Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Be Genius-inspired

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, speaks at TED2009 (last week) about the creative process and how artists are culturally conditioned to be afraid of it. Watch this.

"And then the Renaissance came and everything changed and we had this big idea and the big idea was let's put the individual human being at the center of the universe, right?...People started to believe that creativity came completely from the self. 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."

Gilbert's talk reminds me of a couple conversations I've had:
  • I sometimes tell my sister that my friend so-and-so is a genius, and every time she rolls her eyes and informs me that I think everyone is a genius. She is the one person who has expressed such a strong aversion to the term genius, and I'm beginning to see her point.
  • A seasoned entrepreneur shared with me that his philosophy is to fail fast and fail often. He's not an artist per say, but what is it about his (entrepreneurial) spirit that seems to embrace failure as a platform for arriving at genius-inspired success?
To paraphrase the end of Gilbert's talk, you don't have to believe that any greatness you bring to the world comes from just you; don't be afraid or daunted -- just do your job with human love and stubbornness.


Joanna said...

This made me pause and say "hm..." Thanks for sharing!

k3vin k! said...

Pretty cool talk; a lot of interesting ideas. My reactions:

1. Not sure if the idea of the Renaissance was the rational humanism as we recognise it today; that would probably be the Enlightenment.

2. This is because the great figures of that time (e.g. Dante, Aquinas, Michelangelo, Leonardo, More) were certainly against the idea that man was the centre of the universe.

3. I would, then, still argue in favour of calling people geniuses. Nobody gets inspired without sacrifice. Geniuses seem to me to be those who dedicate themselves to pursuing a deep knowledge of the art, a high level of technique and true fidelity to truth, goodness and beauty. Only then are they inspired with the Wisdom to "make by the law in which we're made". To be inspired, one needs to be capable of it.

4. So sure there is need for inspiration. But just as necessary is psychosomatic potential, some of it innate and some of it developed. Put me down for the catholic both/and position. ;)

Jessica Lee (Jelly) said...

Joanna! I didn't know you read my blog, so seeing your comment made me happy. It's funny how excited I get over small things like blog comments. ;) Hmm moments are good, huh?

Kevin, thanks for the historical clarification. I can always count on you to know these things. On your points three and four, I agree that an individual's greatness is a balance of the self and outside inspiration. But Gilbert's message resonated with me because it says don't let that balance err on the side of the self otherwise you may be afraid to continue doing what you love and what made you great in the first place.

PandaChi said...

I saw this a few days ago but have yet to read Eat Pray Love (I actually have the book, but it's part of a slow popping queue :P) -

it's easier to say "Ole to you nonetheless to just having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up" when she's already had her freakish success, though, but I get where she's going =D

One thing that bothered me was I felt like she opened up a really interesting question early on when she asked whether people were ok that our culture propagates the notion that creativity and suffering are somehow intrinsically tied together in this world, but I wasn't sure how she responded to that - it still seems you sacrifice and risk much when you pursue creative endeavors (does it make sense to drop out of law school to pursue, for example, stand up comedy - YES, if your name is Demetri Martin who i love - NO probably to all else who have tried and failed).

but enough rant, she's got that inspirational thing going for her.

Jessica Lee (Jelly) said...

Huh, you make sense...

You're right. Perhaps it's only through freakish success that one has the leisure (right word?) to say what Gilbert says. But it's great to see that she is using her success to encourage and inspire fellow artists. (By the way, I found it amusing that she referred to her success as "freakish.")

On the link between creativity and suffering...For me, Gilbert addresses the unhealthy relationship above by motivating the idea that suffering doesn't have to happen if you can somehow see your creative genius outside of yourself. Kind of like sharing the burden of potential failure (and success, too). The solution to more creativity and less suffering is a shift in the artist's frame of mind.