On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity by Ellen J. Langer, New York: Ballantine Books, 2007. $13.
Langer (2007) is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of The Power of Mindful Learning and Mindfulness. In On Becoming an Artist, she looks at the intersection of creativity (especially in art) and research through both personal examples and empirical research. It covers topics such as mindful creativity, authenticity, evaluation, mistakes, rules and absolutes, social comparison, talent, knowing, passion, and how we make choices.
As she goes through the various aspects of what she calls mindful creativity, she provides both personal experiences in her growth as an artist (especially related to her painting) and examples of scientific studies. Her discussion of her and her colleagues’ research activities is refreshing in the simplified and easy to apply descriptions and connection to the topics that she discusses. Each of the mindful creative aspects that she describes is also connected to the topic of mindfulness and or its antithesis, mindlessness. She describes that mindlessness is something that we teach ourselves to do. That it is either through repetition (think of the autopilot that one might take over when going on a daily commute) and through not questioning and accepting the various things we hear or read (Langer, 2007).
Throughout the book, Langer (2007) regales a number of fascinating studies. For example, she discusses a study that she and Piper completed in 1987 that looks at the use of absolute versus conditional language and the impact that has on people.
While the specific application and examples of her writing are focused on the concept of mindful creativity and specifically on artists, the examples and concepts seem highly connected to other fields and other understandings of creativity. For example, looking at her discussion of evaluation she describes that:
“You’re in the midst of drawing and you make a mistake. There are four possible ways for you to think about what to do next. One, consider it a mistake and, since mistakes are intolerable, throw the drawing out. Two, consider the work you’ve put into the drawing thus far, take another look at the mistake, and conclude you’ll live with it. Three, try to fix the mistake so that everything is just as it was before you made it. Four, reconsider the mistake and decide to take advantage of it” (Langer, 2007, Effects of Evaluation, para. 2)
The fourth and final option could be directly related to the concept of interviewing clients for strengths and helping them to find ways of using the way that they have coped or dealt with difficult experiences and apply it to current planning (De Jonge & Miller, 1995). Langer’s book is a wonderful read, and even if you don’t plan on starting to do painting or other traditionally creative tasks it gives some interesting ideas about creativity.
De Jonge, P., & Miller, S. D. (1995). How to interview for client’s strengths. Social Work, 40(6), 729-736.
Langer, E. J., & Piper, A. I. (1987). The prevention of mindlessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(2), 280-287. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.520
Langer, E. J. (2007). On becoming an artist: Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity[Apple Books]. New York: Ballantine Books. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=419287221
This essay was originally posted as a part of the coursework for TSD 8125 - Creative Inquiry - Scholarship for the 21st Century at the California Institute of Integral Studies.