The Creative Act Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: The Creative Act is an inspiring guide to making art as a consistent practice, informed by mindfulness and an open, playful way of being more so than by catering to the whims of the market.

Read in: 4 minutes

Favorite quote from the author:

The Creative Act Summary

In the early days of Rick Rubin‘s music career, you couldn’t just listen to any song you wanted, whenever you wanted. Music was analog, not digital.

Rubin would drive around the country, and whenever he got close to a radio station he liked, he tried tuning in to their frequency. Rubin would turn the knob to, say, 96.3, and if he hit it, voilà, music! Sometimes, however, the station’s radio waves wouldn’t come in fully. You’d only hear the music softly, or it would cut in and out.

Creativity works the same way, Rubin told Ryan Holiday on The Daily Stoic podcast. You can’t just tap in and out of your genius as you like — but if you keep the conditions right, sooner or later, a creative breakthrough is bound to occur.

You might not know Rubin, but his work you are familiar with. Have you ever heard an Eminem song? How about Jay-Z? What about Metallica, Linkin Park, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Maybe you’re into Johnny Cash. Rubin has produced music with all of these artists. Talk about a legendary client roster!

After a 40-year music career, Rubin finally published his first book, The Creative Act. In it, he shares everything he knows about making art.

Here are 3 lessons that will help you make things that are true to yourself while inspiring others around the world:

  1. To begin your creative journey in earnest, open your mind and let everything inspire you.
  2. When you first begin to create, keep the stakes low to not stifle your creativity.
  3. For more than any other reason, make art for art’s sake — it’s the only kind that has the power to shine.

Ready for your inner artist to start swinging the brush? Here we go!

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Download PDF

Lesson 1: Your creative journey begins when you open yourself up to inspiration from all sources.

In the surprisingly wisdom-packed kids’ movie Kung Fu Panda, Master Oogway teaches Master Sifu a lesson:  “Look at this tree, Sifu,” Oogway says. “I cannot make it blossom when it suits me, nor make it bear fruit before its time.” Sifu, however, insists: “But there are things we can control! I can control when the fruit will fall!” With that, Sifu hits the tree, and while a bunch of peaches fall down, most of them land on the floor — and one knocks him on his head.

According to Rick Rubin, we, too, are like peach trees, at least in our ideal state: When we neither resist it nor try to accelerate it, the force of creation will flow through us effortlessly. A peach tree is not in a hurry. It’s not trying hard to grow peaches. And it definitely doesn’t curse itself for being unworthy of its fruit. A peach tree simply grows, and once a year, a bunch of peaches will eventually be ready.

To embrace this effortless mindset of creation, try something simple but surprisingly hard: Stay open-minded as you go about your day. Smell the flowers on your way home. Stop to look at an interesting sign. Listen to the sounds of nature and people rather than playing music from your phone.

Only once you open yourself up to the creative forces flowing through the world will your artistic journey truly begin.

Lesson 2: Lower the stakes to get over your fear of making things.

As children, we’re excited about everything we make, no matter how inconsequential. We show sandcastles and crayon drawings to our parents, and before we can hear their opinion, we’re off to build the next thing.

Once we’re older, we’re used to stakes being high. We try to deliver our best performance every day, be it at work or in our household. Unfortunately, we transfer that attitude to art whenever we pick up the pen, brush, or guitar. We clamp up. Why is this so hard? It’s hard because we think we need to do well on our first try. But we don’t!

The first time you get back into the creativity game, lower the stakes. Don’t try to paint an amazing landscape. Just paint whatever comes to mind. Don’t hope to publish your first essay. Write it only for yourself, and allow yourself to delete it if you don’t like it.

Fun is the feeling that ends up making great art great, but if we’re too stressed about “doing well,” we lose our chance of imbuing our work with this emotion.

Don’t try so hard. Especially not early on. Craft a guilt-free creative space, and let it rip!

Lesson 3: We must make art for art’s sake. Anything else won’t work.

This is more of a philosophical point, but it captures Rick Rubin’s spirit well: “The purpose of art is to make art,” he believes. All we can do is make the best, most playful, most honest art we can make. The rest is out of our hands.

Will people like it? Can we get paid to do it again? What statement are we making to society? None of those things matter, Rubin thinks. When we create to serve a certain cause, we’ve corrupted our piece from the beginning. The end result will ring hollow — even a statue made of solid marble — because we were wearing our “pragmatic” hat instead of “inspired” one.

Ironically, many famous artworks that ended up changing the world — the Eiffel Tower, Harry Potter, Moby Dick — started out as passion projects. If dogged people insistent on seeing through their creative vision hadn’t pushed back against the current, the world wouldn’t know and love these works today. They made something they wanted to see, not something they thought the world would like, and that’s part of their charm.

When you make art, surrender. Give up anything you feel doesn’t truly belong into your creation, and let your inner artist speak their mind freely and honestly.

Make art for art’s sake, and no matter how bright (or not) your work shines across the globe, you’ll always be proud of what you’ve made.

The Creative Act Review

The Creative Act is an inspiring read from a true creativity veteran. While Rubin provides some actionable tips, this is a book you read for the feeling you get while turning from one page to the next. Soak up Rubin’s spirit, and let it fuel your magnum opus!

Who would I recommend our The Creative Act summary to?

The 15-year-old sketch artist, who is first brushing against authority in school, the 39-year-old product manager, who wonders if it’s too late to pursue her ballet dream, and anyone who has to fight to make something they want to see in the world just because.

Rate this book!
This book has an average rating of 4.4 based on 5 votes.

Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!