Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” shares valuable insight on the nature of creativity. She notes that creative people have a reputation for being emotionally unstable. Further, she describes that creativity is perceived to be directly proportional to suffering…but why?
In previous eras, creativity was thought to have been inspired externally, from a source outside of the artist. The Greek term, daemon, for instance, described a spirit or divine power that moved through people and into expression. At the time, the word daemon or demon did not have an evil or dark connotation. In fact, daemon to the Greeks meant something more akin to “good-spiritedness” or “happiness.” The darker and malevolent shades meaning were not ascribed to the word until the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew bible.
Elizabeth argues that the ancient artist was protected by this perception of separation of the spirit of genius from its revealer. She continues in that logic to say that the European Renaissance changed that, as rational humanism fostered the idea that the individual self was the source of genius. For the first time in history, a person was described as “being a genius” instead of “having a genius.”
What came from that shift, Elizabeth posits, is the development of egos, pressure about performance, identification with one’s creative output and consequently, the tortured experience that so many creative people now accept as normal. Anyone who has tried to write poetry has probably come across the well of sadness that seems to now permeate this mode of creative expression. Songwriters and artists likewise aren’t exempt from the notion that genius and suffering must necessarily go hand-in-hand.
Here is the recording of her talk given in Long Beach in 2009:
I trust that this video gives you food for thought as it did me. Whether you feel it important or necessary to change your view on the nature of the source of creativity, the important lesson I believe is that you should never stop believing in your ability to be a source of creative inspiration. Whether to your family, to your friends, to co-workers or clients, in private or in public, if you are old or young, keep the “channels open” and the “creative juices flowing.”
Creativity is the spice of life. I can only imagine how lugubrious and lonely the world would be absent of the colorful and creative genius that is expressed on a daily basis through inspired and inspiring human beings.