Many of you will already know Elizabeth Gilbert for her book Eat, Pray, Love.
I came across Eat, Pray, Love (and read it like a guilty secret because I don’t read books about eating, praying and loving very often) via Elizabeth’s Ted Talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius. Big Magic is her latest book, and a musing on how we can let creativity into our lives, feed it, and enjoy it.
We’d love to hear what you make of the book. I think there is something very “AccessArt” about The Big Magic – a rounded, can-do, positive, valuing and enabling sort of read. If you’re interested in thinking again about what being creative might mean, how it might nurture your life, how you might manage your creativity or enable it in others, then please do read (or listen to!) the book. These are the bits that sang out for me and which I think I’ll personally find useful.
Where does inspiration come from, and how can we encourage it to land on us?
I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life form. They are completely separate from us but capable of interacting with us, albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body but they do have consciousness and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse, to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest is through collaboration with a human partner.
OK, I understand, as does Elizabeth, that this is not an entirely scientific viewpoint. Reading Gilbert talk about how ideas exist feels a little like researching a 16th century scientist whose observations might be spot on, but whose hypotheses might seem a little weird or skewed (the earth? round?), but I do actually think her take on how ideas exist could be quite helpful!
I like the way “ideas” are seen as a benevolent force, and that we can encourage them to work with us by being open to their whims. And isn’t that the way it is? Those phases when you are completely open, and ideas seem to land on you, so you invest more time thinking, and then more ideas land, and before you know it you are in the middle of a lovely big creative snowball. And then other times when you feel closed, or more often, just don’t have or can’t make time for investment in your creativity – you shut it out, shut it down, so it withers… I like her take on this. Elizabeth promotes the idea of curiosity over passion, and a trust in the process of being open and curious, as being the key to unlocking your creativity.
I said yes to every single tiny clue of curiosity that I had noticed around me.
Artists as tortured souls or fulfilled makers?
I believe that enjoying your work with all your heart is the only truly subversive position left to take us as a creative person these days. It’s such a gangster move…
I think this is a really important point. I like that Elizabeth reminds us that for the vast majority of our time on this planet, we have been makers for the pleasure, or necessity, of making. Making is in our blood. It’s only relatively recently in our history that creativity has somehow been cornered by the “elite”. We pressure ourselves with the need to be at the cutting edge, creating something previously unseen, saying something unheard, made from the absolute heart (or gut or head), often involving an unforgiving, self-punishing journey. We think we have to sweat to make art which has worth. And we inflict a hierarchy on creativity, fine art somehow seen as being more worthy than craft, and with craft lauding it over a DIY fence built for necessity at the weekend. Somehow making (in its widest sense – being creative, doing, putting out there), stopped being an easy pleasure, stopped being something we just did, and became something we had to explain and defend.
“Any Motion Beats Inertia”
With a lovely story about how Clive James clawed his way back from existing in a creative desert by painting constellations of stars on his daughter’s bikes, Elizabeth ends Big Magic with a reminder that when we are stuck, rather than sitting there forcing the issue, we should move, and move into or onto anything else (it is more often the the moving that’s important not the activity itself).
Any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.
There goes Elizabeth again, sounding rather Galileo-esque, but who can say if centuries from now we’ll all be saved by a new understanding of how creativity is central to human existence!