Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Commentary on Elizabeth Gilbert - "A Different Way to Think About Creative Genius"

A reflection assignment for Ministry Module March 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the international bestseller "Eat, Pray, Love" which has launched her into literary success. This has challenged her to think differently about creative genius. She refers to the anguish creative people go through to continue to produce or create another work of inspiration, particularly after a successful accomplishment.

"Why do creative ventures make us afraid?" "Why is it that anyone should be afraid of the work that they were put on this earth to do?" "Why do we fear we cannot repeat success?" These are some of the difficult questions she poses.

"Why are people who are creative genius undone by their gift?" "We accept the notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and artistry in the end will ultimately lead to anguish."

Gilbert thinks this assumption is dangerous and it should not be perpetuated. She says we need to encourage our great creative minds to live.

Her question as to how this can be done is legitimate. How do we create safety for the artist from the onslaught of criticism and negative reactions? How do we protect the artist? For her protection she creates a psychological construct between her and the anxiety towards her writing.

Another poignant question she raises is how do we help creative people manage the risks of creativity?

Gilbert refers to the history of the Ancient Greeks and Romans and their belief that creativity did not come from within themselves but instead from a divine attendant spirit that came to humans from outside somewhere, as magical, divine entities or disembodied spirits. These spirits would help with the creative process and collaborate with the work of the artist. Then, if the work was a success or a failure, the results could be attributed to the genius and their part in the creative process. This in a sense, protected the artist from the expectation and the pressure to deliver other successful work.

Gilbert suggests this inspiration is not a part of our being but rather is a genius on loan from some unimaginable source that will be passed along to someone else when they are finished with you.

I agree that there is an element of creativity that does not always come from within us. Mastery and skill of ones craft can produce amazing work, but I believe there is an influence from a "divine" being that comes when least expected and inspires us to create in a way that is above our natural abilities and beyond our realm of creative expression. The artist never knows when this will happen so the discipline of continuing to create is necessary.

There is a point in our creative expressions that if we can forget our limitations and become like little children and believe anything is possible, then our art takes on a heightened perspective. Something happens when we begin to create. Something is released in us that was there from the beginning of our created lives. Beauty erupts, through endless ways of expression – art, music, dance, prose, and more, and we find ways to speak the language of our Creator. And this all happens because we fulfill the reason for which we were created.

I believe this sanctity happens, this holy space emerges, even if we do not know the Creator personally. His influence is within and throughout our very beings and we can not help but allow it to come forth at some point.

As created beings, we have this inherent desire to want to create. The expectation and pressure we sometimes feel about our personal work can distract and harm our ability to create freely.

Gilbert insists that we not be afraid or daunted, but continue to do our job, continue to show up for our part and if we are fortunate, our genius may show up and leave some sort of wonderment for all our efforts. "And if this happens", she says, "then 'Ole`' and if not, then 'Ole`' to you for the sheer stubbornness of showing up."