Brain Pickings

Spark: A Field Guide to How Creativity Works

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We’re fascinated by the origin of creativity and Kurt Andersen should know a thing or two about it. Co-founder of Spy magazine, host of Public Radio International’s iconic Studio 360, notoriously fired from New York magazine for sticking to his journalistic integrity, and founder of the most excellent Very Short List, he’s a paragon of cross-disciplinary creative entrepreneurship with just the right amount of cultural irreverence. His latest exploit, Spark: How Creativity Works, co-written with Studio 360 executive producer Julie Burstein, explores the nature of creativity through 10 years of Studio 360 insight into the drive, spirit and thinking of some of the most acclaimed artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers in contemporary culture.

[T]he deep threads I chose to follow as I arranged the chapters of this book can be found, as we said when we began Studio 360, ‘where art and real life collide.’ Perhaps even more aptly, they are where we experience the oscillation between art and life.” ~ Kurt Andersen

Rather than the procedural how-to approach the title somewhat misleadingly implies, the book paints a connect-the-dots portrait of the creative mindset through 38 diverse and fascinating Studio 360 guests, including Chuck Close, Isabella Allende, Yo-Yo Ma, Robert Plant and Kevin Bacon. Each of the nine chapters tackles a different facet of the creative process and lifestyle, from how autobiographical memory translates into creative output to what drives people to create, through personal accounts, unexpected anecdotes and dinner-party-worthy factoids like why Robert Plant recorded in Nashville or how the sound effects of Star Wars were made.

Ultimately, Spark is less of a handbook on how to be creative than it is an encyclopedia of inspiration plucked from today’s most revered creators, leaving you not with a one-size-fits-all blueprint to creativity but with a petri dish of eclectic insights for you to distill, cross-pollinate and fertilize into a richer understanding of your own creative life.

Thanks, Julia

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