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This book is about the inner sources of spontaneous creation. It is about where art in the widest sense comes from. It is about why we create and what we learn when we do. It is about the flow of unhindered creative energy: the joy of making art in all its varied forms. Free Play is directed toward people in any field who want to contact, honor, and strengthen their own cr This book is about the inner sources of spontaneous creation. It is about where art in the widest sense comes from. It is about why we create and what we learn when we do. It is about the flow of unhindered creative energy: the joy of making art in all its varied forms. Free Play is directed toward people in any field who want to contact, honor, and strengthen their own creative powers. It integrates material from a wide variety of sources among the arts, sciences, and spiritual traditions of humanity. Filled with unusual quotes, amusing and illuminating anecdotes, and original metaphors, it reveals how inspiration arises within us, how that inspiration may be blocked, derailed or obscured by certain unavoidable facts of life, and how finally it can be liberated - how we can be liberated - to speak or sing, write or paint, dance or play, with our own authentic voice. The whole enterprise of improvisation in life and art, of recovering free play and awakening creativity, is about being true to ourselves and our visions. It brings us into direct, active contact with boundless creative energies that we may not even know we had.


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This book is about the inner sources of spontaneous creation. It is about where art in the widest sense comes from. It is about why we create and what we learn when we do. It is about the flow of unhindered creative energy: the joy of making art in all its varied forms. Free Play is directed toward people in any field who want to contact, honor, and strengthen their own cr This book is about the inner sources of spontaneous creation. It is about where art in the widest sense comes from. It is about why we create and what we learn when we do. It is about the flow of unhindered creative energy: the joy of making art in all its varied forms. Free Play is directed toward people in any field who want to contact, honor, and strengthen their own creative powers. It integrates material from a wide variety of sources among the arts, sciences, and spiritual traditions of humanity. Filled with unusual quotes, amusing and illuminating anecdotes, and original metaphors, it reveals how inspiration arises within us, how that inspiration may be blocked, derailed or obscured by certain unavoidable facts of life, and how finally it can be liberated - how we can be liberated - to speak or sing, write or paint, dance or play, with our own authentic voice. The whole enterprise of improvisation in life and art, of recovering free play and awakening creativity, is about being true to ourselves and our visions. It brings us into direct, active contact with boundless creative energies that we may not even know we had.

30 review for Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

  1. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    The right book at the right time saves lives. Man, you can say that about Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. The thing about play in art, is it's a sign of strength to spare, wind to spare, like someone running a marathon who breaks out into a pirouette. Sometimes working on a long project, the task just seems monstrous--like trying to build a gothic cathedral all by yourself. This book is a reminder, for a writer in long form, that it's not stone on stone, a heavy, exhausting thing. That The right book at the right time saves lives. Man, you can say that about Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. The thing about play in art, is it's a sign of strength to spare, wind to spare, like someone running a marathon who breaks out into a pirouette. Sometimes working on a long project, the task just seems monstrous--like trying to build a gothic cathedral all by yourself. This book is a reminder, for a writer in long form, that it's not stone on stone, a heavy, exhausting thing. That play, like the free jazz that the violinist author Nachmanovitch loves, makes heavy work light. That there are other ways to solve problems, other ways to approach the page, and that improvisation, the lightness of it, the in-the-momentness of its playfulness, IS the 'air that falls through the net' that Neruda describes. ************************* Here's my favorite part so far-- on editing. "In producing large works… we are perforce taking the results of many inspirations and melding them together into a flowing structure that has its own integrity and endures through time…. We arrange them, cook them, render them down, digest them. We add, subtract, reframe, shift, break part, melt together. The play of revision and editing transforms the raw into the cooked. This is a whole art unto itself, of vision and revision, playing again with the half-baked products of our prior play. … "Editing must come from the same inspired joy and abandon as free improvisation…. There is a stereotyped belief that the muse in us acts from inspiration, while the editor in us acts from reason and judgment. But if we leave our imp or improviser out of the process, re-vision becomes impossible. If I see the paragraph I wrote last month as mere words on a page, they become dead and so do I… "Some elements of artistic editing: 1. deep feeling for the intentions beneath the surface; 2. sensual love of the language; 3. sense of elegance; and 4. ruthlessness. The first three can perhaps be summarized under the category of good taste, which involvers sensation, sense of balance and knowledge of the medium, leavened with an appropriate sense of outrageousness…." I will definitely put Free Play on the shelf right next to The Art Spirit within arm's reach of my writing desk, to remind me about the air that falls through the net. I can't be reminded of it enough.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nottyboy

