Jessa Crispin, The Creative Tarot
I knew nothing about the Tarot before picking this up, but I’ve been interested in card decks and chance operations for a while (most notably Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies and the I Ching), and I’m a big fan of Jessa’s writing, so I gave it a go. Pulling cards quickly became one of my favorite things to do when stuck, and I’ve been using the book for most of the year.
I think about structure a ton when I’m reading books — I often find that a bad structure can sink pretty decent prose, and a great structure can elevate mediocre prose to something great. Luckily, this book has both great writing and a great structure: it’s split into three sections:
1) a history of the tarot;
2) the individual cards (incl. major and minor arcana)
3) how to do a reading
Each individual card chapter has its own structure: a brief description of the card, a general “reading” of the card, an anecdote about an creator in a situation that relates to the card, and then a “recommended materials” section at the end. So, whenever you pull a card, there’s some commentary, a story, and “paintings to study, books to read, music to listen to, films to watch, etc.” Really, really smart.
Jessa has a bunch of great thoughts about creativity and making art, so I’m gonna quote some of my favorite bits, below.
“We give things meaning by paying attention to them…”
…and so moving your attention from one thing to another can absolutely change your future. Exactly who or what is doing the work here—whether fate is choosing the card, or your unconscious, or random chance—doesn’t matter as much as the act of seeing, sensing and paying attention.
“I believe strongly in cross-pollination.”
I love this passage on self-education (would fit in under unschooling — Jessa, btw, didn’t go to college):
I think that writers should be inspired by visual art, filmmakers by music, sculptors by poetry and so on. I also believe that artists should know their artistic history and be knowledgeable about all the art the world has to offer. It not only inspires but also refines your senses and your skills. I push all of my clients to delve into the history of art as much as possible. Not only the art they are naturally drawn to but also—maybe even more importantly—to art that repels them. The goal is to educate themselves and to understand their own artistic lineage. Remember, a limited budget is not an obstacle to your education when there are libraries to supply these books and films, and online databases are available for visual art. I’ve listed a lot of individual paintings and artists here, and if they are unfamiliar to you, a simple search online will bring them up.
“An artist must find a balance between self-reliance and looking for approval from others.”
If you are too insular, your work can become self-indulgent, airless. However, if you are always looking for other people to tell you when you are doing good work, your work can become bland from trying to appeal to the widest possible audience.
You have to know when to not work.
It’s easy to mythologize musician Kurt Cobain or the poet Arthur Rimbaud, who drove themselves to extremes for their art and burned out or retired young as a result. Harder than that is to be someone who maintains sanity while producing genius work and who is able to keep working consistently over a long career… Part of that is knowing when not to work. There is a time for output but also a time for rest, for intake, for seeing what else the world has to offer.
“Draw one card every morning. Let it represent your day ahead.”
This was my favorite way to dive in:
…go about your day, but keep the card in your mind. Refer back to it from time to time—you can carry it in your pocket or put it up someplace where you can see it if you like. What happens during the day that reminds you of the card?
Filed under: my reading year 2016