Think Like An Artist…and Lead a more Creative, Productive Life by Will Gompertz (Penguin Random House UK, 2015)

In this brilliant package of inspiration, BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz challenges us to think differently about our art and our world. For anyone who has ever doubted their artistic pathway, this book is a treatise of support, ready to be reread or flipped through in moments of uncertainty or confusion.

By analyzing the work of various artists and their processes, Gompertz encourages us to push beyond our artistic boundaries, to cross pollinate, to look outside traditional creativity, to take creative risks and, yes, to think about money and value our roles as artist-entrepreneurs.

After three decades of writing about artists, working with them, and studying their habits, Gompertz has managed to narrow down the essential overlapping ideas that make creatives successful. Using examples from Caravaggio to Marina Abramović to Ai Weiwei he outlines them in several broad “attitudes”.

If you want your art to be more innovative, this will shake up your thought processes and give you the courage to follow through. If you don’t think you’re very creative but you’d like to uncover a little creativity in daily life, this isn’t a ‘how to’ book but it will give you ideas to ponder and encouragement.

There is another enlightening message in this amiable book: Gompertz acknowledges the liberating effects of the digital revolution as well as the overwhelming anxieties of being constantly wired and concludes that creativity will matter more than ever in the future.

He gives us hope that we will find our way to financial success:

“Already, we are feeling threatened by this erosion of our liberties and intrusion into our lives. Our best response will be to do the one thing that no computer in the world can manage, which is to bring our imagination to bear. It is by being creative that we are likely to find contentment, purpose, and a place in our digitized aged.

“In the workplace, creativity will be increasingly highly prized and well remunerated. Which is good. But there’s more to it than that. The very act of making and creating is deeply satisfying, life-affirming and rewarding. Yes, it can be infuriating and at times disheartening, but nothing else can make you feel as truly alive and connected to the physical world as bringing your ideas to life. It is, I suppose, the ultimate affirmation of our humanness.”

“It is also an important and powerful form of self-expression. Why else would despotic dictators lock up poets and extremists destroy artefacts? They are frightened by ideas that oppose theirs, and threatened by those who can express them. Creativity matters. Now, more than ever.

“We live in a world full of urgent problems: climate change, terrorism and poverty, to name but three. We won’t resolve them with brawn; they are obstacles that we can only overcome by using our brains — when we are thinking like artists and not behaving like animals.”

It’s through Gompertz that I discovered my latest hero Theaster Gates, urban artist, recycler extraordinaire, city revivalist and philosopher of the margins. Gates is using his art and proceeds from his art to change urban planning, to rebuild his inner-city Chicago neighbourhood, to connect people, and focus on what he calls a “strategy of hope.”

Gompertz talks about Gates in the chapter “Artists are Enterprising”. He says: Gates “embodies [Andy] Warhol’s mantra of good business being the best art. Business is Theaster’s art, and vice versa. He thinks ‘an artist’s power isn’t the ability to monetize a moment, the real power artists have is the capacity to change the world. There’s all these people on the world doing horrible acts of destruction — levelling mountain tops, creating wars — there’s got to be someone countering these acts of destruction with acts of creation’.”

What are some of the other attitudes Gompertz discusses in dedicated chapters? Artists Don’t Fail; Artists Steal; Artists Have a Point of View; Artists Are Brave; Artists Pause for Thought.

After I devoured this book, I found myself coming back to it again and again, reading chapters out of order, savouring the quotes and anecdotes, and filling my creative well.

I’ll leave you with this final thought from Gompertz on Picasso’s minimalism and how creativity is an act of copying, stealing and combining:

“Picasso is showing us that creativity isn’t about making additions: it is about making subtractions. Ideas need honing, simplifying and focusing….”

“The process our conscious and unconscious selves go through when editing, connecting and combining all that we know and feel into an original coherent thought happens over a period of time. It cannot be forced. It happens when we are awake and when we are asleep. It happens when we are thinking about something else entirely, or playing a game of tennis. It happens because a stimulus in our immediate surroundings — usually without our knowing or subsequent acknowledgement — has alerted our brain to make a connection, which has resulted in a combination being formed that joined all the dots into a perfectly realized, logically robust idea. What feels like divine inspiration is actually instinct.”

Think Like an Artist by Will Gompertz is more than just a book. It’s an entire support team for creatives.  Theaster Gates is pretty cool and a professor at the University of Chicago. Book Depository has great prices and free shipping.