My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Over ten years ago, Twyla Tharp, a prolific dance choreographer, penned The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. The book contains numerous detailed stories from Tharp’s career, along with quotes by artists, musicians, painters, writers and philosophers, all to illustrate Tharp’s advice about artistic habits. Tharp draws on her real-life interactions with people such as Billy Joel and Baryshnikov, and on quotes by creators such as Thomas Edison, Buster Keaton, John Updike, and Beethoven, to help show readers vivid, new ways to develop and inspire their artistic life. This book may be over ten years old, but I only recently read it, and I found Tharp’s words thoroughly modern. I would think that artists, old and young, could glean nuggets of gold from this book. The typography varies in size and color throughout, which I found refreshing and engaging. I sense that Tharp worked extensively with her editor to create a slick and well-organized book. There are only a few illustrations throughout. After each chapter, Tharp suggests exercises to encourage and help readers attain their creative goals.
I read this book over a period of eight weeks, but I can see how reading the entire book in a day or two might feel repetitive and overwhelming. With great detail, Tharp describes her preparations and challenges in the dance productions that she choreographed; the specifics are enlightening, but probably should be read in small doses.
After reading this book, my impression is that Tharp is a woman with a big ego (just check out her photograph on the book’s front cover, shown atop a ladder with a strict and imposing facial expression), not only about herself, but about dance. For example, she spends an embarrassing amount of time carefully analyzing a photograph of herself as a toddler. I realize that but for her ego, Tharp might not have been successful as she is; still, she seemingly lingers on her successes in overcoming challenges, and the bravado can be a turn-off. And there are numerous quotes likes this: “Dancing perhaps more than any other art form, has an energizing effect on people.” (Emphasis supplied.) But despite the occasional condescension and in-your-face confidence, Tharp managed to pull me in. There is an underlying aggressiveness and assertiveness in Tharp’s writing that is fascinating, even while it provokes.
In my favorite chapter, Tharp describes always using a box for each dance production she works on, and how that box contains all of the things and ideas for that production. In Evernote, I throw all my ideas into a cloud-based Notebook, for, say a blog idea. Tharp, though, uses an actual box, and clearly explains why and how it works for her. I can see how such a receptacle would be invaluable for someone like Tharp, who relies not just on sight, but music and touch to create art.
For anyone who wants a fresh and different take on artistic habits, I recommend this book. A dancer or choreographer would probably give this five stars. Four stars from me.