Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of what she calls the “freakishly” successful memoir Eat, Pray,Love and her Ted Talk on creativity has had over 4 million viewers. One thing I appreciate about the talk, and Gilbert in general, is the presentation of inspiring information through storytelling that models creativity, honesty and vulnerability. Like many frustrated creatives, I have often taught young people what I yearned to do myself. Some of the bottling up of my creative energy came from my inner critic who whispered societally reinforced ideas about genius, creative spark and the myth of creation being about a destructive and dangerous ego.
In this talk, Gilbert unpacks the myth of destructive artistic genius by describing her own work-horse, laborious process and most interestingly by tracing the origins of our ideas of genius back to ancient Greece and Rome. She describes the origins of the word genius as having started with the idea of each artist or creative as having a genius – a divine inspiration or entity that enabled creation. During the Renaissance this changed; she says this:
“And for the first time in history, you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius rather than having a genius. And I got to tell you, I think that was a huge error. You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.”
This talk had a profound effect on me. It is after viewing it that I started a blog and created my first website (now defunct) – which I coded and built myself and for which I created the logo and took most of the photos (having a cinematographer husband is helpful too). Gilbert’s clear outline of her own mule-ishness – showing up day after day whether her genius does her part or not – inspired me. I remember when I finally figured out how to make my tiny logo show up in the tab of an open webpage, I felt a rush of creative satisfaction. Gilbert’s Ted Talk shares similarities with the Katy Payne interview on listening with the body. Showing up to write (or paint, or make music, or…) and being fully present to what might arrive is opening oneself to the creativity of the universe.
Last year while journaling I discovered that creative and reactive are the same word. The C just moves. When I was talking about this with my friend Rebecca she asked me what the C stands for. I think it stands for consciousness. It stands for the awareness and presence in which the universe is asking us to share and with which we must connect in order to tap into that creativity. Of course I know that through my website and my blog posts I am creating something small that very few people would ever see but it thrills me nonetheless whenever I feel a flow. We all contain stories and beauty to inspire the creative genius within each of us.