Because it naturally ignites the neurons that stir our imaginations. A snippet from a recent Facebook post by George C. Fraser says “Build your vocabulary by reading. The average American reads only one book a year. If you read one book a month, in 5 years the average American will have only read 5 books, you will have read 60 books. You will be smarter, have a bigger vocabulary and be a deeper thinker.”
I could not agree more. I’ve spent much of my time as a parent imprinting my love of reading upon my children. The logic I share with them is that being a better reader naturally makes you a better writer and speaker. How? Because when you read you’re storing all of those published people’s writing styles and concepts in your brain for future reference. So whenever you’re trying to turn a phrase more effectively, either in written or spoken form, you have all of that expert literary technique to pull from.
That’s another reason I really loved grad school. It wasn’t just about being a pencil and pixel jockey for my animated short film homework assignments. We did seriously deep reading and writing on the arts in general and animation in particular. I share this same point with my fellow creatives – especially the visual types – because we’re all storytellers, including those of us who don’t necessarily write or speak professionally. Even for us, solid reading habits inform visual art. If you don’t believe me, try a new habit. Consider taking your sketch pad to a library and read a book as a break from drawing. Whatever you’re reading will automatically drive you back to your sketch book with ideas from that piece of literature.
Other arts forms prove the value of consistent reading as well. Did you know that most feature films are not original ideas from the imaginations of directors? Fact is, the overwhelming majority of screenplays are book adaptations. So if reading inspires Hollywood directors’ best work then that’s sufficient precedent for the rest of us in the creative world to do the same.
For my musical artist friends the same tip applies for you as well. Those of you who are formally trained already know that reading music makes you a better instrumentalist or singer. You also know that reading music can translate into your being an arranger of other people’s music. I challenge you to elevate your musical talents by reading more literature in general as well. Why? Because the extra mental reference material can make you a more effective original composer (and lyricist) of your own ideas. And in terms of creativity that’s much more significant than merely re-scrambling other composers’ music into new arrangements.
Sadly, the proof of value of reading also explains the state of the rap genre as it relates to the musical arts. I remember reading an interview a few years ago of a Chicago rapper who realized and admitted that his music career was pretty much toast because of his limited vocabulary. Hope he’s done something about it. Although their public schools thoroughly suck, Chi-Town is definitely not lacking in public libraries with plenty of self educational opportunities for the citizenry. I know. I hung out in a bunch of the local libraries while I was in grad school. I saw a bunch of you in there reading with me.
Finally, here’s a career teaching point for you classroom instructors and fellow parents. If a child you know or love tells you they wish they could spend the rest of their lives getting paid to read, tell them with uber gusto, “You can kid. Be an artist.” There’s absolutely nothing better for me than drawing and reading all day, every day, for all the reasons mentioned above. I think you will find the value in adding regular reading to your artistic arsenal as well.