The other day I watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk about genius.
She recounts how the ancient Greeks had the concept of a “daemon” which would communicate the great ideas and creative breakthroughs from the gods. The Romans adopted this concept but used the term “genius” instead.
The really interesting thing about this concept is that inspiration came from somewhere “out there” – whereas nowadays we tend to think that it is entirely up to us. She tells several stories of artists who experienced inspiration as coming from “out there” somehow and how the artist’s job is to turn up and do their work every day in order to give the “genius” a chance to deliver something.
I think this is a really interesting perspective. It doesn’t lessen the need to be disciplined and to do the work, but it also allows the artist to be a little kinder to themselves, and to know that not all “genius” resides in them. Potentially this could make an artist more humble….if they truly believed that their creations weren’t entirely their personal brilliance.
For me, this makes me think of two things.
First, we all live “on the shoulders of giants” – we all emerge from all that is and all that has existed before. I start at this point in human development, at this moment in the emergence of consciousness in the Universe. I don’t exist in a vacuum. I don’t exist in isolation. My relationships with other human beings now, and other human beings in the past, will, and do, influence what I write, what I compose, what I create. In that sense, at least, inspiration will often turn up from one of those sources.
Second, the idea reminds me of Rupert Sheldrake’s idea of memory. He suggests we think of memory not as a filing cabinet in some part of our brain cells (in fact no “place” in our neural structure has been discovered to be the repository of any specific memories), but instead, we should think that everything that happens, every thought we have, every word we express ripples out into the continuous web of the universe and remains there. To access a memory then is more like tuning in to a radio station than looking in a filing cabinet. He suggests the “store” as such is “out there” and we can tune in to it to access the specific memories. Now, I’m sure that is a very controversial idea and not one which has been even remotely proven, but there is an interesting one in the context of the old ideas of the sources of inspiration, don’t you think?
Here’s her talk in full