    Did not get interesting until the middle, where there were some concrete suggestions on how to play around with limits, the interplay between creativity and judgement. The beginning and the end of the book are weakest, in my opinion. They are filled with too much pseudo-spiritual riffs, or get off track with rants against mainstream society, neither of which did much for me. All that said, I still think it was a worthwhile read for what was there regarding improvisation.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ganesh

    In the fall, I discovered this book in my boyfriend's apartment. As I was falling in love, this excerpt resonated deeply with me: "Though love is a material act (whether sexual love, friendship, parenting, or any other kind of devotion, love is always an act), it lifts us out of the ordinary world into a kind of mystic participation with one another. We tune, more and more finely, our capacity to sense the other person's subtleties. We are willing to be infinitely patient and persevering. In a se In the fall, I discovered this book in my boyfriend's apartment. As I was falling in love, this excerpt resonated deeply with me: "Though love is a material act (whether sexual love, friendship, parenting, or any other kind of devotion, love is always an act), it lifts us out of the ordinary world into a kind of mystic participation with one another. We tune, more and more finely, our capacity to sense the other person's subtleties. We are willing to be infinitely patient and persevering. In a sense, genius equals compassion, because both involve the infinite capacity for taking pains. The great lovers, the great world reformers and peacemakers, are those who have passed beyond their individual ego demands and are able to hear the cries of the world. The motive is not self-gratification, but gratification of a bigger being of which we are part. Genius and compassion signify a transcendent, painstaking thoroughness and attention to detail--taking the trouble to take care of our body and mind and everyone else's body and mind. This is exactly what we do when we set out on the adventure of loving another human being. We learn, the easy or the hard, to cultivate receptivity and mutual, expressive emancipation."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    This book really bothered me. I started out just disagreeing with the way things were worded. But by 3/4ths of the way through, I couldn't take it any more, and stopped reading. The book is poorly organized. It was missing structural guidelines such as transition paragraphs, or a general outline in the beginning. I didn't know where it was going. Many of the chapters seemed incomplete. But this was not the main thing that bothered me. I could have dealt with that. What pissed me off the most was This book really bothered me. I started out just disagreeing with the way things were worded. But by 3/4ths of the way through, I couldn't take it any more, and stopped reading. The book is poorly organized. It was missing structural guidelines such as transition paragraphs, or a general outline in the beginning. I didn't know where it was going. Many of the chapters seemed incomplete. But this was not the main thing that bothered me. I could have dealt with that. What pissed me off the most was Nachmanovitch's oppressive generalizations that where telling me how I felt and what I experienced as an improvisor. For example, he writes, "The most frustrating, agonizing part of creative work, and the one we grapple with every day in practice, is our encounter with the gap between what we feel and what we can express." How the fuck does he know what the most frustrating part of my work is?! And this happens over and over again. At one point he says that Beethoven's Battle Symphony was his "worst piece." Who the fuck is he to say what is Beethoven's worst piece, or my worst piece, or anyone's worst work? And who would read this and not be pissed off? All he had to do was instead write, "In my opinion, Beethoven's worst piece was...." That would have at least been bearable. It seemed that there was something assuming, or generalizing, or offensive to me as an improvisor in every paragraph, then soon it seemed like every sentence. Do not read this book. I hope that my anger over it doesn't lead you to read it out of curiosity. It is a terrible waste of paper.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Flissy

    A lot of things rang true with what I have come to believe about creativity and my own process. My number one creative mantra lately has been "All creative acts have value." Knitting, baking, drawing, dancing, doing yoga, making up silly songs to the cats... they all are equal in getting juice flowing, removing blocks, and revealing new things to incorporate in my art/dance/yoga. Another thing I found really interesting is that he stresses the importance of allowing your internal muse and intern A lot of things rang true with what I have come to believe about creativity and my own process. My number one creative mantra lately has been "All creative acts have value." Knitting, baking, drawing, dancing, doing yoga, making up silly songs to the cats... they all are equal in getting juice flowing, removing blocks, and revealing new things to incorporate in my art/dance/yoga. Another thing I found really interesting is that he stresses the importance of allowing your internal muse and internal editor to run parallel to each other. When the editor crosses the muses path, you can get blocked by negative inner dialogue, etc. BINGO. It's given me something to think about while I work out challenges in my dance, particularly.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Anna Granberg

