How we think about having and developing abilities can have a strong impact on actually using our talents. If we think creative expression has to wait for inspiration from a muse, or that there are only a few “chosen” geniuses with exceptional “gifts” in computer graphics, fashion design, writing novels or whatever – and think we aren’t one of those few – we may not even explore our talents well enough to create something worthwhile.
In his Demon Muse post A Brief History of the Daimon (and the Genius), Matt Cardin presents a rich overview of concepts related to creative inspiration and entities such as muses.
He writes, “In Hellenistic Rome (circa 4th – 1st centuries BCE), the word genius, like the Greek daimons, referred to spirit beings in general — and also, tangentially (and interestingly), had a direct connection to the word genie, which itself came somehow from the ancient Persian desert demons known as djinnee.
He notes the idea of the personal genius evolved to mean “the individual attendant spirit that accompanies a person and represents his or her divine intelligence and inbuilt life pattern.”
With “the outburst of Renaissance-style and Enlightenment-style humanism in the 15th through the 18th centuries… genius as a guiding and inspiring separate spirit morphed rather suddenly into a perceived quality of extraordinary intellectual intelligence and/or artistic giftedness possessed by only a few titanic and heroic people.
“This was a significant reversal, since it meant the idea of genius went from referring to a separate force that guided and, in effect, occasionally possessed people to referring to a special inner quality that people themselves possessed.”
Painting: Kiss of the Muse by Paul Cezanne [From Art.com]
Video: Author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) made a presentation for a TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) on these ideas, and the video description notes she considered ‘the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius.’
For more of her quotes, see my post Just Show Up, With or Without Your Muse.
Only a “genius” can do it?
Creative achievement – especially the sort that gets mentioned in books and the media, by notable Artists with a capital ‘A’ – has often been considered something special, that only a “genius” can do.
Professor of psychology R. Keith Sawyer, among others, disputes that idea.
He was asked, “What advice can you give us nongeniuses to help us be more creative?”
His answer: “Take risks, and expect to make lots of mistakes, because creativity is a numbers game. Work hard, and take frequent breaks, but stay with it over time. Do what you love, because creative breakthroughs take years of hard work. Develop a network of colleagues, and schedule time for freewheeling, unstructured discussions.”
He added, “Most of all, forget those romantic myths that creativity is all about being artsy and gifted and not about hard work. They discourage us because we’re waiting for that one full-blown moment of inspiration. And while we’re waiting, we may never start working on what we might someday create.”
It takes practice
Writing in his New York Times Op-Ed Column on “Genius: The Modern View,” David Brooks declared, “The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark.
“It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess.
“Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.”
Genes and serendipity and hard work
In his article Is genius genetic or is it nurtured?, Joe Smydo includes comments by Christopher Beard, who received a MacArthur Foundation grant, and is curator and head of vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
“Dr. Beard said he had his parents’ guidance, along with their genes. He’s worked industriously to make a mark in his profession. And he believes that serendipity has been on his side. “Some people would call it luck,” said Dr. Beard.
“The question of whether high-performers are born or made long has captivated the scholarly community, whose search for answers has led to studies of chess players, musicians and leaders in various fields.
“In the 1980s, Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, published a ground-breaking work proposing multiple kinds of intelligence. Dr. Gardner, a 1981 MacArthur grant recipient, also proposed multiple kinds of creativity.
“In Dr. Gardner’s view, “Picasso probably could not have been Mozart and Mozart probably could not have been Picasso because they had different kinds of intelligence,” said Kenneth Kiewra, professor of educational psychology at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“In recent years, the mystique of high-performers has been grist for popular books, such as Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How,” Geoff Colvin’s “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.”
“The books downplay the notion of genetically predetermined greatness and suggest that other factors, including many hours of strategic practice, differentiate high performers.”
Just Do The Work
In her post “Creative Inspiration vs. Creative Resistance,” Jenna Avery asks if it is necessary to be “creatively inspired” before pursuing creative projects, “or is waiting for creative inspiration a pitfall that trips us up?”
She adds, “Another way of saying this is: Do you have to be in the ‘right mood’ or ‘right energy’ in order to be creative? Steven Pressfield would call this ‘resistance,’ and say instead that what we need to do is show up and ‘do the work’ no matter what pain, doubt, terror, or mood we might encounter in the process.”
Jenna Avery is an intuitive coach who works with clients to enhance their creativity and life purpose. Learn about her programs at JennaAvery.com.
Steven Pressfield is author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.
Genius: The Modern View, By David Brooks, New York Times