‘Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney’, by Paul Johnson – review

CreatorsCreators by Paul Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kurt Vonnegut encouraged anyone dabbling in the act of creativity: “To practice art, no matter how well or badly, is to make your soul grow. So do it.” Accordingly, the art of creation is a noble act of finding a meaning of life in which man searches for his freedom of will and will to meaning by translating the principles of sentiments and reason that are universal in humankind to various forms of creativity, ranging from writing and painting to music and dance, and to even gardening and making people laugh. Such act of making something out of nothing requires Herculean feats of courage and spirit that serves as a sovereign remedy for the existential ills of everyday life, however ordinary or exceptional. Paul Johnson’s Creators, which looks into the bright side of clever, talented individuals contrary to his previously published Intellectuals in which he recounted the hypocrisy of historically famous intellectuals, presents his thesis: that we all have creative traits in us is our divine prerogative of humanity; and to produce works of the arts involves prodigies of courage as well as talent that is sublimated to the aesthetic expression of intellect and beauty, such as to be in the cases of luminous artists whose oeuvres marked their standing in literature, painting, and music.

Each chapter on each different artist draws up on the artist’s unyielding courage and creativity, which is a quintessential element of creative originality of outstanding quality. Johnson admits that an artist tends to be egotistical due to his extravagant faculty of creativity into which the artist pours out everything that is in him. An unusual degree of courage that is akin to physical courage of a soldier on the front is demanded of the artist unless he bows to the final enemy of creativity, such as age or increasing debility. Take Beethoven’s struggling against his deafness by using a toothbrush in his mouth to feel the tonality of each piano key while composing his immortal symphonies. Great impressionist painter Toulouse-Lautrec’s inherited disabilities and grotesque deformities as a result of hereditary inbreeding could not stop him from producing beautiful paintings with his triumphant willpower and courage until his death at the age of thirty-seven. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote incessantly despite his chronic illness due to his weak and unreliable lungs that eventually killed him in his early forties. Emily Dickinson wrote poetry without encouragement and public response, while David Hume failed to receive public recognition upon publishing Human Understanding. So did Anthony Trollope of The Macdermots of Bally Cloran that was neither reviewed nor sold of a single copy.

The life of an artist is full of peculiar aspects and strange satisfaction often spurred on by personal weaknesses, such as in the cases of Jane Austen and George Eliot whose real name was Mary Ann Evans. Both of the women led lonely and lugubrious lives without experiencing felicities of love and adulation by men despite their brilliant spirits and ingenious minds. Surely beauty was in their time and still is only skin-deep, but their plainness left them in spinsterhood and forced themselves to spur loneliness on writing that was the solace in which they could fall in love with the men they desired. In effect, the reader will learn that it was the courage to express their spirits and feminine aspiration to be loved that fed on their creativity. Also, self-awareness, careful nursing, and restricting of the talents and subject matters, rather than audacious rampant criticism of society in general in undisciplined tempest of words, were added to the wings of their creative spirits.

In light of the above, art is not genius but a work born of love and labor of its creator whose Herculean degree of courage and desire of expressing imaginations and intellect perform a painful but delightful feat of ingeniousness. Johnson avows that rational and professional methods of using skills, experiences, creative industriousness, and self-confidence are the ingredients to create the work of art. Also, he affirms the reader that there is no need to make a pact with the devil or perform a magical ceremony to invoke a creative spirit because inspiration comes from within. It is how to find it and reveal it like a hidden diamond in its most radiant luminescence. Written in common words devoid of academic locutions and once again his usual consummate narrative skills, this is Johnson’s another scintillating book to be acquainted with the human face of geniuses whose works have produced pleasure in our senses and minds.

The Diary of a Mad Legal Secretary by Eve Halliburton

The Diary of a Mad Legal SecretaryThe Diary of a Mad Legal Secretary by Eve Halliburton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen King said that people love reading about what others do for a living because it’s so entertaining and thrilling at the same time with subject matters being closed to the real world. It gives readers a sense of realism or verity in which we all are rooted because work is what ties to us in reality where we face existential absurdities in dealing with human imperfections in conjunction with performing demands imposed on our daily tasks at work.

Hence a story of a neurotic legal secretary who has good heart but is driven to a borderline madness by witnessing the idiosyncratic characters she encounters in the office: The bumptious boss, the snobbish lawyers and their ilk, the ingratiating and ruthless HR personnel, the pitiful and sometimes cunning co-workers. Reading this story is like watching a black comedy which induces both pathos and satirical comedic relief.  In fact, this diary seems to be more of a therapy journal in which the narrator purges out her hidden innermost feelings and emotions about her work and the people at it; it’s a Punch-like compendium of caricatures in word format.

Ms. Halliburton could have written this hilarious book as her memoir of a seasoned legal secretary in a prestigious Manhattan law firm. Or more likely than not, the author might have written this diary as a way of releasing her own stress and distress. For whatever reason it might be, Stephen King was right in saying that we enjoy stories of others in relation to their jobs because this book is easy to read and enjoyable, providing the reader with the kind of pleasure a Peeping Tom indulges in by peeking at what others do and feel about their work  with a telescope.