Recommended Art Books


Mastery by Robert Greene - Book Review

Robert Greene
“Around the globe, people are facing the same problem – that we are born as individuals but are forced to conform to the rules of society if we want to succeed. To see our uniqueness expressed in our achievements, we must first learn the rules – and then how to change them completely.

Charles Darwin began as an underachieving schoolboy, Leonardo da Vinci as an illegitimate outcast. The secret of their eventual greatness lies in a ‘rigorous apprenticeship’: by paying close and careful attention, they learnt to master the ‘hidden codes’ which determine ultimate success or failure. Then, they rewrote the rules as a reflection of their own individuality, blasting previous patterns of achievement open from within.”

The above synopsis beautifully describes Mastery by Robert Greene, a thought provoking, inspiring and enlightening book. Robert Greene highlights how there is no secret to Mastery; it’s all about hard work. Artist Chris Oatley first introduced this book to me on his podcast; I made a note of it at the time, but it wasn’t until the end of 2014 that I finally got around to buying it. The book then sat on my shelf for a few months, until in March 2015 I randomly decided to start reading it.

Mastery had an impact on me from the word go, I kept having to stop reading, marking pages and processing the information in my head.  I could relate to so many things Robert Greene was talking about, while at the same time making sense of things I’d been aware of for years, but never really thought about before.

The book is told via stories from the following past and present masters: Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Bill Bradley, John Keats, Henry Ford, Temple Grandin, Cesar Rodriguez, Leonardo da Vinci, Freddie Roach, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Yoky Matsuoka, Paul Graham, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Glenn Gould, Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Jung, Marie Curie, Buckminster Fuller, Martha Graham, The Wright Brothers, John Coltrane, William Harvey, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ignaz Semmelweis, Teresita Fernandez, Santiago Calatrava, Marcel Proust, Daniel, Everett and Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.

As you can see, lots of masters to learn from! You’ll read about how their lives were just like yours or mine; but they followed their heart and dedicated themselves to what they knew was their Life’s Task. A phrase Robert Greene uses to describe – “What you are meant to accomplish in the time you have to live.” In all cases, these individuals turned their uniqueness, which at first may have appeared to be a weakness, into their greatest strength. You’ll most likely not relate to all of these stories, but all have nuggets of wisdom to take away, and when you do read a story that connects with you, it will have an even more powerful impact on you.

You’ll find yourself looking over your life noticing patterns, subjects and things you keep doing which may seem totally unrelated at first, but on closer inspection, you’ll see how there’s common themes that link them all together – this is the basis of your Life’s Task. Your uniqueness is not something to be ashamed of, but something that will be your greatest asset. The book talks about how everyone around you may question your style of doing things, they may all feel you’re doing it wrong. However, if you are truly in touch with your intuition, you cannot go wrong … no matter how crazy your actions may appear. The book has six main chapters, which are each broken down into further sections, but the six mains chapters are

You process an inner force that seeks to guide you towards your Life’s Task – what you are meant to accomplish in the time you have to live. The first move toward mastery is always inward – learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process.

After your formal education, you enter the most critical phase in your life – a second, practical education known as The Apprenticeship. Before it is too late you must learn the lessons and follow the path established by the greatest masters, past and present – a kind of Ideal Apprenticeship that transcends all fields. In the process you will master the necessary skills, discipline your mind, and transform yourself into an independent thinker, prepared for the creative challenges on the way to mastery.

Life is short, and your time for learning and creativity is limited. Without any guidance, you can waster valuable years trying to gain knowledge and practice from various sources. Instead, you must follow the example set by Masters throughout the ages and find the proper mentor. Choose the mentor who best fits your needs and connects to your Life’s Task. Once you have internalised their knowledge, you must move on and never remain in their shadow. Your goal is always to surpass your mentors in mastery and brilliance.

Often the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us. We misread their intentions and react in ways that cause confusion or conflict. Social intelligence is the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. Navigating smoothly through the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills. Success attained without this intelligence is not true master, and will not last.

As you accumulate more skills and internalise the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations. Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas. In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalised, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit. Such originality will bring you to the heights of power.

All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance. This intelligence is cultivated by deeply immersing ourselves in a field of study and staying true to our inclinations no matter how unconventional our approach might seem to others. This power is what our brains were designed to attain, and we will be naturally led to this type of intelligence if we follow our inclinations to their ultimate ends.

I was talking with Nikki on Facebook and if audio is more your thing, you’re in luck. She found a 12 hour audio version of Mastery by Robert Green on YouTube. I could go on and on about how good this book is, but instead, I’ll leave you with some quotes from the book; quotes that really connected with, and inspired me.

Mastery by Robert Greene is a must read in my opinion.

“The task that you choose to work on must have an obsessive element. Like the Life’s Task, it must connect to something deep within you.

“To develop your intellectual powers at the expense of the social (social skills/anxiety) is to retard your own progress to mastery, and limit the full range of your creative powers.”

“Often it is a struggle, and masters go through a crisis as they deal with the demands of others to conform and be more conventional. Under such pressure, they may try to repress their creative spirit, but often it comes back with double intensity.

“This is the primary law of the creative dynamic that you must engrave deeply in your mind and never forget: your emotional commitment to what you are doing will be translated directly into your work.”

“To imagine that something can be intellectual and sensual, pleasurable and painful, real and unreal, good and bad, masculine and feminine is too chaotic and disturbing for us. Life, however, is more fluid and complex; our desires and experiences do not fit neatly into these tidy categories”

“When you look at the exceptionally creative work of masters, you must not ignore the years of practice, the endless routines, the hours of doubt, and the tenacious overcoming of obstacles these people endured. Creative energy is the fruit of such efforts and nothing else.”

“Mastery is not a question of genetics or luck, but of following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs you from within.” module_alignment=”center”]

“The moment any idea or observation comes, you note it down. You keep the notebook by your bed, careful to record ideas that come in those moments of fringe awareness – just before falling asleep, or just upon waking.”

“Understand: the greatest impediment to creativity is your impatience, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a splash. What happens in such a case is that you do not master the basics; you have no real vocabulary as your disposal.”

“Finally, you must come to embrace slowness as a virtue in itself. When it comes to creative endeavours, time is always relative. Whether your project takes months or years to complete, you will always experience a sense of impatience and a desire to get to the end. The single greatest action you can take for acquiring creative power is to reverse this natural impatience. You take pleasure in the laborious research process, you enjoy the slow cooking of the idea, the organic growth that naturally takes shape over time. You do not unnaturally draw out the process, which will create its own problems (we all need deadlines), but the longer you can allow the project to absorb your mental energies, the richer it will become. Imagine yourself years in the future looking back at the work you have done. From that future vantage point, the extra months and years you devoted to the process will not seem painful or laborious at all. It is an illusion of the present that will vanish. Time is your greatest ally.”

“You begin by looking inward. You have something you want to express that is unique to yourself and related to your inclinations.”

“Like Proust, you must also maintain a sense of destiny, and feel continuously connected to it. You are unique, and there is a purpose to your uniqueness.”


“You cannot ultimately understand why you are drawn to certain activities or forms of knowledge. This cannot really be verbalised of explained. It is simply a fact of nature. In following this voice you realise your own potential, and satisfy your deepest longings to create and express your uniqueness.

It exists for a purpose, and it is your Life’s Task to bring it to fruition.”

– Robert Greene


“The wisest mind has something yet to learn.”

George Santayana