Creative Genius Is On Loan

elizabeth-gilbertToday’s TED talk is one from 2009, from best-selling novelist Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  She talks about the elusive ghost that is creativity, and has some rather unorthodox ideas about it, ideas that I share to some extent.

She states that creativity and suffering seem somehow linked, noting the many artists over the years who have died young or taken their own lives as they live in a perpetual state of depression.  She is not comfortable with this notion, and thinks that we should not be perpetuating this idea.  It is unhealthy, and there is a better way to think about creativity.

First, some history:

In ancient Greece, people believed that something called “daemons” spoke to creative people, poets, playwrights, and that they were the magical source of creativity.  Romans believed that these daemons lived in artist’s walls and would come out to assist the artist in their creative efforts.  The Latin name for these daemons was “genius”, and if the artist produced something that was not well received, it was not his or her fault, but the “genius”.

However, the Renaissance brought the focus on the artist as being the “genius”, so if they didn’t produce something brilliant the onus was on the artist instead of a magical faerie who came to sprinkle magic dust on their work.

Since then we have blamed the artist for bad work, and I’m sure any logical thinking person would agree that this is all based in unscientific falderal, but as a Christian I can attest to that creative spark being outside myself.

Gilbert tells a fantastic story about singer/song-writer Tom Waits, who was faced with a difficult time of writer’s block when one day he was driving down the road and a tune fluttered into his mind.  He desperately wanted to write it down, to pick it out on guitar or something, but he was on the freeway.  So he said: “Excuse me.  Can you not see that I’m driving right now?” to the creative spark that was spurring him on.

I’m not going to speculate upon Gilbert’s faith, but I will confess of my own.  I totally believe that this creative spark, the really good stuff, comes from somewhere else.  Sure, there are many times when it’s all me, but I’ve had those moments when I felt like there was someone else at the wheel.  Those moments are great.  When the fingers are flying across the keyboard, the characters are working in concert with the plot, and somehow there is an overarching theme developing or a great extended metaphor.

Let it be known that I thank God for any and all success I have in writing.  Believing that the creative spark is not my own helps me feel like the artist in ancient Rome, an artist for whom mistakes or lackluster performance is not weighing heavy on the conscience.  It is just that I wasn’t in touch with the “genius”, or that it was not loaned out to me that day.

Above all, I have a belief that I should work very hard to produce great writing, but I’m not too bent out of shape that I didn’t create something phenomenal every day.  I have to remember that my creative spark is on loan, that I have it for a little while and have to pray every day that I can be given a little of it to guide me on my path.

You can watch the TED talk here:

Youtube LogoRoger Colby is a novelist, blogger and writer who is a product of a lifetime of reading great science fiction. His passion is to write innovative science-fiction stories that help long-time science-fiction readers like himself find addictive things to read. You can find his books to the right —>

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2 thoughts on “Creative Genius Is On Loan

  1. Roger – great video pick and a delightful article.

    Fred Hoyle (astronomer) once said “Not only is the Universe stranger than we know, it’s stranger than we CAN know.”

    I feel this also describes our creative mind perfectly, it has abilities we do not understand. What is the glowing force that floods through me when I suddenly see how to bring a beautiful illustration to life, or the words I’m writing suddenly burst into flames? I feel the subconscious accesses an unseen creative force “That art is best which to the soul’s range gives no bound, Something beside the form, something beyond the sound.” ~ Li Po

    Interestingly, most creatives spend their lives developing this innate ability to connect without necessarily realizing that’s what they are doing.

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