Who in their right mind would want to be an artist today? Tortured, struggling – these are words often used to describe the artist. It seems that somewhere along the ages society collectively made the decision that an artist would not be worth the canvas they paint on or the keyboard they type on unless they are enduring some kind of suffering. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the famed novel Eat, Pray Love, challenges this portrayal of the artist in her Ted talk “Your elusive creative genius”
Aren’t you afraid you are never going to have any success?
From the moment one sets out to be an artist the questions will begin from well meaning family and friends. “Aren’t you afraid you are never going to have any success? Aren’t you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you?” Aren’t you afraid that the world will be taken over by zombies? Okay, so I made up that last one, but that was simply to highlight the absurdity of asking questions that one cannot simply answer with any certainty. You can’t be 100% sure that zombies wont take over the world? Elizabeth Gilbert experienced those same questions when she was starting out as an author. Perhaps it’s a rite of passage designed to weed out those who don’t want to follow their art badly enough.One would think that in her own words, “the freakish success” of Eat, Pray, Love would mean that Elizabeth was no longer prone to those anxiety inducing questions. It was not to be. Once the publicity peak around Eat, Pray, Love started to run it’s course the next lot of questions began; “Aren’t you afraid you are never going to be able to top that?”
These comments might be coming from a place of genuine concern but rather than offering anxiety inducing questions wouldn’t it be better if the unsolicited comments given to artists allowed the artist to remain in the moment?Instead of operating from a place of anxiety about the future wouldn’t it be better just to be active in the present?
This Ted talk was filmed after the peak of the Eat, Pray, Love bubble in a time that Elizabeth was completing what life would be like post Eat, Pray, Love and if she could ever replicate that success. Elizabeth admitted that in all likelihood she felt that she would never repeat the success and from this point forward anything she ever wrote would be judged on her bestseller book. Elizabeth needed to find a way to work through this, to protect herself mentally so that she could spend the next 40 years writing. What she found will change the way you view creativity.
Creativity is an unknown spirit
The next layer of Elizabeth’s Ted talk is about the ideology that creativity does not come from within us but rather an unknown source, a spirit who attends to our creative needs, but is separate from us. In ancient Greece these spirits were called “daemons.” The romans called them “genius” and believed that they lived in the walls of an artist’s studios and through thoughts and ideas would assist the artist when needed. If an artist created a masterpiece they would not reap the full credit as they were assisted by the daemons. If their work was dull they weren’t to blame, their genius wasn’t great.
Elizabeth admits that not everyone will be on board with her new, albeit from the ancient ages, way of looking at creativity, “that notion of, basically fairies who follow people around rubbing fairy juice on their projects and stuff.” However, she challenges us that by separating creativity from coming within us but rather looking at creativity from coming from outside of us we are able to take the ego out of creativity and that’s where true creativity lies.