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The Art of Is


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About the Author

An improvisational violinist and the author of the classic work Free Play, Stephen Nachmanovitch, PhD, performs and teaches internationally at the intersections of multimedia, performing arts, ecology, and philosophy


"In an age of standardized packages and constrained choices, Stephen Nachmanovitch gives us The Art of Is, a refreshing encounter with how to improvise and be fully alive in the face of deadening habits of mind. The author is a musician and a teacher who has an uncanny ability to see and listen and help others do likewise. We are verbs, not nouns, he tells us, because we are ever in motion -- open to change and surprise. Like musicians who improvise together, human beings can break barriers: teaching, playing, creating, and being present to one another. In clear prose, Nachmanovitch effortlessly shows how people discover -- in themselves -- the sheer power to relate and endlessly adapt."
-- Jerry Brown, governor of California 1975-1982 and 2011-2018

"A beautiful book, full of power, full of life, written from the deep experience of an artist and a wise person."
-- Joan Halifax, abbot, Upaya Zen Center

"The Art of Is IS real ART! It is so lucid, grand, kind, easygoing, and deeply helpful, I could not stop reading it, even in time I did not 'have'! It is full of surprises, gems, and open-ended inspirations. It starts from the moment of Mahalia Jackson's startling outburst to MLK Jr., catapulting his "I have a dream" speech into the improvisation of a soaring liberation of the spirit that it was. Stephen Nachmanovitch takes us with him on his life-walk of love in music all over the world. He delivers us to a place of new vitality in our own lives where we more fully recognize the harmonies at hand. This is a lovely guidebook for our own journeys, helping us appreciate ourselves and each other as the precious human beings endowed with liberty and opportunity that we are!"
-- Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University, co-founder of Tibet House

"Stephen Nachmanovitch brings forty years of practicing improv to the page and offers a rich trove, hard-won and long-pondered. In graceful prose that reflects not only his talking the talk but walking the walk, he explores the art of being present. You'll finish the book enriched by his experiences studying under Zen masters and his mentor, the great polymath Gregory Bateson, and teaching aspiring improvisers all over the world."
-- Randy Fertel, author of A Taste for Chaos: The Art of Literary Improvisation

"Stephen Nachmanovitch beautifully reveals a world of communication and co-creation that is both new and ancient. To play in this realm of improvisation is to recognize the tenderness with which interdependence knows aloneness, and the way silence defines sound. The stories he tells show us that the complexity and simplicity of life itself exist in our interrelationships. These findings are laid out in this book with grace, humor, and careful articulation. Nachmanovitch makes it clear that the art of being human now is acutely tied into an improvisational way of being: making sense of ourselves, each other, and the natural world in ways that find new offerings within old patterns. It is to feel anew."
-- Nora Bateson, filmmaker, International Bateson Institute

"The Art of Is gives us a precious philosophical prescription for engaging the creative opportunities of our life as the greatest work of art."
-- Alex Grey, artist

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