Creative Genius

I relish the words of author Elizabeth Gilbert and Eat, Pray, Love has been my favorite book for the last 6 years.

For some reason this can elicit jeers from supposedly highbrow, nose-in-the-air sorts of people. (Such a fun sort, these people.) And it irks me.

Actually to be fair, the reason I eluded to is not just SOME unknown reason; I know the exact reason: Eat, Pray, Love garnered mainstream bestseller popularity in recent times. Thus, "boo, hiss!") 

It bothers me that people so often belittle artistry the minute it becomes popular. This is most commonly recognized in the realm of music, but it also happens in every other creative atmosphere. It is silly, and above all, such rash and illogical judgement only prevents an audience from beholding a possible moment of genius.

Perhaps a work will not change or resonate with you, but if you pass it up for reasons as irrelevant as commercial success, you've only robbed yourself of an opportunity. And worse, your prejudice may infect others and prevent them from either openly expressing their experience or from even experiencing it at all.

Even more to the point: who the heck cares with what someone else feels a connection?

The attachment that we have to the art we like and the art we create (not to mention the art we don't like and the art that others create) is too pervasive.

At some point we need to detach from the result. From the way that something is received. And simply allow it to be. 

Elizabeth Gilbert has a beautiful TED Talk about creative genius and I've included it below. 

Elizabeth talks about the prevailing assumption that artistry is connected to suffering. That our contemporary creative artists are somehow being killed by their art.

Then she asks the audience a most brilliant question: "Are we all cool with that?"

Must artistry and creativity be the death of their vessels? 

Gilbert gives this speech at a very apt time. Between what she refers to as the "freakish success" of Eat, Pray, Love and the publishing of her wildly anticipated follow up to that behemoth, which will ultimately be judged as the work that came after her "freakish success" and potentially doomed to never reach such great heights. 

That kind of pressure and conceivably depressing notion is exactly the sort of misery that, as Gilbert mentions, "could lead one to start drinking gin at 9:00 in the morning."

Alcoholism and other unhealthy vices have a history of running rampant in the artistic community. Why is that? Is it inherent in the type of people who wish to share aspects of themselves with an audience or has our modern understanding of genius placed a false and considerable burden on our artists?

"False" in that perhaps the human involved shouldn't be seen as one with their genius. It seems to me that by doing so we strip people of all of their humanity and value that is unrelated to making art. By defining artists exclusively by their art we have inadvertently created a hole in which artists can lose themselves.

Gilbert makes this point in her speech: that prior to the humanist movement, the ancients believed that genius was something external to each artist. An artist was seen as a person who had a connection to a special spiritual being. This spiritual being was referred to as a Genius. It was this separate Genius who was credited with bestowing brilliance and allowing creativity to be expressed through the artist.  People were seen has having a genius rather than being a genius. What this difference in perception allowed was a degree of separation between an artist and his/her work. Thus, no artists could claim complete credit for successes or complete responsibility for failures. Essentially, this protected artists from overwhelming narcissism, which is so common today.


Some modern artists internalize this notion, even without having been raised in the culture of the ancients. They just intuitively allow for their work to be a collaborative project. Sometimes this is merely in pointing to all of the other humans who were involved in the process. Sometimes it is by crediting God. Other times still, it is by simply allowing creativity to flow through oneself whenever it does and detach from the outcome. 

I guess my posit to all of you is that we need to make this shift. We need to allow our artists to be human beings with value outside of their creative contributions and permit their identities to exist independent of their successes and failures. If we grant artists this freedom hopefully more of them can thrive and live to bear us all many more gems without buying into such crap ideas as, "You are only as good as your last project." That is an absolutely absurd concept conceived with the thought that perhaps fear of failure and/or fear of becoming irrelevant will wring one more commercial success out of someone else. A "someone else" for whom the person proselytizing this inane concept does not value on a human level and has a financial stake in the outcome.

I would like to point out that I actually wrote the vast majority of this post many days before actor/comedienne Robin William's passing. There have been many headlines on the subject, most of which reference society's great loss. One which was simply titled: Genius Gone.

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.