Art Lessons from The Beatles

by Kate Harper

Every once and awhile I read a book that completely stuns me with it's mastery and understanding of the creative journey. Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America by Jonathan Gould is one of them.

This book is not just a Beatles biography, but it describes in depth the creative leaps taken by the Beatles, their music arranger George Martin, and their manager Brian Epstein. And it reveals how they went beyond boundaries, and often "made it up" as they went along.

You might say all "6" of these men entered new territories and none of them knew exactly what kind of journey they were on.

The stories are engaging, such as one where George Martin cut up strips of recoded organ music with a pair of scissors, tossed the pieces all over the floor and then randomly pieced them all back together again. He used this patchwork creation in the song "For The benefit of Mr. Kite."

The author spent 20 years researching the creative history of the Beatles and he doesn't rely on hearsay or people's "changing memories," but rather goes back to historical documents, such as the articles that were written when Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released and broke new territory in the entire music world.

After this album, the jazz community started recognizing rock music as a serious place for "artistic expression," and soon the jazz publications, main stream magazines, and international newspapers were all writing about this album as being a revolution in rock music.

(This all sounds kind of funny today -- but then, these were significant events!)

The descriptions of the social climate the Beatles lived in is very vivid, putting their music into the middle of what was going on around it, such as British political scandals, American racial issues, fashion shifts, the London mod movement, and the Vietnam war.

And because the Beatles didn't have a clear vision of how to succeed in the music industry, they were lucky that Epstein, a local store manager, wanted to be more involved in the art community, so he offered to manage their band even though he had no experience. Like out of a bizarro comic strip, he used his family furniture store contacts to get them a recording session.

It was a real eye opener for me to witness (as if I were there) the stages that all 6 of these men went through, being driven by their passion...and it was not easy by any means.

We don't know what commitment is, until we've spent several years playing 6 hour sets of music in a foreign bar where we can't speak the language, and sometimes sleep on the floor next to the bathroom.

But for the rest us in the modern world, even with all our dazzling technology, it can still be convenient for us to give up on our passions when things get a little uncomfortable or someone rejects our artwork.

So maybe a more successful approach might be what the Beatles did: Try anything with nothing. People who do that tend to be the same ones who give the rest of the world great the Beatles. If it wasn't for the intense persistence they had among the craziest, most discouraging situations they were faced with, they may have just ended up being another blip on the screen.

After reading this book, I believe the Beatles' journey is also a roadmap for a designer's journey. What I learned was: Be willing to indulge your passion with gusto, don't do it alone, do it with other passionate people, and don't always expect to know where you're going because you might be creating a new path.

The long and winding road...It's getting better all the time.


Miss Rachel Hipps said...


My name is Rachel. I am photographer that lives in rural AZ, near a small town. My mother just suggested that I start a SMALL card business and sell them locally. I am now gathering info, and am SO happy that I came accros your blog!!

this would be a very simple card business... with just a local photograph on the front and a blank inside. these kinds of cards are pretty popular in the small town I live near. people love buying them for a good price and sending them to relatives.

I would LOVE it if you could shoot me an email here: with more information on how to start a small busines.

If I do get this going, it would just be selling them at the local produce store, hair salon, and/or, the farmer's market.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Kate. This is exactly what I needed to read. Keep on. Don't give up when it get hard!!

Andi Schroeder said...

I also have just discovered your website and blog and keep returning to it because I love what you have to say and all of your graphics... your website and blog are just....friendly and inviting in a creative sort of way.
I am trying to gain exposure for my greeting cards which up to this point have just been sold fairly locally. Can you give some suggestions?
Would love to hear from you, thanks so much. Andi

Mark Armstrong said...

A great book review and some very important reminders. Really enjoyed this post, many thanks!

Kate Harper said...

Thanks for the kind comments. Andi and Rachel: check out left sidebar link to Popular Articles: "Card Designer's How-to Articles."

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