Book Review: Big Magic

185/365Confession time.

I am fan of Elizabeth Gilbert.

The first time I stumbled upon her work was when I was out on my own post-break up round the world adventure. Unfortunately, this was also the time that the movie Eat, Pray, Love came out and criticism of her writing was at its most shrill. The disproval by reviewers of taking a year out from life as being  shallow and narcissistic was a little too close to home.

It wasn’t until a year later that I stumbled up on her brilliant TED talk on creativity, that I realised that my reaction to the author was based on others perceptions of her than my own judgement.

Her most recent release, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is one of those books that isn’t specifically targeted at teachers and those in education. Yet Gilbert’s ideas on how to live a creative and fulfilling life is something that all educators should spend time pondering. Alongside teaching children how to think, we are also helping to shape them into the individuals they will be.

Gilbert breaks the living of a creative life around ‘big ideas’ – courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust and divinity.

One of the anecdotes that Gilbert shares early on is of a friend (yes, there are a lot of friends in her prose) who returns to the ice-skating in her 40s after leaving the sport in her teenage years when it was clear she didn’t have enough talent to keep up. If there’s one uncomfortable truth in education, it’s that for all the talk about educating ‘the whole child’ we often are very focused on getting kids through to the next level. When that doesn’t happen, often passions and interests that give great get shunted aside in pursuit of levelling up in other disciplines. Leaving people devoid of creative outlets they enjoyed as children – musical instruments get put down, dance shoes hung up and sports often are relinquished through the teenage years when it becomes apparent that the individual doesn’t have enough talent to succeed in that particular field.  If the aim of schooling is to educate people to know who they are, how is it that so many schooling graduates relinquish those joys so easily only to return to them later in life?

Making money is the obvious answer.

However rather than treading the well worn path of ‘follow your passion’ Gilbert is realistic that pursuing a career in the Arts isn’t going to pay the bills. Moreover if you start your life in debt, it might be something that your pursue informally however that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile if you gain enjoyment from it.  Gilbert’s motto might very well be ‘follow your passions but leave your options open, the world doesn’t owe you a living from your interests.’

And that hard part of creativity –  the rejection, lack of inspiration and at times public ridicule is something that we need to talk about more. To be curious often means to be wrong, in the context of constantly levelling up we don’t spend much time dwelling on the next assignment or unit with the kids.  However as educators we want our kids leaving school with the ability to live a “life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear” maybe we need to thinking more about how we handle living? What is it we want our students doing, being and thinking when they leave our schools?

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