The Creative Habit is about two things: the first is that artists live disciplined creative lives and the second is that all successful people lead disciplined creative lives. Teaching through example (the making of Movin' Out) and case studies (Beethoven's morning walks), Tharp identifies a process of creativity (actually creative work): ritual, research, the power of memory, the place of failure and accident, etc. Some will resonate more than others, but throughout Tharp is thoughtful and entertaining. She's a breezy stylist with just enough self-deprecating asides to keep herself honest. The sections on dance are the most rewarding, written with both passion and an almost unlimited trove of stories (Merce Cunningham's loft, Martha Graham's arthritis, Jerome Robbins' advice).
But The Creative Habit is a lot more than entertaining stories and helpful tips. Whether she knows it or not (I'm guessing she does), Tharp is creating a philophy of life here that revolves around the importance of intelligence, work, and moving forward. If putting those words in the same sentence seems nostalgic, don't bet on it. Tharp believes in the future and her book is not simply for artists, but for anyone who believes that the greatest satisfaction in life comes from defining personal truths through reflection, action, and positive change. Like any way of life, Tharp's has its assumptions: that hard work is the foundation of all virtue and that true good is found in the new. The first is conventional wisdom, the second is the confession of a die-hard modernist, someone who knows (in her bones) that innovation is always progress and progress is always good. That's not an easy position to sustain in 2003, but if we're going to make 2004 even remotely better, it's the only one.