In this talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert argues that genius and this so called “divine creativity” are not found within a person, but are external. She further says that the idea of creativity coming from within puts a tremendous amount of undue pressure on artists which has resulted in “killing off our artists for the last 500 years”. I disagree with these claims and will be defending my position.
Admittedly, there are many instances throughout history where people agree with Gilbert’s claim (i.e. “creativity is not from within, it is on loan to you”). The following is a short list of some known examples of this.
- In Greek mythology, there are the Muses – nine goddesses which were thought to inspire men (humans) with creativity in art and literature.
- Nikolai Tesla claims to have been walking in a park when a flash of light in the sky revealed the perfect blueprint for an engine that would make alternating current.
- When asked how he came up with the song ‘Billie Jean’, Michael Jackson simply said, “from above”.
- Edgar Cayce is perhaps the most well known example of someone who tapped into the Akashic Records (a non-physical database supposedly containing all knowledge in the Universe).
- Wernher Von Braun (a German rocket scientist for the Nazis) and Hermann Julius Oberth (a German physicist and engineer) are considered the founders of rocketry and astronautics and created rocket technology that was so far ahead of their time. They are both on record saying that all the technology they created was channeled from other solar systems.
- Many other writers and artists (including myself) have mentioned this phenomenon – how we don’t even feel right taking credit for the things we create because it is like we are merely channeling creativity from somewhere else.
Elizabeth Gilbert does not mention any of these cases but provides a few of her own examples. The important point is that all these cases share an undeniable similarity. However, it is also likely that all these people (myself included) don’t know what we’re talking about. Maybe it just seems like creativity comes from above when really it comes from within. That is the Occam’s Razor version. I believe that the brain and the origins of thought are not well understood. In traditional human fashion, when something is not well understood, we attribute the answers to something from above. Every culture in the world does this. The Greeks are notorious for it; they had thunder gods, love gods, and so on. Today, we are following suit and coming up with a kind of creativity god to explain what is difficult to explain.
Addressing her other point (i.e. the pressure of creativity coming from within is killing off our artists), I disagree with this claim as well. The real issue is that it is hard for artists to sustain a decent living. That is why the word ‘starving’ often comes before the word artist. In addition, many societies look down on people who choose to pursue the arts as a career (perhaps because it is so difficult to make a decent living at it). Therefore, a lot of people are deterred from being artists. So if it is true that our artists have been dying off (not literally) for the past 500 years, my guess is that it’s an economic issue than anything else.
For those who carry on with their creative endeavors despite the deterrents (and let’s say become über successful – and die) it is still probably not this crumbling under pressure which Gilbert talks about, it probably has more to do with not being able to handle fame and succumbing to temptation (drugs and alcohol), not being equipped to manage their ego, and being around fake people that don’t have their best intentions at heart…
I argue that psychological issues can breed creativity. If this is true, then most artists would therefore be broken to begin with, and the ones ill equipped to handle the pressures of fame, money, yes-men, and temptation…fall victim to it. Doing what Gilbert suggests would not likely save them from that, since separating oneself from the creative adulation was never the issue to begin with.
Article by Edward Mullen
Host of The Edward Mullen Podcast