painter?

I purchased this book because of my interest in the art of seeing, and it had an endorsement from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Although the book makes a strong case that "mindfulness" is a good thing, I found little practical information on how to achieve it. I also thought there was too much explanation of psychological experiments that really served to illustrate obvious or trivial concepts. It was the sort of book where I read on and on hoping to get to some real substance but never found it.

The author includes 16 of her paintings in the book. I found one painting rather interesting (the woman in a blue dress on a couch). The other paintings, done in a "naive" style, helped me understand how the author was motivated to create her rationalization for non-evaluative art. If I had produced these paintings I'd keep the one and throw the other 15 away ... not as "failures" (too evaluative) but as good efforts that didn't quite hit the mark.

Better books on this topic are "Art & Fear" by David Bayles and Ted Orland, "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin, or "Creative Authenticity" by Ian Roberts.
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