4 Books for the Creative Mind

I thoroughly enjoy reading, and as a curator I constantly have to read in order to research and craft exhibitions... But research is not the only reason I read. From fiction to self-help, I read a variety of books with the intent of learning something new about myself or the world around me. So, in light of National Reading Month I wanted to share a few books that have helped me grow personally as well as professionally:


Title: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative (New York Times Bestseller)

Author: Austin Kleon

Summary: This book is about unlocking your artistic side and how to live and maintain a more creative life.


Biggest takeaways:


Embrace influence: Human civilization has been around for thousands of years, so the idea that something is 100% new is actually a bit far-fetched. At the same time, I do believe that no two things are exactly alike. So, as a creative you should not feel less-than if you put a new spin on something and call it your own. Take what I do for example - majority of the time, I’m not commissioning artwork to be created for my exhibitions/projects. I’m taking art that has already been created and presenting it in a new way.


Fake it ‘til, you make it: Although I hate this expression, Kleon gives it new life. In this book he writes that we should all be comfortable with the idea that at some point we’re going to have to do something we’ve never done before; and when that time arrives, you must have confidence in yourself and act as though you’ve faced the obstacle before. In life there will be many tasks you’ve never done before, but will be responsible for completing. And although I think you should always ask for help when you can, you should still be confident enough in yourself to take on these challenges.


The importance of side projects and hobbies: Even though our day-to-day lives can get crazy busy, having a side project (especially a creative one) can ease the pains of the everyday struggle. It gives you something constructive to look forward to and focus your energy on. Although these projects and hobbies come with their own set of priorities and commitments, they are important and you never know where they might take you…


Overall rating: 8/10.



Title: How to Win Friends & Influence People: The Only Book You Need to Lead You to Success (one of the highest selling books of all time)

Author: Dale Carnegie

Summary: This book provides tips and real-life examples that help to improve your communications skills.


Biggest takeaways:


Criticism is difficult: As a creative, receiving criticism can be tough because our creations are so personal to us - that’s one reason why many artists are afraid to perform on stage or exhibit their work in front of a large crowd. When we do receive criticisms we have to be able to put our ego to the side and look at it from the other person’s perspective. For the most part, people aren’t critiquing us because they want to be an a**hole - they’re giving us criticisms that will hopefully help us improve. That’s how you have to look at it. That way, when you respond you don’t end up looking like an a**hole that is trying to justify all of his/her actions.


Do your research before having a business meeting: Before you meet with someone you should know a little bit about him/her. For me, when I do a studio visits with an artist I'm interested in working with I always do things like: visit their website, read anything that has been published about them.. If I’m lucky, they’ll have an exhibition already up somewhere for me to visit. This shows dedication and that I actually care. They may not say it, but everyone wants to feel appreciated.


Admit when you are wrong, before someone else has a chance to call you out on it: This has actually been a huge asset to my communication. It shows a certain level of integrity, humility, and comfortability with not having all the answers. People can respect that - there is no shame in not knowing, so long as you are willing to learn.


Overall rating: 9/10. Being on the administration side of the art world, the advice this book provides can go a long way. Bottom line is this: whether you’re an artist, curator, gallerist, or whatever… If your communication sucks and you’re difficult to work with, people won’t like you and at some point that is going to cost you BIG TIME.



Title: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (New York Times Bestseller)

Author: Mark Manson

Summary: In 2018, this was the hottest book on the streets. It’s basically a millennial version of the 90s bestseller: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I also suggest reading). This self-help book speaks to how we should embrace adversity in our lives. It also provides questions and insights that help you learn about yourself.


