In this post, I share some of my favourite books on creativity. To see an extended list of recommendations on art, creative business, coaching, and more, view my Reading List.
To feed my interest in creativity, I’ve been committing some serious tsundoku (積ん読), buying books and letting them pile up unread on shelves, on floors, and on tables around my flat. As I work my way through the growing stacks, I’ll share a few of my favourites.
Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go
by Shaun McNiff
I’ve carried a dog-eared copy of this book with me for eleven years as I’ve moved between continents and countries. McNiff is an artist, lecturer, and art therapist. His writing is gentle and encouraging, offering examples and suggested exercises from his own work and process. Although it’s titled ‘an artist’s guide…’, it’s relevant for designers and anyone who makes things.
In his introduction, Korn asks, ‘why do we choose the spiritually, emotionally, and physically demanding work of bringing new objects into the world with creativity and skill?’ Later he suggests an answer when he writes, ‘we engage in the creative process to become more of whom we’d like to be and, just as important, to discover more of whom we might become. We may make things because we enjoy the process, but our underlying intent, inevitably, is self-transformation.’ See the final pages of the book for an excellent reading list.
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All
by David and Tom Kelley
If you ever tell me ‘I want to be a designer, but I’m not creative,’ I will recommend this book. Sometimes it’s mindset that holds us back from dedicating the time one needs to build skill. Brothers David and Tom Kelley of IDEO provide accessible and inspiring examples of successfully breaking through that barrier.
Within the first few pages of this book, I was pulled in by Harford’s telling of Keith Jarett and The Köln Concert. The best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album, nearly didn’t exist due to the accidental delivery a badly tuned piano in poor condition. This book celebrates the beauty and excellence that can emerge from our messy world.
by David Bohm
Bohm was a physicist and theorist. Over two decades, his writing explored the process of scientific discovery, the relationship between science and art, and perception as a creative act. This book is more academic than the others on this list, but it’s no less optimistic. It frames creativity as a subject with resonance far beyond self.
Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind
by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire
One of my favourites on this list, my copy is dog-eared and filled with sticky notes. This is a follow-up to a very popular article by Carolyn Gregoire, 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently. In the book, the authors focus on the top 10 behaviours of highly creative people. These include daydreaming, passion, imaginative play, openness to experience, sensitivity, and others. The habits suggest creativity is as much way of life, as it is a process of invention and making.