Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity | Video on

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity | Video on

This one is a keeper. What an amazing discussion about the creative process. A totally non-scientific, non-rational process that is so intrinsically entwined into the ego, that tests ones faith, self-confidence.

In my own writing, I found one day years ago that I was suddenly unable to write any more. Where I had once written because poems and stories settled into my mind with a demand to be heard and recorded by me, the humble artist, I was suddenly faced with a daily barrage of tired, repetitive and very hollow sentiments. I struggled with this for a while as I entered a depressive stage in my life and talked with a friend who worked creatively every day in his career as a producer/filmmaker/writer.

He told me something that stays with me to this day: "At first, we write because we are inspired. As years pass, we are inspired because we write."

Elizabeth Gilbert shares her very similar experience as a writer of a hugely successful and lauded work of art, and the humbling experience of trying to continue in the creative process with the dread of never being able to achieve that success ever again. And in the process, she describes the historical relationship we humans have had with the creative process, where we have variously ascribed the causative agent of creativity to external muses (or "geniuses") and when we instead suddenly began to anoint the artist him/herself with the label of genius.

I know that I, as an agnostic man with a respect for the rational process of looking at my world objectively, have tended to over-intellectualize things, and yet I have always had a reverence for the experience of the divine, even when my rational brain demanded I define it, codify it, ferment it, engrave it, emboss it and seal it forever as a measurable quality that can be understood and displayed. But this experience of the divine does not need to be defined, and in fact must defy attempts at vivisection and inspection. The divine is ineffable because it is beautiful, irresistible, ephemeral, and indefinable.

As Gilbert suggests, there is something lost when we put the onus of the creative process squarely on the shoulders of the artist. A foreboding sense of responsibility, dread, where the artist has no where to turn but toward the mirror for her solutions.

Clinically, it could easily be argued that the brain is not engineered to be creative under such circumstances. The abstract, creative portion of the brain whithers under analysis and ceases to in fact exist under such prodding and poking. The artist becomes crippled under the weight of unending analysis and dithering. The creative brain can only survive when it is allowed to believe in something that is not rational or even internally consistent.

In my efforts as a resurrected writer, I have been trying to build myself an altar, a shrine, a sacred space in my home. A place where I can put my rational brain aside for a while, where I can hang my ego on a coat hook at the entrance and become a supplicant to the process. To survive past the years of regular visits by my muse, I have to nurture a space, a garden in which to attract more muses, more genii (the "genius", get it?), and allow them the opportunity to thrive. As she describes the site of a dancer who suddenly appears to be touched by the divine in his dance, the trick comes the next morning when the dancer wakes up and discovers it is Tuesday at 11AM and he is mortal and is no longer a glimpse of God. In a like vein, I need to remember that I am not a writer, an actor or an artist of any sort at all so much as I am a gardener, a shepherd, who maintains a plot of creatively fertile soil and hopes the seeds he plants will one day flower and thrive.

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