The Creative Mystery: Genius, Creativity and You

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.

6 thoughts on “The Creative Mystery: Genius, Creativity and You

  1. Lara Mealor

    Thank you for highlighting this presentation. I understand the description that Ruth Stone gave regarding her poetry. It is so wonderful to trust the process and allow beauty and creativity to flow as we remain open and in place. Elizabeth Gilbert is such an insightful woman with a great message.

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  2. Mark

    As was suggested yesterday, why keep throwing oneself in the thorns? The same is true of any creative process – keep moving past the briars and search out the inspiration, beauty and delight which is inevitably present. This is not an “airy fairy” approach – it takes some courage and critical thinking. I appreciate the stand Elizabeth Gilbert describes she took when she hit a ‘block’ – she recognized for the process to work she had to play her part and keep going regardless.

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  3. Javier

    I gave her book a miss because it seemed like a “chick” book, but there is definitely a lot of value in your summary and her presentation. The tortured aspect of being an artist or creative type never made much sense to me, given the amount of vision and talent which seems such a gift. Good correlation that creativity isn’t limited to the extreme examples of artists and writers. Great points for anyone to take to heart and get out of their own way for a more successfully creative experience at any level of life.

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  4. ceraluce

    Wise words to “never believe in the first place that you are the source” but always make sure to show up for your piece in the process.

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  5. Susan

    The road of the ‘tortured artist’ is heavily trafficked at every level of creativity. Good for her for suggesting we “release that genie back where it came from” and pave a way based on true genius. Olé!

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  6. Claudia Reddick

    What an entertaining and thought provoking presentation. Elizabeth is not only a word smith but an idea smith.
    Her ideas on inspiration reminded me of a painting I’ve always loved by Rembrandt; St. Mathew and the Angel. It depicts what it seems she was conveying in words. Inspiration separate from ourselves. If it is the fact, as Ruth Stone suggested, my thought is; ok, I better show up to do my part.
    Here’s to a creative day today, thanks.

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