Many famed music producers are known for a particular sound that has its day. Rick Rubin is known for something else: creating a space where artists of all different genres and traditions can home in on who they really are and what they really offer. He has made a practice of helping people transcend their self-imposed expectations in order to reconnect with a state of innocence from which the surprising becomes inevitable. Over the years, as he has thought deeply about where creativity comes from and where it doesn't, he has learned that being an artist isn't about your specific output, it's about your relationship to the world.
His relentlessly positive message may help readers shed a few blood-pressure points and possibly suspend plans to jump off the nearest cliff ... Mr. Rubin starts on a high note, insisting that all of us have a creative streak ... While perpetual grousers might accuse Mr. Rubin of groping for progressive profundity, much of his thinking will appeal to traditionalist ears ... His greatest gift may be what he leaves out: all traces of the political caterwauling that pollutes every aspect of contemporary life. The exclusion is almost jarring. It’s as if he’s from outer space ... He’s also an easy read ... The Creative Act can be considered a work of transcendent literature, one that suggests the universe still smiles upon us despite all indications to the contrary.
[Rubin's] view of the creative process and the tools he provides for leading an artistic life are often head-scratching, convoluted, and contradictory. This is especially grating in the first half of the book, where he speaks most generally about making art ... The language he chooses to describe inspiration oscillates between spiritual and technobabble jargon ... He often abandons established vocabulary after a few pages. The metaphor he turns back to most often is perhaps the least appealing of them all: artists are vessels, their inspiration is the source, and there’s a filter in between which 'distills.' It sounds like copy lifted from a microbrewery tour and doesn’t do much to enlighten ... When he breaks out of these alienating images, he steers into even more bizarre territory ... Wading through these descriptions and stories, it eventually becomes clear where the disconnect is ... His essential skill is saying the things they need to hear at the times they need to hear them and creating the space they need to be in when they need to be in it. This is a one-on-one skill based on intuition. It is the opposite of the type of thing that makes a good book ... The Creative Act is most compelling when Rubin stops trying to offer multiple paths at once and starts writing about things he is more certain about ... Rubin fails his own standard twice: The Creative Act is bloated and missing its essence.
The Creative Act is...not an account of Rubin’s ripsnorting career, wrangling 36th takes out of entitled guitar heroes. It names no names. Rather, it is a distillation of the wisdom Rubin has accrued over decades of bringing records to fruition ... The Creative Act has just the right level of confident loftiness to provide succour and useful ways of recontextualising problems ... To a cynical reader, The Creative Act might feel like a series of self-actualising niceties. Until, that is, these are just the prompts you need to hear, when you need to hear them. I’ve underlined rather a lot.