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Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney (P.S.) Paperback – Bargain Price, May 1, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Having in a previous book filleted intellectuals, conservative historian Johnson happily embraces the canon in search of artistic heroes. In 13 biographical sketches covering six centuries, he describes the masters of literature (Shakespeare), painting (Dürer), music (Bach) and adornment (Tiffany). His own efforts as a painter (mentioned with great modesty) add poignancy to his admiration for artists like Turner and Hokusai. Johnson emphasizes the rarity of truly visionary artists, but this is not a particularly polemical book: his enthusiasm for the creators overrides his tendency to play the gadfly. For Johnson, true genius resides not merely in native creativity but also in curiosity and industriousness. Many of his subjects were tremendously ambitious and prolific, with exceptions like Jane Austen serving to illustrate this all the more. Creation, says Johnson, is above all a vocation—but it's also a business. It's striking that several of his subjects became quite wealthy—he is particularly impressed with the riches Picasso amassed. Johnson's historical skills exceed his talents as a critic, but his approach is unfailingly generous, and his sections on Hamlet and Austen are genuinely revealing. (Apr. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Creators is a splendidly idiosyncratic book, brooking no compromise and bristling with opinions." (Dominic Sandbrook, Evening Standard )

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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060930462
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,924,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a companion volume to Intellectuals (first published in 1988) in which Johnson focuses on a number of prominent as well as diverse intellectuals who include Rousseau, Shelley, Ibsen, Brecht, and Sartre. He proceeds in the same manner in Creators with his focus on an equally diverse group whose members include Chaucer, Bach, Austen, Eliot, and in Chapter 14, Picasso and Disney. Most of those who have already read one or more of Johnson's other works probably disagree with several of his opinions but no one can (or at least should) question the scope and depth of his erudition. Of course, the appeal and value of this book will depend almost entirely on each reader's own interests but I presume to suggest that this book be read in its entirety because several lesser known people (A.W.N. Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, for example) are far more interesting than I (at least) anticipated.

The title of the first chapter (i.e. "The Anatomy of Creative Courage") could well have served as the book's subtitle. Each of the 17 whom Johnson rigorously examines demonstrated throughout their lives and careers extraordinary courage when pursuing their visions despite all manner of barriers. "What can be said is that creation is always difficult. If it is worth doing at all, we can be sure it is hard to do. I cannot think of any instance in which it is accurate, let along fair, to use the word `facile.'" Johnson also suggests that "courage and creativity are linked, for all creation requires intellectual courage." Also when overcoming physical disabilities, as well as severe poverty, alienation, voluntary or involuntary isolation (often resulting in severe loneliness), and constant awareness of hardships which one's loved ones have been forced to share and endure.
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Format: Hardcover
There is a long line of books of lives and this is a quite interesting contribution to the genre. These kinds of books are not meant to be biographies as we know them today. This book has some points to make about the creative personality in its various manifestations over several centuries in many of the arts in the West. Yes, if you read a few dozen biographies you could get more in depth on each of the figures discussed here, but that would be a different project than Paul Johnson is after here.

The author wants us to see that the creative personality has certain tendencies, needs, and that society gains from this kind of individual even if there are also costs to those around him or her. There is also a vast range of personality. Some are healthy and vastly productive, others have a more restricted output, but still their contribution is large. Others have a toxic personality and then there is a full range in between. The real point here is to use these brief examinations of these creative artists to illustrate rather than to explain or provide some undergirding theory.

The chapters are arranged in a largely chronological order. This has some advantages in discussing artistic trends over time. Johnson includes authors and poets such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Hugo, Twain, and Eliot, but Dickens, the Br?ntes, and many other writers are discussed along the way as well. There are visual artists and architects beginning with D?rer, Turner, Hokusai, Pugin, le Duc, Tiffany, Picasso, and Disney. He also includes fashion designers Balenciaga and Dior with quite convincing observations for their inclusion.

Bach is the only musician given a chapter heading, but many other musicians are discussed along with Bach in his chapter.
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Format: Hardcover
If you've never read about the work and lives of these creators, you will like this book better than I did. For the most part, Mr. Johnson provides superficial details and makes very general judgments. If you read a standard biography of any of these people, you'll be more satisfied than with this book. But this book may give you an overview to find out which people you want to read more about.

For me, the most interesting parts came in the descriptions of Chaucer, Durer, Bach, Cassatt and Wagner. Who knew that Wagner used to beg money from people so he could live in luxury? Otherwise, he apparently had trouble writing operas. The characterization of Chaucer's contributions to language is inspired and intriguing. The book is filled with other similar dribs and drabs of fascinating details from the lives of monumental creators in the arts.

If you want to learn about how to be a creator, look elsewhere. This book is primarily historical and biographical rather than focused on the psychology and methodology of creativity.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author of "Creators", the historian-cum-journalist Paul Johnson, identifies the reasons why people such as Shakespeare, Bach, Turner, Pugin, Balenciaga ,Walt Disney and a few others, have been so outstanding and prolific in their respective arts and crafts. Talent of course is a necessary requisite but it is not enough. All those people were hardworking and loved their work. This love for their craft in turn led them not to be content with anything less than perfection. Besides, they were all innovators in their own manner: always searching for new ideas and novel ways of achieving the highest standards in their work.

The author devotes a chapter to each of these creators. There are all sorts of anecdotes illustrating their mastery. For example, Bach reached such heights at composing music for organ that the best organ makers asked him for advice as to how to build organs so that they could produce more beautiful sounds. Pugin died young at 41 but by then he had built several cathedrals and the Houses of Parliament -he made such good use of his time. Balenciaga not only made women look gorgeous in the dresses he designed and produced for them, but also made them feel comfortable in those dresses. T. S. Eliot was so shy that he needed a stimulating alcoholic drink to be able to start writing poetry. Picasso led modern art on a path away from nature while Disney sought his inspiration in nature, which he "surrealized" (to use a word coined by Johnson) in his films: the author surmises what tendency will have the last word.

The book is written with an elegant prose which is suffused with Johnson's incomparable knowledge of history and a flair for the revealing anecdote which only a seasoned journalist could have possibly recorded. "Creators" is thus well worth reading.
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