Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creativity - innate or divine?

Posted by lea at 5:13 PM
Wow. Where have I been for the past year? Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame delivered this amazing speech about creativity at a TED conference last year (a non-profit organisation for Technology, Entertainment and Design).

I haven't read her book(s) and I haven't heard her speak before, but I found this speech profoundly impacting. Whether you're a creative person or not, it's inspirational and moving, and as an added bonus, it's funny too. She's suddenly shot into the list of people I admire.

In short, if you don't have 18 minutes to devote to the clip (which is well worth the investment of your time), she talks about the historical shift in human thinking about creativity. In ancient Greek and Roman times, genius was like a genie - coming from somewhere external to the self to express itself through you. Then in the industrial age, there was a change and humans began to believe that creativity came from within, as an intrinsic part of self.

As a result, motivation became internalised and fear-based: how to top your last success, how to be the best in your field, etc. The focus, being solely on self and feeding directly into the sense of identity, led to the anxiety, depression and 'darkness' that creative geniuses now have a reputation for.

It's a liberating speech because it frees us from the idea that we ARE (or at least should be) genius incarnate, and that if everything we produce doesn't express that inner genius, then we've failed. As someone who experienced phenomenal worldwide success with her book, Eat, Pray, Love, she speaks candidly and with self-deprecating honesty about trying to follow up something as scary as that kind of success. For her, it just means continuing to do what she's always done, which is to write, and hope that that incredible creative force will come and do its part, but that it's something outside of her control.

She even goes so far as to name that force in certain circles as Allah, God, and provides an historical anecdote: at times when a person was obviously in the throes of genius (for example, dancing as part of a tribe), the people around them would recognise it and respond by calling out 'Allah Allah Allah', as in God God God. This practice still continues today, but it has been adapted in Spain and other cultures into Ole Ole Ole. Don't you just love learning new things?

Elizabeth Gilbert's speech resonated with me, because I do believe that God is the ultimate creative force.  Being made in his image, we all have the ability to create, but sometimes we need that external inspiration to do be able to do it. Leonardo had his paintbrush, Mozart had his piano. Heck, Kurt Cobain (if you believe he's a genius) had an electric guitar.

What do we have that we can start using to tap into this divine creative force? Whether it's a pen or a ukelele, it's amazing to think that we can do something that transcends ourselves.


Caesar on May 20, 2010 at 3:16 PM said...

Yeah that one really struck a chord with me too. If you liked that one, also check out this other one by Alain de Botton:

Inez said...

I think she's amazing. Isn't the movie out soon?

bean on May 23, 2010 at 7:12 PM said...

Hi hi!
Just wanted to write and say i LOVE confederacy of dunces! it is possibly one of my all time favourite reads!

lea on May 25, 2010 at 5:18 PM said...

@caesar: thanks for the link - I checked it out and i like!

@inez: yes but not sure when. Julia Roberts!

@bean: couldn't agree more! it's too funny, but this time I'm finding it a little more depressing than my last read. Maybe I'm not feeling so cynical... I shouldn't read it while PMS'ing!

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