    This is an interesting read on creativity and improvisation to come back to. I read it with pen in hand and highlighted the parts that spoke to me. If I reread, I feel like I might find other parts that capture me next time. Some parts of the book were too filled with spiritual flummery for my taste, and I didn't like that some is written like if it were the objective truth, even though it's the writer's opinion, theories and own experiences. The writing is also unnecessarily complicated, often I This is an interesting read on creativity and improvisation to come back to. I read it with pen in hand and highlighted the parts that spoke to me. If I reread, I feel like I might find other parts that capture me next time. Some parts of the book were too filled with spiritual flummery for my taste, and I didn't like that some is written like if it were the objective truth, even though it's the writer's opinion, theories and own experiences. The writing is also unnecessarily complicated, often I found I could rephrase a couple of paragraphs in just a sentence or two. Then I was like 'oh, was that what you meant, couldn't you just have said so!' But all in all I found it well worth reading.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Van Amburgh

    An essential read for anyone creative, and pairs well with The Artist’s Way; in fact, Nachmanovitch lays out some concepts around creativity much better than Julia Cameron does. Reading this is really helping me let go of music as a career so that I may regain it as a love and passion. It’s worth just reading it, but ultimately, it derails most of what I learned in school, and I can’t help wondering if I’d embodied this outlook sooner what my life would look like. Oh well!!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn McEntyre

    One of my favorite books. I've reread it several times, and referred to it often. An inspiring reminder of what it means to be awake to the moment and to receive its possibilities with gratitude and imagination.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

    During the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked in a bookstore that managed to survive the mega-chain onslaught and political shifts that killed off most of the independent literary stores and others such as the local specialist feminist and the Marxist/leftist book store as well as quite a few of the second hand stores. Across the road from us was another survivor, specialising in New Age and similar publications. Like many independents, we relied on the high turnover of a few titles to allow us During the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked in a bookstore that managed to survive the mega-chain onslaught and political shifts that killed off most of the independent literary stores and others such as the local specialist feminist and the Marxist/leftist book store as well as quite a few of the second hand stores. Across the road from us was another survivor, specialising in New Age and similar publications. Like many independents, we relied on the high turnover of a few titles to allow us to keep a broad set of literary and non-fiction books with a much lower turnover: now we’d call that a long tail. Every few weeks, at our regular staff meetings we’d discuss sections of the store we thought we’d like to know more about, and at most, if not every second of those, someone would observe that the ‘north west corner’ was a bit of a mystery, and we’d all nod, slightly perplexed by direction until we realised, this as the area labelled ‘self-help’ (although nowadays that is more likely to be ‘body, mind, spirit’ or some such (perhaps even popular psychology). In my case, not only was this corner of the store a mystery area, it also seemed like a big pile of hokum – truisms for the desperate bundled up inside usually some crudely articulated version of ‘Eastern’ mysticism as a foil for the weaknesses of the ‘West’ with its ‘alienating rationality’. All this meant that I was more than a little unsettled when, acting on the advice of a musician friend whose work I respect, I picked this up to find the publishers had classified it ‘self-help’: my retail bête noir. The book has many of the characteristics of the ‘self-help’ style, at least those few I have dabbled in – the breezy knowingness, the magpie approach to various ‘Eastern’ religious concepts, the step-by-step progress through the problems of our inner being. To his credit though, Nachmanovitch manages to avoid the ‘here’s the answer to everything’ tone of many in the genre, or the serial re-visioning and restatement of one idea