“Everywhere people treat me like I’m doomed” says Elizabeth Gilbert, after writing her best selling memoir “Eat pray love”. People who have a great idea can be plagued by the thought that they will never have another one. They wonder if what happened to them was fluke or the result of a process not under their control. Could it be just downhill from here on? Ironically, when she started out as a writer, people warned her about the fear of rejection if she didn’t have any good ideas. Now she has had one, people seem to think the dangers are even greater!
She asks why creative people, like writers, have a reputation for being mentally unstable, as compared to, say, chemical engineers. Are creativity and suffering inevitably linked? How do we help creative people manage the emotional risks of creativity? Her research lead her to the Ancient Greeks who believed creativity came to people from some sort of non human source outside of themselves. The Greeks called that source “deamons”, and Romans referred to it as a “Genius”. These were magical divine entities who might, for example, live in the walls of an artist’s studio and give the artist his creative ideas.
Elizabeth Gilbert suggests some advantages to this way of thinking. Though it means you can no longer take all the credit for your work, you are freed from being too down on yourself if those eureka moments seem to dry up for a time. Over the years though, people changed from thinking of an artist having a genius to being a genius. While recognising that many people will balk at the idea of fairies sprinkling pixy dust on people to give them ideas, she argues that going back to the Greek and Roman ideas of the source of creativity makes as much sense as anything else, and releases artists from the pitfalls of both narcissism and despair.
I think she is onto something. Certainly the experience of getting an idea is like finding something, but rather than fairies, I would want to credit God as the genius and ultimate source of all creativity. He created us with the ability to be creative so that we reflect something of his glorious creativity. If we produce something amazing, we can credit the one who made us and gave us such a wonderful gift. If we need inspiration we can ask him for help.
Having said that God is the ultimate source of creativity, it occurs to me that there are also sources that seek to misuse this gift and twist it towards destructive ends. If creativity is a gift from God we have a responsibility to use it in a way that honors him.