Recently at college I came across this video on YouTube, which shows Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author of Eat, Pray, Love) ‘Ted Lecture‘ on the meaning of creative genius and the effect of having a creative nature on the creative person.
I have thought a lot about the relationship between creativity and suffering and mental health in the past as they have been linked by theorists and scientists who study these things (one leads to the other, or the other leads to one, who knows).
Gilbert’s lecture is about the nature of creativity and where it comes from. She talks about the assumption that if you are a creative person, you will end up a tortured artist unless you see success. Or, she says, even if you do see success you will become tortured unless you can match that success again. The assumption that the burden of creativity is within the individual is restrictive and dangerous. Artists (painters, poets, writers) should be released from the fear of failure.
She proposes that rather than creativity being seen as something that can be controlled, and produced at will, it should be seen as something that is out of the body, almost like a daemon, above the control of the individual. This creativity daemon channels ideas into the person at its own will. She talks about the idea of the disembodied genius. The individual is a vessel rather than the driver. Apparently this is how the Greeks and Romans viewed creativity. But then the humanists and the Renaissance thinkers changed all that and we’ve been stuck with the idea of the person being the central influence over creative output ever since. So instead of the person being congratulated on their imagination, they should be regarded as lucky to have been visited by the genie.
At the time when I watched this video I was feeling a bit stuck in a rut with my Powis Castle project and feeling pressure to come up with a better idea. I had got an idea, but it didn’t quite seem ‘there’ yet and not as good as my previous ideas and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t improve on it. However, I felt encouraged by this video to think that perhaps my lack of inspiration at that time was beyond my control (I just needed to go to Zumba more often) and to just go with the flow.
Recently, my eldest son wrote a poem that his teacher described as ‘the best poetry writing I have ever read’. It was read out to all the classes in the school. It was his moment of glory and I told the whole world, via Facebook, about his genius. Two weeks’ later just before Easter he decided to write a poem as his entry in the annual school Easter competition. However, every attempt he made was lacking. His rhymes were crass, his sentences obtuse and his rhythm clumsy. I was honest with my feedback. I told him that his poems were unlikely to win a prize. He reacted to this news very badly. He told me in a fury ‘I will never write a poem ever again!’ He was suffering from the belief that creativity will always come to those that have had a creative success and the feeling of being unable to match that he was finding unbearable.
Later on we had a talk. I tried to explain to him about this out-of-body creative genie that comes at odd moments. I told him that the more he tried to force a poem out of himself, the harder it would be to come up with something of beauty. My advice to him was to go away, read a book, play with some Lego, and wait for the poem to come to him.
Later on, after a few more tears and declarations of ‘I can’t do it’ he took himself off and wrote a short, concise six-line poem about cream eggs. It was basic. It was simple. But it had beauty where the other attempts hadn’t. It didn’t win any prizes but it made him understand something about the nature of creative activity: don’t sweat it. It comes when it comes.
So its not my fault my ideas are rubbish! Don’t blame me! And I’m not going to sit and sulk about it, its just my job and I’m just lucky that the creative genie visited me for a while. I’m going to go to Zumba and wait for him or her to come.