in book after book after…... A key aspect of this ‘avoidance’ is that in his day job he seems to be a practitioner of the cultural/creative work that he is dealing with. And it here that my recommender-friend comes into the mix: Nachmanovitch, the violinist, has been recommended to me by a singer, and voice teacher. So, I read this adopting two standpoints: as a writer (OK, so academic writing but still that relies on a particular creative style), and as on who intermittently ventures into the scholarship of play (basing this on the title, Free Play). Of course, there is a whole bunch of play theories we call on but the one I kept coming back to is a set of ideas that sees almost anything as play if we approach it with the ‘right’ attitude – that is, an attitude of playfulness (a ludic disposition). We’ve all seen that, the ‘game’ that should be fun but is a dull grind – I see it all too often in sports matches – because the ‘players’ did not approach the game with a ludic expectation. A ludic attitude can make pretty much anything fun, but drawing on the work of one play scholar, the cultural historian Johan Huizinga, ludus is one aspect of play while the other paidia seen by French philosopher of play Roger Caillois as having four stages – disturbance, tumult, fantasy and imagination. By my reading, Nachmaovitch’s Free Play works best as paidia (there is an essay about this I have co-authored in a recent edited collection of philosophical papers). Adopting this standpoint gave me a basis on which to make sense of Nachmanovitch’s approach and when I cut through all the dressing of the tao and Buddha and other ‘Eastern’ spiritual trappings this is a pretty good book about a ludic disposition and the limitations placed on its enactment by the constraints of the ‘way things should be done’. (btw: as a non-believer I can see many of the same ‘overcoming alienation’ ideas deployed from these religions in forms of monotheism – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – and they’re not that mystical.) What is more, it is full of pretty sensible advice about ways to deal with diversions, distractions and barriers to creative work – be it music, visual or plastic art, sport, writing, dance or pretty much anything else where we need to allow ourselves to be absorbed. That said, the third section of the four that make up the book (‘Obstacles and Openings’), did in places get a little prescriptive, although without falling into the trap of lists or imperatives. Many years ago I recall sitting in my local pub with a (still) well-known poet. For some reason we’d got onto a long rambling discussion about organising cultural events – and I recall him saying that nothing was spontaneous, or rather that all spontaneity was rehearsed. Throughout this book I found myself remembering that conversation of over 35 years ago and realised that Nachmanovitch was explaining the rehearsal than Sam (the poet) had identified as the basis of successful spontaneity. What’s more, he manages to avoid the psycho-babble of so much of the current writing on creativity, but alas he remains stuck in an individualising discourse (there is little here about collective work and stimulating environments) but even with those limitations I expect I’ll be coming back to this quite regularly – even if it is to do more (or less) than seek inspiration for tasks for my students, who seem to park their ludus at the door.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    I read this book at least twice. It worked. I was trying to be a serious musician and artist; I'd just discovered that I loved writing. I wish I could remember more, but there was something about the description of the human need to create though improvisation (play) that resonated with me. I might just have to read it again.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    This is one of my favorit books! I go back to it often when I need a reminder about the role of play and creativity in life. This book is filled with stories, and lessons about the bigs and smalls of life. The take home message is: Relax, and bring play and into all aspects of life!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Man do I love this book. No really. I've read it four times at different points in my life and each time I find something new and awesome. If, for some reason, you want to know my philosophy on creativity and the purpose of art, this is the book to start with.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    If you are an artist of any sort, read this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marydanielle

