Creativity and the Genius

Today’s TedTalkTuesday, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” was recommended by a reader of this blog. It was a fantastic recommendation!

I’ve written and spoken about our fear of failure—it’s a subject at the core of Eyes Wide Open vision. In this Talk, Gilbert explores the topic in the specific context of creativity. What is it about creative ventures, she asks, that is so terrifying? And why do creative pursuits so often Impose pain and suffering upon creators? (You know the stories: the tortured artists, the substance abuse, and in the extreme cases, the suicides.)

“Every one of my books has killed me a little more,” Gilbert shares, and her most successful work, “Eat, Pray, Love” did the most damage. The book’s critical acclaim and commercial success buttress an inevitable and troubling implication for her: “it is exceedingly likely,” she declares, that “my greatest work is behind me.” Yet she aspires to keep writing—to keep doing the work that she loves. And as she jokes, she’d rather not start drinking gin as soon as she gets out of bed in order to tolerate the pain of writing in the shadow of her authorial summit.

How to proceed? That’s the question Gilbert tackles in her Talk. She describes a “protective self-construct” she employs to put some distance between herself and the anxiety of writing. It’s a wonderful and whimsical vision, painted with colorful stories and insights from history.

Gilbert urges a return to the conception of “genius” shared by the ancient Greeks and Romans. As she explains, they believed that creativity is born of a distant and unknowable source. To them, the “genius” was a magical, divine entity that emerged to guide artists and shape their work. This understanding of the creative process is commendable, Gilbert argues. It shields us from the impact of our work—protecting us from both the agony of self-doubt and the offensive folly of narcissism.

Too farfetched for you? Listen to Gilbert’s talk before you make up your mind. She says that thinking about creativity this way makes as much sense to her as anything else she’s heard. Gilbert speaks from the heart, and her message is convincing.

Whimsicality aside, her lesson is irrefutable: Don’t be daunted by your creative aspirations. Your part is simply to show up and work. The rest is beyond your control. In the end, it’s an Eyes Wide Open message about vision and accountability.

What do you think? What’s your favorite Ted Talk? Join the discussion and let me know. I want to hear from you!

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