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Spark: How Creativity Works Hardcover – February 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Over the past 10 years, numerous artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers have sat down with host Kurt Anderson in his acclaimed public radio show, Studio 360, to reflect on the power of art and the nature of creativity. Pulling from those interviews, Burstein, the show's producer, gathers a diverse cast of characters (Chuck Close, Richard Ford, Isabel Allende, and Patti Lupone among them) who share their thoughts about the sources of their creativity: the influence of their parents, of place, or of a shattering event, or the stimulation of working with a creative partner. Rosanne Cash tells about the moment that liberated her from anger at her father, Johnny Cash. Poet Stanley Kunitz draws his deepest inspiration from the bounty of a garden he created out of a sand dune. The photographer William Christenberry draws sustenance and inspiration from his home county in Alabama, returning there every year to photograph farms, churches, and roadside cafes. Through enlightening conversations, these creative individuals demonstrate how they lift raw materials out of familiar contexts and create art that changes how we perceive the world. (Mar.)
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Review

“Spark is a beautiful book, enjoyable and filled with life...You will find yourself contemplating the origin of the little lights, the sparks, which show themselves only when someone special looks within.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“This is a book about joy, drive and art, work that we’re all capable of if we’ll only commit.” (Seth Godin, author of Linchpin)

“Through enlightening conversations, these creative individuals demonstrate how they lift raw materials out of familiar contexts and create art that changes how we perceive the world.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Burstein offers enlightening answers from the culture’s heavy hitters, as well as the process by which they stoked these embers into a roaring fire, and how you, yes, you, might too.” (Vanity Fair)

“Spark is an encyclopedia of inspiration plucked from today’s most revered creators, leaving you not with a one-size-fits-all blueprint to creativity but with a petri dish of eclectic insights for you to distill, cross-pollinate and fertilize into a richer understanding of your own creative life.” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings)

“How better to learn about creativity than to talk with some of the world’s most creative people.” (Detroit Free Press)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061732311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061732317
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Julie Burstein is a Peabody Award-winning radio producer, best-selling author, and public speaker who has spent her working life in conversation with highly creative people - interviewing, probing, guiding, and creating public radio programs about them and their work. In Spark: How Creativity Works, she maps out some of the coordinates and dimensions of creativity. No one can exactly explain creativity, but Julie offers a tour through some of its essential byways; shining a beam onto its mysterious workings in a way that is illuminating and can help us find more of that dimension within ourselves, and put it to good use.

Julie is the host of Spark Talks at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a series of conversations with writers, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs and scientists that explores current issues through the lens of The Met's collection. The TED conference asked Julie to speak at TED2012, and she often gives talks about creativity and innovation at museums, corporations, and universities.

In 2000, Julie created Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen for Public Radio International, public radio's premiere program about creativity, entertainment and the arts. She led the Studio 360 creative team at WNYC for many years. Julie is also known for her engaging on-air presence as a frequent guest host on The Leonard Lopate Show, she has created radio series for Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic, and her many stories about arts and culture have appeared on public radio, from the secret to making Easter Peeps and Bunnies and the art of pumpkin carving for NPR, to reports about design, music, dance, theater, and visual arts for Studio 360 and Marketplace.

Julie is the host of pursuitofspark.com, conversations about creative approaches to the challenges, possibilities, and pleasures of everyday life and work.

When "Spark" was published in February, 2011, Vanity Fair wrote "In Spark (Harper), Burstein, with a foreword by Andersen, offers enlightening answers from the culture's heavy hitters, including Chuck Close, Yo-Yo Ma, and Richard Ford, on which experiences, memories, tragedies, or landscapes ignited their imaginations, as well as the process by which they stoked these embers into a roaring fire, and how you, yes, you, might too."

You can find out more at julieburstein.com.


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Ann Arbor Reader on February 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't mean to be unkind here because I appreciate the concept and organization of this book. I wanted to like it much more than I did.

Still, after shelling out good money for the hardcover, I'm ultimately disappointed by what's here. To me, it feels insubstantial, and I wish I had looked through it carefully in a bookstore before purchasing.

