Book Club: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Permission

Today we’re discussing part three of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book Big Magic, Permission

Permission was an interesting chapter. I wish I could start this post out on a more eloquent note, but sometimes you must state the obvious in order to move forward. So…it was interesting. Partly because the ideas presented within are so obvious. When you boil it all down, creativity should be something we all feel the freedom to express, except we as a society can’t seem to help placing barriers around it. And oh, those barriers are appealing! What is it about rules and regulations that makes them so irresistible? We tell ourselves that if we’re not talented at something we might as well stop. If we’re not destined for fame or fortune, then why even try? That if you want to be an artist, art school is the answer (as someone who actually went to art school — a for-real, draw-till-your-fingers-bleed art school — I believe that sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. As with most things, the real answer is more complicated than I believe even Gilbert can dissect).

We all have that thing we wish we could do, that thing we dream of doing, that we just won’t give ourselves permission to pursue. Last week, mere hours after completing my write-up on chapter 2, Enchantment, I came across a rather extraordinary story from AARP. I know, I’m just as surprised at the source as you are. It’s the story of Chris Donovan, a man well into his fifties who decided that, after spending 25 years as a telephone repairman, he was finally going to pursue his passion. His passion for designing women’s footwear. And we’re not talking clogs or sneakers. We’re talking extraordinary, sculptural works of art (you can watch the video here, and I highly recommend you do). After viewing his story, I couldn’t help but imagine what would have happened had this man never found the Courage to push past fear and welcome an idea, allowed himself to be utterly Enchanted with his own creativity, and given himself Permission to create, regardless of outcome. Probably, nothing would have happened — to you or I at least, we would be completely unaffected save for having one less inspiring YouTube video to watch. But for this man, the implications of having lived a life never exploring this idea could have been devastating.

We owe it to ourselves to grant permission to create. To get over the fact that our work may not ever see the inside of a museum, or even be hung on a gallery wall. Our songs may never be heard by anyone but a friend, but I think that’s OK.

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+ What will you give yourself permission to create this week? Please share in the comments and check back next week for part four of Big Magic.

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  1. I love how you guys do this book club series! I coincidentally just put up some book recommendations on my blog haha. I can’t wait for more :3

  2. This chapter was tough to swallow. As much as ienjoyed the first chapters of the book, I was put off by gilberts opinion on education. I personally pursued art in college and she seems to bash it. Everyone has a personal journey and path in life and Gilbert seems to think her path was more correct than others. This book should be more of a support system than a how to. Still will finish the book, hopefully she engages in a more positive direction through the rest of the book.

  3. I agree with the comments above. I don’t enjoy how Gilbert seems to use her life as the only way to pursue a creative career. I think having a creative day job helps keep your mind in that setting all the time instead of having to focus on just making money to get by.

  4. Blondes & Bagels, Audrey, and Liz — on the one hand I appreciate that Gilbert gives credit to those who work day jobs that have nothing to do with their passions while pursuing what they care most about in the off-hours, i agree with you that Gilbert seems to enjoy stripping those who pursued an art education of any credit that may be due to them. I don’t regret my choice to go to art school, I may not toil long hours in my studio anymore, but i believe the education I received there to be invaluable as well as the connections I made. This chapter was a difficult one for me to dissect and digest as well, especially after the positivity of the first three chapters.

  5. I agree with all of you so far, with one exception. I somewhat agree with Gilbert on the topic of arts education because of my own experience with it. I have a theatre degree, but what I learned at my university could’ve just as easily come from my own exploration. For example, my favorite piece I ever made was a play about my great-grandmother and great-grandfather’s love story, and it was created completely outside of my curriculum. (I’m currently playing with the idea of a sequel.) Oddly enough, I’d never written a play before or since, but it’s what I’m most confident with. I did it all on my own, in school or not, and I’m finding Gilbert’s encouragement to go out on my own, be fearless, and be self-educated to be inspiring. I often think I’ve wasted the only higher education I’ll ever be able to afford, but she’s telling me I haven’t because I can teach myself.

    I had a much harder time squaring away with the paradox of art being incredibly important and meaningful and also useless. That pill was a little harder for me to swallow in this chapter.

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