A critic once described the mind of Jonathan Miller as “a turmoil of sizzling wires, connecting drama with anthropology, literature with quantum physics, linguistics with genetic theory.”
From the PBS site of Bill Moyers Journal / Jonathan Miller
What caught my attention to write this post was the discord Dr. Miller has expressed about his choosing various career paths in the arts and entertainment, instead of medicine.
A profile article in The Independent [UK] says he regretted not pursuing a career as a neuroscientist, and thinks he had “wasted a brilliant mind” and could have done many of the things he’s done “with one hand tied behind his back.”
He says, “I had an ambition, or determination at least, to become a research neurologist, because I was interested in behaviour and perception and language.”
Miller, 75, views his career choices with some regret “and a certain sort of contempt as well.” But, he admits, “I actually think some of the things I’ve done, outside the laboratory, without any test tubes, is about as deep as you can get.”
Miller adds, “I’ve never been able to rid myself of the theatre’s reputation for being a sort of shabby vulgarity, and that no serious person does it. I was a member at Cambridge of the Apostles. It was founded by Tennyson. It was all those people like G Moore, and Morgan [E M] Forster.
“We used to meet in Forster’s room. All my fellow Apostles were exalted, grand achievers in classics and academic appointments and the civil service. I was this vulgar drop-out”.
From The Independent [UK]
[See a list of Jonathan Miller books, DVDs]
A vocation that isn’t deep enough?
A number of accomplished actors share at least some of his questions about whether a career in popular arts and entertainment is a trivial pursuit.
Amber Tamblyn (who is also a poet) says, “I think that a lot of actors get involved with politics because they have this self-esteem problem where they feel the need to prove that they are more intelligent and more intellectual than what their job requirement shows them to be.
“Some actors have this guilt that what they do is not deep enough, so they look elsewhere for some kind of approval…. It is really sad though because being a true actor is to already have that depth.”
Elisabeth Shue recalls a time she had “become disconnected from the childlike play that art could be.
“I was spending so much time fearing I wasn’t good enough that I lost the sense that my artistic expression was worthy.”
The power and value of movies
Bryce Dallas Howard thinks “Films are released into society to aid in a lesson, inspire people, comfort people.”
I agree. Those are substantive – not trivial – reasons to value movies and filmmakers – anyone making creative contributions to entertainment.
Creators, meaning, depression
Psychologist Kenneth W. Christian, PhD explains that value and meaning come from how deeply we follow our creative interests: “All forms of self-expression that tap into curiosities, talents or deeply held interests, when pursued to excellence, are deeply nourishing.”
From his book Your Own Worst Enemy : Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement.
Dr. Miller has also experienced depression, as he describes in the Independent article.
“I have long periods of feeling paralysed, inert, unproductive. I wait for it to pass. I’m not depressed enough to feel I need advice. But I do get very pushed down, pushed down particularly in these years when I get asked less and less to do things.”
Eric Maisel, PhD, author of The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression, explains “When we fear that we do not matter or that our efforts do not matter, we get depressed.” [From our interview.]
Also see the Depression and Creativity site.
Filmmaking, acting and writing and other entertainment vocations can all provide opportunities for engaging and expressing multiple talents, and for nurturing the meaning that creative people deeply need in their lives and work.
Many actors, for example, also write screenplays or produce web-based entertainment projects like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Or develop other entrepreneurial ventures, such as entertaining games for teaching math or language.
Obviously, “entertainment” is a label that covers a lot of ground – and a lot of trash. Yes, making movies is not brain surgery. So what? We need more in our lives than medical experts – or exalted literature or fine art. Let’s embrace it all.