art, anguish, creativity, and God

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Artists are notorious for being troubled souls. Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Hemingway. The amount of mental anguish among artists is alarming. Suicide, substance abuse, depression. How is it that people who can fill the world with such beauty can be so tormented, so disturbed, so broken?

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love has a theory: In ancient times people thought of creativity not as something someone had, but as something someone received from God as inspiration. Think of the etymology of that word: in-spirit-ization. To be filled with the creative spirit. To have God move through you. The Romans called this a "genius" (the word genie comes from the same root). So instead of saying a person "is a genius" they would say a person "has a genius". With the Renaissance this switched, and we started saying instead that a person was a genius, that creativity was something someone possessed. Gilbert thinks this was a huge wrong turn. She says,

"Allowing somebody - one mere person - to believe that he or she is the vessel, the font, the essence, and the source of all divine creative eternal unknowable 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 completely warps and distorts egos. 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."
You can watch her whole talk here:

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2 Comments:

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any suggestions for how to entice the flow of creativity through ones chosen medium (mine is visual art)?

 
At 1:38 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

I think you just need to make stuff, and hopefully after a while some of it will be good. I never really know until I do it, so I just think of everything as a 'sketch' or 'experiment' and that gives me the freedom to create without worrying about whether it is really 'art' or not. If it is, then great. If not, well it was just an experiment. The think is, the more you do, the better you'll get at it. So you need to find a way to just make lots of stuff.

 

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