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Book Review: The Meaning in the Making by Sean Tucker

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A Google search for “Creativity” will return over 2,600,000,000 results. Many of these results are books about creativity, which offer specific advice and actions to take in order to be creative now. The Meaning in the Making: The Why and How Behind Our Human Need to Create by Sean Tucker is different — very different.

Sean Tucker is a photographer, filmmaker, and YouTube creator based in the United Kingdom. His YouTube videos are less about photography tips and much more about the “why’s” of photography. I consider his videos to be “photography church” in that they encourage me to explore meanings and motivations in my work beyond the “hey, nice photo.” His book, The Meaning in the Making is much the same.

I mostly read this book in the mornings, as a meditative way to start the day. I would usually read (and highlight; lots of highlights!) one chapter a day to allow the words and thoughts to sink in more deeply and have time to tumble around inside my mind throughout the day.

Even though Sean Tucker is a photographer, The Meaning in the Making is not about photography. In fact, it only contains one photo and it’s on the cover. Instead, it offers a way to approach and consider why we individually and collectively create any form of art. Near the end of the first chapter, he sums up the “why” of creativity as this:

As human beings, we’re trying to describe what we collectively know, to create a sense of ‘safety in numbers’ as we stare into the void together. When we reach the end of our traditional descriptive powers, its time to weave collective meaning from poetry, painting, writing, dancing, photographing, filmmaking, storytelling, building, singing, animating, designing, baking, performing, painting, carving, sewing, sculpting, and a million other ways we daily create life out of Chaos and share it with each other for comfort.

A glimpse at the chapter titles sets the stage for a different take on creativity. Titles include: Order, Logos, Breath, Voice, Ego, Control, Attention, Envy, Critique, Feel, Shadows, Meaning, Time, and Benediction.

These titles reflect Sean’s past experience as a pastor and allow him to lean and leverage into his study and interest in psychology, philosophy, and spirituality.

Throughout the book, Sean shares stories from his personal and work life as examples of how he has experienced these topics and the lessons learned. The sharing of these stories, along with the poetic and contemplative prose, encourages the reader to explore their own experiences, motivations, and meanings on a deeper level.

The Meaning in the Making is mostly absent of specific tips or advice, with the exception of the chapter entitled, “Breath.” Here Sean offers some advice regarding inspiration — in-breathing.

If we take a couple of hours to go and sit by ourselves but are aware that the only reason we are doing so is that we need to find inspiration, that hyper-awareness of the problem we are trying to solve will keep us from empty, generative space.

And…

…human beings worked out a long time ago that a good walk and some alone time can shake new things loose.

I am deeply grateful for this book. There is much to wrestle with that will take time to personally unpack. My biggest takeaway from this book (so far!) is looking at why I’m creating from a perspective of “fulfillment” rather than “success.” I am already planning on re-reading this once a year (with a different color highlighter each year) around my birthday, as a way to reflect, remind and renew.


The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


About the author: Michael Sladek teaches digital photography at Highline College near Seattle, Washington. He enjoys dad jokes, doughnuts, and helping others discover the fun of creating photos they love. Stay connected with Michael on his website, YouTube channel, and Instagram.

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