The Art of Is

Improvisation as a Way of Life

With Stephen Nachmanovitch

“How much of what we say and play, how much of what we write, comes directly or indirectly from interactions with other people? Almost all. This is the essence of ubuntu: How do we know anything? By being taught by other living beings, in conversation or reading, through experiencing nature and culture, through making mistakes and picking ourselves up and helping one another.”

Stephen NachmanovitchStephen Nachmanovitch is the author of The Art of Is and Free Play. He performs and teaches internationally as an improvisational violinist and lecturer. Having collaborated with other artists in music, dance, theater and film, he is passionate about creativity and exploring the spiritual underpinnings of art. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia. Find out more about his work online at

Selections from The Art of Is

Art of IsThe Art of Is: Improvising as a Way of Life shows exactly how the passion and immediacy of improvisation can be cultivated and how, in fact, we all improvise all the time. It is not a special act of genius of which few are capable but is in fact the natural activity of all humans, whether we're driving a car or holding a conversation. People who might claim they could never improvise negotiate these tasks with fluidity and ease every day.

Improvisation: The Twists and Turns in Free-Association

The improvisational process is rooted in free association — and the near guarantee that after a while, free association will turn up significant patterns. Improvising is not "just" fantasy and imagination; it is what happens when our intentions meet the real world, with all its unpredictability.

Rubbing: Gregory Bateson and the Remarkable Sensation of Connecting Patterns

What you recognize in art is that you are a living organism with all the structure and patterning of a living organism. You are, as it were, rubbing the patterning of your organism alongside what you're seeing out there.

Improvisation: Mushrooms and Tide Pools

We think of creating as making something new that has never been made before, a eureka like the theory of relativity or the Eroica Symphony. But often we create more of the same, and that is just what's needed.