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Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,238 ratings  ·  171 reviews
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

Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 1st 1991 by Tarcherperigee (first published January 11th 1990)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  2,238 ratings  ·  171 reviews

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Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 03, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: creativity
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
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: play
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
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 ...more
Blaine Snow
Mar 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
Two names sum up my my review of this fantastic book: Keith Jarrett and Gregory Bateson... well OK, and the fact that Nachmanovitch weaves together wisdom threads East and West, ancient and modern, in the arts and sciences to create this little masterwork on creativity. But if you know these two giants of creativity, you'll already know a lot about this book.

Keith Jarrett's life and work are a perfect example of Free Play in art music (jazz and classical) and Gregory Bateson's life and work (hi
Anna Granberg
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Rachel Van Amburgh
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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!!
Marilyn McEntyre
Jul 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-craft
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.
Sep 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: To all artist, and anyone who loves to play!
Shelves: spiritual
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!
Mar 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jul 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If you are an artist of any sort, read this book.
Sungbin Kim
Jan 09, 2022 rated it really liked it
The theme of this book is that, for art, the process is more important than the result. Evolution is a "process" by which nature creates, and it models all arts. Everything is art when it becomes "play." Play is an activity that is an "end in itself" rather than a means. Play without rules does not produce art, so artists "practice" their craft and learn its rules. Too much practice can impede creativity, so artists should regard every practice as a "performance." The mathematicians' definition ...more
Lyndon Goodacre
Jun 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
"We now find ourselves, as individuals, as nation-states, and as a species, involved in a period of intense and often bewildering transformation. The systems of government, production, culture, thought, and perception to which we have become accustomed and that have functioned for so long are not working. This presents us with a challenge. We can cling to that which is passing, or has already passed, or we can remain accessible to - even surrender to - the creative process, without insisting tha ...more
Carolina Pinto
Apr 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
a good prespective about the creative process. however, it felt a bit like a too romanticized ideia, it gave me the sensation that almost everything in art must be about pleasure. At times I felt that I was doing all wrong because creation in me is sometimes truly painful. It is a good book, it is the opinion of a person about improvisation and about art and of course with value.
Andy Vanderford
Jan 26, 2022 rated it it was ok
Apr 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tine! by: Christov Churchward
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 ...more
David Sasaki
Jan 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
"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.

Mar 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Beth Bacon
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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. ...more
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
Surrendering to complexity and uncertain beauty ahead is encouraging. It takes stillness to let all the noisy signals to die. Most overwhelmed feelings stem from a discrepancy of resources(capability, team) and the challenge.

Revisit the book when I need inspiration for creating beauty. The book reminds me of the film Soul by Pixar.
Luisa Asiul
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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).
Mauricio Lopes
Dec 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
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.
Jun 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Jmaynard9221 by: Daphna <3 <3 !!
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.
Dec 25, 2008 added it
The most comprehensive book on creativity and improvisation. This will truly unlock the child-like creativity in all of us :)
Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
One of the best books I read on creativity.
Terri R
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
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