I finished listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s fascinating book Big Magic at the hotel gym last week, climbing off the elliptical machine a ball of sweat while my mind was still running. The book knocked me for six and infused new meaning into why I get up in the morning. Having added it to my reading list as a reference for my own work in progress, I got more than I bargained for.
Her analysis turns certain absolute truths on their head which was at once terrifying and liberating. She references the idea of the Genius, a mythical figure from the Roman Empire. Much like a modern day holy cross, everyday Romans would decorate their houses with these statues, who watched over you like a guardian angel and encouraged your creative endeavours. All artists inevitably gave thanks to their genius for promoting and safeguarding their creativity.
With the advent of the Renaissance, humility went out the window as man became the centre of the universe, rational thought replacing all forms of spiritual belief. As Gilbert states “People started to believe that creativity came completely from the self of the individual.” In doing so people went from having a genius to being a genius. Such responsibility warped the underlying notion of creativity, placing unrealistic expectations on the individual. A by-product of such burdens resulted in the now revered and celebrated ‘tormented artist’.
I’m guilty of having emulated this tragic figure, the kind of morose character that drinks to excess and uses their art as an excuse to be a complete and utter spanner to every man and his dog. Ever since the making of my first film however I’ve been steering my ship for clearer waters, in search of a more honest framework. While I’m still prone to lashing out when my insecurities flare up, I’m learning to leave my work at the office, to treat myself with genuine self-respect.
Gilbert has such a beautiful command on the purpose of creativity and translates intricate ideas into palatable metaphors for the layperson. It’s full of affirmation and her own stories of failure help to remind of her own fallibility. Prior to the monumental success of Eat Pray Love, her 2006 tell-all memoir, the thirty-seven year old had endured relative anonymity for her entire career.
I love how she talks about the creative process. Of ideas presenting themselves, offering up their wares in return for having them realized. In looking at my own creative endeavours, ideas present themselves at all hours and come in all shapes and sizes. On a run, in the shower or even on the brink of sleep. I even had a Seinfeld moment recently where I pulled myself out of bed in the middle of the night with a clear vision for a television series and typed out a scattered pitch. Just like Jerry, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it in the morning.