Book Review: The Artisan Soul

ARTISAN SOULThe Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art, by Erwin Raphael McMannus, HarperOne 2014. The book has been a national bestseller in both the religious and secular markets.

I read this book because it was assigned for an art group. I believe the leader chose it because he had read McManus’ book, Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul, in college and it had impacted him. I’m not sure I’m remembering that quite right.

Author Erwin MaMannus is an El Salvodorean who founded and is lead pastor of Mosaic, in LA. He grew up in Miami, Queens, and Raleigh, and was an activist for urban renewal, social justice, and racial reconciliation before making hte move to his second career of sorts as a fashion designer, film-maker, and actor. At some point a few years ago, his company experienced a hostile takeover and he lost it all. His bio–in the book and anywhere else I could find–seems vague in a bizarre way. Like instead of listing awards, you just get “many awards,” etc. I’m not saying I don’t believe him, just that I don’t feel like I’m getting the whole picture anywhere. I have seen reviews in line with mine that claim that McMannus is much better as a speaker/pastor/motivator than a writer, which I would totally believe, even though he has eight other books.

The language about him–on his books, on his website, etc.–is also a bit over the top for me. “An iconoclast.” “Futurist.” “Thought leader.” “Pens a manifesto.” “The beginning of a new renaissance.” Hmm… Have you ever even heard of the guy? Maybe so. At any rate, the whole thing strikes me as–although ardent–a little flaky.

The writing is mediocre, which often happens with self-help or religious non-fiction. One of his main issues is that there are not enough interesting stories or anecdotes. Just advice after advice, saying after saying, sound byte after sound byte. Also, his arguments do not follow a logical path, but amount to a number of disjointed platitudes. They sound good, but I was ready to demand more.

ERWIN MCMANNUSThen there’s this. I don’t actually agree with the thesis of this book: that we are all equally creative and are meant to live our lives creating. (It goes even further, as he names our lives as the real art of this artistic expression.) I just can’t agree. Some people have that genuine spark of the truly creative person, and it overflows into every area of their lives–way more than others will ever experience it. Some people’s hands just bloom creation, just like some people have green thumbs and some people can hardly speak without teaching or leading or whatever. My son has a sort of physical electricity about him. Sure, we are all meant to be physical, but he has a special gift of movement and inertia on his life. Creativity can be therapeutic, vital, or fun for everyone, but it just doesn’t hold the same space for everyone, and some people just get the same old tools and can go way farther with it. (Think of that person at camp who is given the same strings and knotting instructions, and while you make a crooked boondoggle, they come up with a rainbow macrame hammock.)

And if we’re talking about our creativity as as extension of God’s person-hood, I would be even more adamant about this. Each person has the flame of God inside, but we have different measures of His various attributes, which is why the church as the body of Christ or the married couple as the symbol of the relationship of God exists. Each person (and each gender) has different attributes in order to work best in unity and teach us about the whole Person of God. Some people are just more creative.

So, no, I didn’t love it. (Sorry, Sam.) I wouldn’t recommend it, although clearly I know some who would. And I did get a quite-long list of quotes.



“Yet what humanity needs most is for us to set creativity free from this singular category of the extraordinary and release it into the hands of the ordinary” (p4-5).

“Fear is the shadow of creativity” (p7).

“The creative act is inherently an act of courage” (p7).

“We fear because we were never intended to create apart from God” (p8).

“I can say as confidently about you as I can about Kim that there is nothing common or ordinary about you” (p11).

“The complexity is that we are both works of art and artists at work” (p13).

“Art finds its deepest value when it is the authentic expression of a deep human experience” (p18).

“Remember, we can create only out of who we are, and everything we create is a reflection of who we are” (p22).

“We begin when God exhales and we inhale” (p23).

“Everyone can have it exactly like they want it as long as they want it exactly the way it is” (p25).

“…but we must never lose sight of the fact that God never chooses to give up on us or put us on an assembly line and treat us as a commodity” (p31).

“The same God Who creates, re-creates. And that process of re-creation begins in our very souls” (p33).

“To pursue a dream is to invite a nightmare! To live a life of love is to know betrayal and loss” (p35).

“It is about embracing our creative power and responsibility to create the life and the world that our soul inspires us to imagine” (p36).

“The future is a creative act, and like any creative act, the tools are as essential as the process” (p36).

“He created us with imagination and curiosity, with the capacity to hope and dream, and He placed within us all the material necessary to live an extraordinarily creative life” (p37).

“Even an authentic creative journey begins with imitation” (p39).

“Words spoken into a soul are like the hands of a potter pressed into wet clay” (p41).

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the crises most people face are less because of their circumstances than because of the narrative inside” (p42).

“…but somewhere in your life someone told you that you were small and you believed you were small, and now you are playing smaller than you are” (p46).

“I love how God meets a need that Adam had no language for” (p55).

“Every other voice will either make us less than we are intended to be or convince us that we are more than we really are” (p26).

“My mind begins to reel when imagining what this world would look like if all of us believed our lives could become masterpieces” (p63).

“So much more important than being heard is having something to say” (p67).

“God is, however, profoundly misunderstood” (p71).

“I resolved a long time ago that truth exists only if there is someone who is trustworthy. The truth is an extension of someone who can be trusted” (p72).

“Truth is not a piece of information, but a person” (p72).

“We are interpreters” (p73).

“We don’t see people for who they are; we see them through the filter of everyone we’ve ever known. We don’t see circumstances as they are; we see them through the filter of everything we’ve ever experienced” (p73).

“If life is a work of art and life is to become our most creative act, then we must realize that our lives will be our most profound interpretation of what it truly means to be human” (p74).

“I have come to realize that if the artistic process demands anything from us, it is that the artist must always tell the truth” (p75).

“Something isn’t true unless it is both experienced and profoundly subjective” (p75).

“The role of the artist is partly to interpret the human story” (p76).

“A significant part of the artistic challenge is to go beyond interpreting human experience to be an interpreter of human possibility” (p76).

“Beyond despair there must always be hope; beyond betrayal there must be a story of forgiveness; beyond failure there must be a story of resilience” (p78).

“Remember, the artisan soul finds truth in essence, not in information” (p81).

“The reality is that our struggles and suffering give us the context to tell the greatest story of our lives” (p82).

“It is instead our remembered self that controls how we perceive and experience life” (p83).

“I could not change my experiences–what happened, happened–but I could change my focus and my interpretation” (p85).

“Though our experiences are real, we are more than those experiences” (p85).

“Why did this happen to me? This is where interpretation becomes humanity’s most powerful agent” (p85).

“We are never fully free until we have fully forgiven” (p86).

“Our great temptation in times like this is to assume the worst of ourselves, to assume the worst of others, and in the end to even assume the worst of God” (p88).

“It is Einstein who said, ‘There are two ways to live your life–one is as though nothing is a miracle and the other is as if everything is a miracle'” (p90).

“It’s that easy, you know–except that it’s not” (p145).

“The creative act is the genius of unleashing untapped potential and unseen beauty within the constraints and boundaries of the medium from which we choose to create” (p146).

“Part of the artistic process is understanding the rules under which mediums express themselves and learning how to work within them so as to materialize your imagination through them” (p146).

“Creativity not only happens within boundaries and limitations, but in fact it is dependent on those limitations” (p146).

“Creativity isn’t about finding the thirteenth note; it is about arranging twelve notes in a way the world has never experienced before” (p147).

“The colors we use to paint our own lives splash all over the souls of those who are close to us” (p151).

“We can live our lives in such a way that outside observers marvel at what we’ve created while we drown in our own emptiness” (p152).



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