    I have several guidebooks for living and this is one of my most precious. I've shared it, relied upon it, and re-read it. Interestingly, though it is by a musician, it is very apt and helpful in any field of endeavor. When I first read it I was working in a law office and had to design little interactive macros for legal documents so that attorneys could use their computers more easily and this book helped me do that. It has also helped me design my garden, decorate my house, find my way through I have several guidebooks for living and this is one of my most precious. I've shared it, relied upon it, and re-read it. Interestingly, though it is by a musician, it is very apt and helpful in any field of endeavor. When I first read it I was working in a law office and had to design little interactive macros for legal documents so that attorneys could use their computers more easily and this book helped me do that. It has also helped me design my garden, decorate my house, find my way through a variety of puzzling projects, as well as allowed me to give good advice to my friends who find themselves confused and stuck. I recently recommended it to a person who works in the sciences and she found it helped her work through a difficult task she was confronted with. The concept that life is improvisation is very liberating, but it also is a challenge - it gives you a sense of agency and creative license - but maybe a sense of responsibility too, in a lovely way. The book is filled with the wisdom of philosophers and artists, so I always feel when I'm reading it that I've been immersed in an ongoing conversation with the greatest creative thinkers from all over the world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tine!

    Another book representative of my recently-favourite genre: "genre-less". Yes, it's sold as an improv skill-booster, but Nachmanovitch dips into every circle of the human hell and ties the ends together neatly with a taut viola string. When I mentioned to the friend who let me borrow this book ("it's meant to be passed around") that this was the author's only published book, he shrugged and riffed, "he said it all". Truth. Unfortunately, as the author is wailing away with his handsaw of personal Another book representative of my recently-favourite genre: "genre-less". Yes, it's sold as an improv skill-booster, but Nachmanovitch dips into every circle of the human hell and ties the ends together neatly with a taut viola string. When I mentioned to the friend who let me borrow this book ("it's meant to be passed around") that this was the author's only published book, he shrugged and riffed, "he said it all". Truth. Unfortunately, as the author is wailing away with his handsaw of personal experience into the fat tree trunk of collective experience, getting closer and closer to the core, I realized that I could read as many books about the incomprehensibility of life as I like and never have the "divine experience" myself: we can only ever allude with these imperfect words. Still, a great read, if you're into it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Sasaki

    I read this book back in 2002 when I aspired to be a roving, down-and-out, bohemian novelist. I remember staying up late into the night underlining passages that felt like a clear expression of a worldview I had never considered. Nachmanovitch asks us to treat every moment of our lives as an input to a creative project: be it a painting, a short story, a computer program, or a story to be re-told. As I look back over my journals from that time of life, I constantly carried creative inspiration. M I read this book back in 2002 when I aspired to be a roving, down-and-out, bohemian novelist. I remember staying up late into the night underlining passages that felt like a clear expression of a worldview I had never considered. Nachmanovitch asks us to treat every moment of our lives as an input to a creative project: be it a painting, a short story, a computer program, or a story to be re-told. As I look back over my journals from that time of life, I constantly carried creative inspiration. My journals were filled with drawings of homes and cabins I would one day build, outlines of stories I would one day write, some photographic motif to explore, sketches of coffee shops I no longer remember. Now I occasionally feel the creative impulse come back to me after, say, visiting a museum, but I'm far from the book's appealing ideal of treating life as clay with which to shape art.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    "A poetic embrace for the role that muse plays...beyond art. A refreshing balance to reductionist efforts to simply map our way into uncovering the mystery of creativity. People interested in "the five steps to improving your creativity" will find this book highly unsatisfying. People who are intimately familiar with the angst of bringing the new into the world will recognize the undercurrents of brilliance and frustration that coexist with any true new undertaking or inspirational voyage. Message "A poetic embrace for the role that muse plays...beyond art. A refreshing balance to reductionist efforts to simply map our way into uncovering the mystery of creativity. People interested in "the five steps to improving your creativity" will find this book highly unsatisfying. People who are intimately familiar with the angst of bringing the new into the world will recognize the undercurrents of brilliance and frustration that coexist with any true new undertaking or inspirational voyage. Message with a broader relevance? Inspiration, creativity and discovery are made richer with complexity of experience and perspectives. The tension comes from trying to reduce the complexity to a pure, simple explanation that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    Philosophy of improvisation--cool. The author is an expert in about 85 million different fields, and it helps him write a truly interdisciplinary book that will have some relevance to just about anyone. I only got half-way through this before returning it to the library. I plan to buy it; it's way too dense to read through quickly. The writing is clear, there are just too many ideas in this little book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Beth Bacon

    This book ruminates on the nature of creative genius and proposes that we all have genius in us, if we just transcend rational selfhood, express that unbounded expression, and translate it back out through practiced craft. He doesn't tell us exactly how to "transfer this receptivity, compassion, and free flow of mind to everyone and everything we touch" (p. 169) but it's inspiring to know that free flow is possible for all of us.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Luisa Asiul

    A fine little book that I suspect I will come back to time and time again. Creation is hard work and Nachmanovitch will not do your heavy lifting for you, but he will point you to the moon (even—perhaps especially—if you have seen it before).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Lopes

    This is about creativity and improvisation in general. It is mostly about music and I am a painter, but it still managed to become the most influential book on the manner I establish project goals and strategy in my work.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jmaynard9221

    I need to read this again and again, with a highlighter in my pocket. It will be ragged and torn by the time I am 32. This book is wonderful.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The most comprehensive book on creativity and improvisation. This will truly unlock the child-like creativity in all of us :)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dennis

    One of the best books I read on creativity.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Terri R

    Love the book. The book has taught me to turn discipline and learning into an adventure--- and in fact helped me become a better chef and hostess by preparing and the being playful.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    a must read for anyone who wants to develop their creativity. i read this book in college and have revisited it multiple times.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Susan Richards

    Free Play is wonderful to re-read, or to just revisit some of my underlinings. It continually speaks to me anew. It is always a source of inspiration.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sheldon Russell

    This is a powerful book, the kind of book that requires more than a single reading. I'll be back.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Louie van Bommel

    Whether you paint, write, or play, you'll find endless insight and motivation well worthy of multiple reads.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Rizzo

    I refer back to the concepts in this book again and again.

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