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Learning From Others: Reviewing Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit

Learning from Others


I’m currently obsessed with habit. In part it’s because I’m living in a sea of chaos and the idea of habit gives me hope about controlling some small part of my future. Oh. Wait. Does that sound dire? Maybe. But beyond the dire, it’s also about understanding myself. A life without habits takes a LOT of energy. Having good habits conserves that energy and means you have energy left to try new things in your art. Maybe exercise once and awhile. It gives your brain room to work on new and difficult things. Who doesn’t want that?


It’s with these ideals that I opened Twyla Tharp’s, “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life.” Tharp knows a thing or two about living a creative life. Having started her career in 1965, she is one of America’s greatest choreographers. Tharp takes what her 50-year career has taught her and combines it with what she’s learned from looking at other greats like Mozart, and he hands that information to us by way of this book covering subject matter like the importance of rituals, accidents and embracing failure. The 243 pages are filled with great advice and each chapter ends with exercises to work through. Some of these exercise sections are a series of questions and it’s fascinating to see how Tharp herself answers them. TharpQuotes-LimitedResources

While Tharp is a choreographer and dancer, this book is a great read for all creatives. She uses music as an example as much if not more than dance but her ideas intentionally resonate across all art makers.


What I liked best about Tharp’s book is her no nonsense approach to creativity. To non creatives (and maybe even us creatives) there is a level of mysticism around creativity. We grow up in a culture that tells us that you either have it or you don’t. Tharp calls bullshit. She gives the example of Mozart. So sure, he wrote his first piece by age five and people love to talk of his natural talent.  Yet Tharp points out that that “natural talent” came from a musician practicing so much that his hands became deformed.

TharpQuotes-whitehot To some, this level of dedication (both Mozart's and the one Tharp lays out as her own) can seem daunting and definitely unglamorous. But that’s what I’m realizing is one of the main difference between artists and people who think they want to be artists. Artists understand that there is nothing glamorous about creating. It’s about showing up and doing the work. People who think they want to be artists still think there is glamor involved.


“The Creative Habit” is definitely a book I’d recommend to other working artists be they visual or otherwise. The writing is clean and clear and there are great ideas to ruminate on as you work to build your own creative habits. And it's definitely a book I'll be returning to to read again in the years ahead.

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