Tonight I heard a TED talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love, on creativity. She said that she’s really “not okay” with the idea that creative people must suffer for their art. She decided to learn how other cultures and people viewed the creative process.
The Greeks, she said, believed that daemons existed, beings who brought people creative ideas. The Romans called this a Genius. So the ideas is that there were beings outside of us who brought us ideas, be they words, music, or a spirit as we danced. Gilbert loves this idea because it means that the artist is not solely responsible for production. Take, for example, writer’s block. A writer could fall into an anxiety pit over hitting that writer’s block, or it could be blamed on the Genius not doing his part of the bargain. She feels this takes off the pressure to produce something spectacular at all times. This view of creativity changed, she said, during the Renaissance, which was when creativity and thought and so on were then centered within the human, as the center of the world. Enter the suffering artist.
Interestingly, Casanova believed he had a Genius. He mentions it a number of times, sometimes as the spirit that “tells” him to go to a certain place or do a certain thing. When he is consulting his cabala, he calls his Genius Paralis. Did he believe in this Genius or was it a part of his ruse to get what he wanted from people? It’s hard to say, because sometimes he seems to be speaking tongue-in-cheek, while other times he seems to believe himself. He lived after the Renaissance, so I guess he never got the memo that people weren’t supposed to have Geniuses any more.
Nowadays, a genius is a brilliant person. What a different worldview to see a Genius as a sort of being or spirit that inhabits us or inspires us or brings us ideas. Let your Genius suffer while you have another glass of wine and wait for him to return.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk: (18 minutes) (She also mentions Tom Waits for you fans out there.)