Biggest takeaways:


You’re not supposed to be happy ALL the time: This was a huge theme throughout the book. Especially in this Instagram age where people only post the positive things in life, it's very easy to punish yourself for not feeling “happy” more often. In reality, there will be ups and downs every single day. Manson reminds us that it takes pain to appreciate pleasure. For me, back in 2017 off the heels of my biggest show at that time, I was living LARGE. I went through all the struggles and got my show poppin’, but then after some time passed I began to get frustrated and discouraged. I was ready for the next thing, but nothing was materializing. I would think to myself, “I thought that feeling of accomplishment was supposed to last! WHY AREN’T I HAPPY RIGHT NOW?!” So, I had to practice patience, put my head down, and continue to work. Then not too long afterwards the beginnings of my biggest independent show to date fell in my lap.


"You’re not special”: There’s a whole world going on out there - your problems are not specific to only you. Whether you’re unable to be creative at your job or your creations keep getting overlooked and people aren’t seeing your potential… Guess what? - YOUR PROBLEMS ARE NOT SPECIAL. At first it seems harsh, but this realization is actually very empowering, especially for a creative. By seeking out people that are facing the same issues as you, a support system can start to form. Creatives are usually open to helping other creatives. So, once you log onto Twitter and realize that everyone is having the same issues as you, you can take that next step and reach out to others for help.


“If you’re unwilling to fail, you’re unwilling to succeed”: Especially in the creative field, it takes guts to put yourself out there. But, if you don’t, how are you ever going to learn and improve? It’s super important to step out of your comfort zone and Manson provides some good advice as to how to do just that.


Overall rating: 9.5/10. This book makes you stop and think, “huh, I’ve never thought about it like that.” And that right there is what makes for a good book in my eyes. It has definitely made a difference in the way I look at certain things.



Title: Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons

Author: Lewis Schiff

Summary: This book breaks down what is truly needed to thoroughly handle business and gives examples from some of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the world.


Biggest takeaways:


Do what you love, but follow the money: As a creative it’s easy to just pour your blood, sweat, and tears into something and give it away for free. If you design clothes, you might just want to design something, give it to someone to wear, and then your payment is the satisfaction you receive when someone tells you they like it. That’s all well and good until it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, you’re hungry, and don’t have money to buy a $5 footlong. No matter what your path is, income MUST be part of the plan.

Ask others for help, so you can commit to what you do best: This is something that I have personally struggled with - sometimes when you’re running your own operation you become the CEO, CFO, manager, promoter, and janitor by default. Although you get used to doing this amount of work out of necessity, its difficult to maintain and you can spread yourself too thin. It’s important to build a team around you that can take on some of that workload. This gives you time to focus on the most important aspects.


“NO DEAL” must be an option: In business, having “no deal” as an option is the only way to guarantee that you will have a favorable outcome at the end of negotiations. At some point, you must be able to walk away from a deal, and you must decide what that point is BEFORE negotiations begin. Many creatives will jump at any and every opportunity that is presented to them no matter what. Unfortunately, sometimes these opportunities may not work out in your favor. For example, let’s say you are a filmmaker and someone wants you to show your film at their festival. You’re thinking, “This is great! I get to showcase my work to a new audience, I’ll get some accolades, etc.” Then, during the negotiation you find out that you have to pay for your plane ticket, food, and hotel, AND on top of that your movie is going to be one of eight films shown that night, so you really aren't even VIP. Now you’ve just spent all this time and money, and because of that you can’t pay for the next opportunity that comes your way (which might come in the form of a new camera or a bus ticket to a film festival that will actually pay for your room and board). In any negotiation you just have to value yourself and your work to the point where you will say ‘no’ if the price is not right (even when that price is really low).


Overall rating: 9/10. If I was ever to recommend a “business” book to a creative professional this would be the one. The author writes about a lot of art-related professionals such as artists, and art dealers, as well as mentioning cool stories about the founders of big companies like Kinkos and Virgin Mobile. He helps the reader think strategically about the future with little tidbits that can apply to everyday life.


Did you enjoy reading this? Let me know what you think! Would you read any of the books I wrote about? Are there any books you think I should look into reading? Hit me up on Instagram and let me know: @thomasjames.dc

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