This week a close artist friend sent me a link to a radio interview with American author, Elizabeth Gilbert. She in turn received the link from her artist daughter overseas. I was somewhat stunned as I’d just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which I found recommended on a blog I follow. So I felt there was a vibe going on, some preternatural serendipity, and I sent my friend the title of the book with a link. So here we have a definite feather in the cap for social media.
Why were we enamoured? Why was I enthralled by the book? Well, I’ll get to that, but in giving you a glimpse into Elizabeth’s take on creativity and the creative person, you can consider it as an updated addition to my previous post – On the Psychological Nature of A Creative Person: Readings to Aid Understanding and Nurture Yourself.
To give you a taste of her wisdom I’ll cover what struck me most from the interview and the book, and which fully resonates with me – just a few delicious morsels to hopefully get her message across and see if you find it useful in your own creative life.
Like me, she’s not into the idea of artists having to suffer for their art, to be a kind of tortured genius, who won’t bring forth anything unless it fits their ideals of perfection. That this genius is a socio-cultural construct from the Renaissance, which ‘elevated creators into something like a priestly caste…even minor deities’, who then could no longer take their art ‘lightly, or to create freely’. Who can even give up on a project because it simply isn’t coming up to the standards they aspire to, and don’t want to stain and taint these standards which must remain unadulterated by their falling short of the mark. She argues instead that this approach has nothing to do with art as a vocation, a life pleasure, a way of making meaning, with a ‘communion between the human and the magical’ place our stimulations to make art comes from. What has this tortured genius work got to do with the ‘quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations’?
Now, to create, we do put ourselves in the position of feeling fear. Let’s call it ‘creative anxiety’. Once stirred to make something, paint something, write something, we are going into the unknown and we need courage to bring forth what is inside of us, or what is wanting to be externalised through us, what Elizabeth refers to as ‘magic’ channelling that comes through us. We’re not passive receivers/mere vessels of the creative idea, nor are we going to take all the credit for it, but we are in the driving seat, driving the car of the creative idea, we take it on the journey to get to the destination. We want to make a good enough job of it, so when we do our work there will always be this fear, because fear hates an uncertain outcome. Fear is the is the conjoined twin of art and creativity we have to learn to handle. It will always be there in a kind of collaborative relationship – the fear is inherent in us, it’s in our ancient DNA as a self protection mechanism, so it’s to be expected. Without it we would be egotists or sociopaths. So how to handle the creative anxiety? How to win the war between fear and creativity and turn it into a collaborative relationship?
Talk kindly to it, have an inner dialogue with it, help it keep some perspective, explain to it what you are doing, using a ‘maternal sternness’ rather than a paternal telling off. Fear can mask as cynicism, apathy, resistance, perfectionism, comparing your self with others, anything that blocks you, and is coming from a place of fear and stopping you cracking on with your work. Safeguard your creativity from too rational an analysis and accept you are doing the very best you can and that is surely enough. Elizabeth uses the example of the Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, giving himself a talking to in his meditations, reminding himself he is doing his best, he’s not Plato and it’s okay not to be Plato. (That’s how long this problem has been around!)
You have a right to do the work, you are ‘entitled’ as she puts it. Everyone on the planet is entitled to do creative work and to enjoy it, it is part of our make up and our humanity. You can shout from the rooftops, Hey, I ‘may not be the greatest, but I’m here!’ You are entitled to make art and show it. Forget the purists. She mentioned in the radio interview that she’d had some criticism for saying everyone can make art – that it was denigrating fine art, real art, to imply that it is a free for all and that the market would get flooded with inferior works– so be warned, these opinions are out there in certain art communities I certainly, for one, want no part of.
A few quotes I love from her book
‘A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself’.
‘The less you fight the fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes too’
‘Keep in mind that for most of history, people just made things, and they didn’t make such a freaking deal of it’ – ‘we are all makers by design’
‘I cannot even be bothered to think about the difference between high art and low art. I will fall asleep with my face in my dinner plate if someone starts discoursing to me about the academic distinction between true mastery and mere craft’
‘Pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order’. As W.C Fields said: ‘it ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to’ and Elizabeth goes on to say ‘don’t even bother answering, just keep doing your thing.’
In response to artists worrying their idea has already been done – ‘most things have already been done – but they have not yet been done by you’ and ‘Once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours’
‘You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures’
‘Creativity is a gift to the creator not just a gift to the audience’
So I’m passing on her ideas because I feel and know they have great merit, without any vested interest involved apart from the wish to spread the word.
Here are the links to Elizabeth’s website and the radio interview if your interest has been suitably piqued:
And my own parting message is to own your creativity, and learn to respect it. Do the work because the work wants to be made and brought into reality through you. Do the work and leave your mark. Be a drop in the ocean that makes your own unique ripples.
(images courtesy of pixabay)