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Book Review: The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit by Whitney Ferré

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Creativity is a difficult thing to cultivate, whether you believe yourself to be an artist or not. There have been many books about enhancing your creativity over the years. Of these, my favorite so far has been The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It takes a simple approach to brief field trips and exercises you can explore to stretch your artistic muscles, and the beauty of her approach is that it works across all disciplines – writing, drawing, painting, sculpture, and so on.

Whitney Ferré's book The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit takes a slightly different path, which I think might work better in a group setting rather than for an individual. I am fairly conservative but feel I have a fairly open mind, and though I appreciate what Ferré was trying to do, it didn't really work for me.

The first chapter works through the "Eight Principles of Design" to provide a foundation for the rest of the book. The eight principles are emphasis, balance, proportion, unity, harmony, contrast, rhythm, and repetition. And, as she says, these principles "are not the result of a panel of art academics who felt the need to create more rules… They have been used by artists for centuries to create paintings that successfully communicate their heart's desire, the natural beauty of a landscape, the spirit of a portrait, or the innate element of objects in a still life." These couple of sentences define for me what the book is all about – expressing yourself through a graphic artistic medium.

After that, I really found myself struggling to work through the exercises. I held on as she had me simply scribbling on paper (which is a great exercise for stress relief if you haven't tried it), but really started losing interest when I was supposed to find a "Personal Symbol" among the square, triangle, spiral, circle, and plus sign. This to me was similar to the notion that being born during a particular time of year ties a person to the behavioral pattern of an astrological sign. The power therein only works if you believe it does, and evidently I lost the faith early on in this book.

From there, she works through the eight principles of design a chapter at a time, using exercises like leaf rubbing, dream collages, clay charades, magazine mosaics, and so on. As I said earlier, I seriously feel that this book might work in a group setting – especially with children. But as an individual seeking to get "creatively fit," I couldn't get behind the "touchy-feely" aspects of the approach.

If you're looking for a book about inspiring your own creativity and aren't working in a group, I'd avoid Whitney Ferré's book The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit and look for The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. If you're looking at a book to serve as a pattern for an art class for children or adults, Ferré's book might be just what you're looking for, but it didn't work for me.

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Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!