Each of the features here (exploring the creative process of several different writers, artists, musicians, etc.) feels quite brief. Some of the profiles are as short as 2-3 pages and come full of journalistic exposition/background.

This is fine in theory, but when I buy a book that promises "How Creativity Works" in its subtitle, I'm hoping for deeper, richer quotations from the profiled artists and less background filler. Do I really need to read, for example, that "[Kevin] Bacon, who starred in films like Footloose, JFK, and Apollo 13, is also renowned as the central character in the trivia game 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon...'"

(And, no offense, but can Kevin Bacon really help us understand how creativity works? Don't get me wrong--I really like the guy's work, but this just isn't what I hoped for.)

Even the longer pieces still feel thin and full of sound bites, rather than concerted reflection on creativity. You may enjoy it if you're looking for brief, breezy slices of NPR-style interview. But if, like me, you were hoping for some sustained dialogue and thinking from these artists, you may want to save your money.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By smartpeoplepodcast on March 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I don't often comment here on amazon, but this one really prompted me to let everyone know what they are getting themselves into. First of all, the hardcover is around $25 and for that much I have some expectations. Second, the book promises to tell you how creativity works but instead just reads as if it's a transcript from interviews done on a radio show years ago from a lot of people that you've probably never heard of. I don't like sounding harsh, but I was REALLY disappointed with this book. The introduction seems great, I do believe that Julie has a good background to write about the subject of creativity and has some valuable insight; however, she rarely imparts her own wisdom. Instead it seems like just a ploy to use her past interviews to make some money through book sales. It's not worth your time, you won't gain much at all.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ivy VINE VOICE on February 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
These are a series of biographies drawn from the various guests on NPR's Studio 360 (an awesome show, btw). It's divided thematically,

The first section, Engaging Adversity, is about why people create, what drives them, what needs the activity answers. Donald Hall, for example, writes poems to grieve the loss of his wife.

Modern Alchemy is about how the wizards do what they do. In one article, Beb Burtt explains how he made the sound effects for Star Wars.

The Cultivated and the Wild deals with nature in art. I particularly liked the section on Julie Bargmann where she goes into ecological wastelands, landscapes them, cultivates them, and heals them.

Going Home is about place, and here the standout is Alexander Payne and his love of Omaha.

Imagination's Wellspring is the section that comes closest to fulfilling the promise of the book's subtitle. Richard Ford tells about how events from his childhood (including a very disturbing incident with the family cat) made their way into his novels.

The remaining sections are: Mothers and Fathers, Creative Parners, Rewaeaving A Shattered World, and, my favorite, Getting to Work.

The only downside is that most of these bios are very short, 3-4 pages. Each feels a little rushed. I find it charming that the book starts and ends with Chuck Close. Overall, very good.
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Format: Hardcover
In response to the Ann Arbor Reader's dissatisfaction with the depth (or lack of it) in most of the interviews, I'd heartily recommend the dozen-plus accumulated volumes of the "Paris Review Interviews" series, for vastly deeper insights into the creative lives and m.o.'s of at least the fiction writers of the creative pantheon.

I'd read -- devoured, actually -- the first three of these titles many years ago, when I received them as rewards for helping organize a university library purchase. Since the 1950's era of their publication I believe another ten or more have been issued, featuring more contemporary authors.

The Hemingway piece in the third (I believe) volume was probably the most interesting overall; many nice insights, and unlike when he responded to Fitzgerald's great characterization of the rich (see below), Papa didn't put his foot in his mouth once -- an embarassment hard to avoid when discussing creativity, it seems. And, he wrapped up with a nifty, Zenny aphorism.

Blaise Cendrars also said some neat things. I think he was the one who was the least attached to his role as an author -- "There are more important things in life than writing books!" was his take on the matter. But many, perhaps most, of the reviewed authors offered insights on the creative process to outshine most of the anecdotal material in the presently reviewed title.

For real insights into the creative process, you'd be well advised to peruse some of the top titles in my 500-volume, decade-in-the-building cognitive science-centered research library (I'm doing a publishable Ph.D. dissertation on deep structures of consciousness and solution system design, at work and in life --for Everyperson, yet!).
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