Sunday, May 7, 2017

Creators by Paul Johnson (2006)

My previous posting includes a discussion about reading choices, and the comments for that posting include a discussion of the differences between "good" and "bad" writing. The posting and discussion have led me to pull from my bookshelves a copy of a book I read and reviewed for BookLoons in 2006; moreover, I have included a reprint of the review below, I am going to reread some sections of the book (and perhaps offer some specific postings based on some individual chapters), and I invite you to comment upon either the book review or the concept: artists as creators.
Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney 
Paul Johnson
(HarperCollins, 2006)

Paul Johnson - the celebrated journalist, historian, and author of many books including the personally recommended Intellectuals, The Birth of the Modern, and The Quest for God - once again challenges and delights inquisitive readers with Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney.

Johnson begins his book by presenting readers with the key questions: What does it mean to be a creator who transcends 'the proscribed parameters of art and leaves an indelible mark' on the stage of human history? Can we 'define this level of creativity, or explain it?' And if we 'cannot define it any more than we can define genius,' how shall we go about understanding creators and their contributions?

Johnson answers these questions - not through definition, explanation, or abstract analysis - but through a more effective, entertaining, and concrete strategy: illustration and example.

He gives us essays in which we meet (or, as may be the case for many readers, revisit) some of the greatest creators in the history of world culture: We encounter singular writers - Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, T. S. Eliot, Victor Hugo, and Mark Twain; we visit ground-breaking visual artists - Dürer, J. M. W. Turner, Picasso, and Hokusai; we meet up with imaginative innovators from a variety of other fields - musician and composer J. S. Bach; fashion designers Christóbal Balenciaga and Christian Dior; architects A. W. N. Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc; and cultural trendsetters and business geniuses Louis Comfort Tiffany and Walt Disney.

What distinguishes Johnson's essays most is the intellectual vigor of his research and observations, the impressive fluidity of his prose, and the ambitious boldness of the thematic premise which dominates Creators: Johnson's subjects (and the rest of the world's important creators) have become giants in their fields because of courage, curiosity, and industriousness; in fact, without the courage to overcome obstacles - the influences of antecedents, the oppression of cultural restraints, and the frustrations of socioeconomic barriers - and without the curiosity and industriousness to seek out new and different strategies for the creative expression to which they were completely committed, those who would strive to be uniquely significant creators would instead be doomed to mediocrity, banality, and redundancy.

Filled with keen insights, intellectual rigor, and lively prose, Creators is a book which I most highly recommend. But perhaps you are wondering if this book is really something you would enjoy. If you enjoy a reading experience that is marked by thought-provoking discoveries, and if you are interested in more thoroughly understanding the geniuses to whom we have throughout history consistently turned for enrichment and inspiration, then Creators is most assuredly a book you will want to read and share with others.


  1. Tim, this sounds like a fascinating discussion of the creative process and the influential creators throughout history.

    1. Paul Johnson is a great intellectual and writer!

  2. "impressive fluidity of his prose"... nice... sounds like a thought provoker and a knowledgeable guide to creativity; on to the tbr list it goes... tx

    1. He is an accessible intellectual, which doesn't happen in writing often enough.