Review: Big Magic

I read this book a while back, but I find myself struggling with how I feel about it. So, bear with me and read through this post because I do think it is a book that a lot of people should read, especially those who want to live a creative life.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Before purchasing this book I had only heard about Elizabeth Gilbert because of Eat, Pray, Love., both the film and the book. Honestly, I did not read Eat, Pray, Love because I started watching the movie and I got bored halfway through it. However, the many great comments I’d heard about Big Magic made me curious enough to buy it as soon as I saw it on an airport shelf.

I have spent the last few days trying to figure out how to best describe this book, but I can’t seem to be able to come up with a decent summary. Big Magic is something between a self-help book, a memoir, an instruction manual and a sort-of-spiritual explanation for that phenomenon we call creativity. In it, Elizabeth Gilbert shares her journey as a writer, from her early struggles, to her current success.

The book is divided in six parts: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity, and Gilbert dedicates each part to tackle a specific issue or to tell us readers about her life. The bits where she shares her own experience are the ones I like the most, they are fresh, honest, inspiring, and sometimes very, very funny. My main problem with the book comes when Gilbert goes a little deeper. During those parts, the book leaves the memoir/self-help zone and enters the realm of spiritual-awareness that borders on the New age kind of thinking… which is definitely not my cup of tea. Gilbert proposes that, while ideas do not have a body, they possess consciousness and a will of their own. To her, ideas are entities that come down to us mortals, and, if we are willing to listen, they show us favor and let us work them out, or rather, they work us out, they make us. What I don’t like about those parts aren’t so much the beliefs themselves, but rather the fact that I can’t really tell whether she truly believes them or whether she is just trying to sound enlightened.

Lastly, I found myself profoundly disagreeing with Gilbert in two points:

  1. She argues strongly against pursuing a higher education in art. Anyone can make art, I understand that and I completely agree, but I do think it’s important to get an education (of any sort, for that matter) in order to get better at whatever it is that we like to do. It doesn’t matter how personal a calling may be, we need some sort of guidance, and a higher education does not only provide that, it also provides opportunity. Yes, you don’t have to go to university to study art to be a successful artist, but for Pete’s sake, if you can pay it, or have good chances of getting a good scholarship, then do it. Go learn something new and get to know other people who are looking for something similar.
  2. She says that art isn’t really necessary and that we should do it simply because we enjoy it. To me, art is perhaps one of the most important and necessary parts of human life. Not because it’s pretty and enjoyable, and we appreciate it and feel good about ourselves when we can talk about it. To me, art is necessary because it reflects who we are (both as individuals and as a society) and, at the same time, it makes us aware of who we are and shapes us into something different.

I can’t say I loved this book. In fact, I’m not even sure I liked it. What I do know, is that this is a must-read for anyone who aspires to live a creative life, even if they disagree with most of what Gilbert preaches.

  My edition:  Paperback, published in 2015 by Bloomsbury.
My edition: Paperback, published in 2015 by Bloomsbury.