As a continuation of last week’s discussion about tapping into our subconscious, I’d like to share another speech from TED. In this video, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love proposes a way of thinking about our creativity that I really like.
In her presentation, Ms. Gilbert reflects on the disturbing trend of the last five hundred years wherein our creative artists have suffered from depression, alcoholism, and too often, suicide. All of this, she posits, stems from an unbearable pressure placed upon artists to keep topping their previous works or to think of themselves as a creative wellspring or source of inspiration, a standard which no one can live up to.
However, in the ancient world, the Greeks and Romans cherished the idea of inspirational spirits apart from the artist himself. Both “daemons” and “geniuses” were thought to guide the artists’ hand in whatever endeavour he pursued, and in this way, his fragile psyche was preserved, for if the work turned out brilliant, this Muse would keep him humble and check his ego, while if the work was a “failure,” he did not shoulder all the blame.
I particularly appreciate how Gilbert affirms that her creative process is nothing like the incredible description she received from the American poet, Ruth Stone. I suspect that for most of us, the creative process is rather mundane, and downright tedious at times, though I myself can attest to that “transcendent” experience Gilbert mentions. There are simply those occasions when a problem I’ve been butting my head against for what seems like forever suddenly clicks and the story seems to fall together as if someone else were telling it to me and I merely transcribing. Of course, they don’t come often, and they certainly don’t come regularly, but I have found that if I “show up for work,” as Gilbert puts it, this extraordinary experience is more likely to happen.
Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but I’ve always rather liked the idea of having a personal Muse. Not even for the reasons Gilbert outlines, but more for the sense of camaraderie it brings me during the often solitary slogs that make up my creative process. Call me crazy, but I’ve actually had “conversations” with my Muse where I ask her (I invariably switch genders when referring to my Muse, though I often use the feminine pronoun) questions about my current work in progress, and even more bizarre… I’ve gotten some pretty good answers.
And I think that gets back to the heart of art that I mentioned last week: It is a communal activity in which we find a way to share a link between our souls and those of our audience in our quest for a meaning to our existence. It’s the reassurance that we are not alone. It’s that spark of magic where you say, “Yes! This is Beauty! This is Truth! This is what it means to be human!” It’s those times that make you say “Olé!“
Daemons, genii, muses, whatever you want to call them, what are your thoughts on the matter? What kind of relationship do you have with your Muse (if you have a Muse at all)?
Listen to “Dancing with the Muse” by Christopher Spheeris while the two of you are mulling it over