Talking about the topic of her movie “Marie Antoinette,” director Sofia Coppola once commented, “You’re considered superficial and silly if you are interested in fashion, but I think you can be substantial and still be interested in frivolity.”
One way many talented people can be self-critical is to judge their wide-ranging serial interests as superficial or insubstantial.
Some interests can be trivial or frivolous, of course, but many can fuel creativity.
[By the way, Milena Canonero won an Academy Award in 2007 for Best Achievement in Costume Design on “Marie Antoinette.” Also see my interview with Canonero about her work on “Titus.”]
In a profile article of her, Evgenia Peretz writes about Sofia Coppola: “In her later teenage years, she indulged in a variety of pursuits that struck some – including herself – as disturbingly close to those of an aimless rich girl.
“She worked for a time in Karl Lagerfeld’s studio. She took pictures for magazines such as Paris Vogue and Interview. She went to art school, where she studied painting… took on the role of Al Pacino’s daughter in Godfather III… started a fashion line, called Milk Fed, with a friend. She and Zoe Cassavetes got their own cable talk show.
“’I wasn’t really great at any of those things, so it was kind of frustrating,’ says Sofia, ‘because I liked all those things, but didn’t have the focus.’ She entered her first period of self-doubt. ‘She said, “Oh, Dad, am I just a dilettante?” Francis [her father] recalls. ‘I thought just the opposite was happening now, and I said to her, No, you don’t have to specialize – do everything that you love and then, at some time, the future will come together for you in some form.’
“The character [played by Scarlett Johansson, in Coppola’s film Lost in Translation] of Charlotte – the young, privileged girl having a breakdown about her purpose in life – was taken from Sofia’s own experiences. ‘I was just kind of coming out of that, and I was looking at that period of What do I do with my life?’ recalls Sofia.” [From “Something About Sofia,” Vanity Fair, Sep 2006]
[Photo of Coppola from set of her new movie Somewhere – she is Producer, Director, Writer.]
Serial interests and passions
In her article What is a Scanner? [from her book book Refuse to Choose!], Barbara Sher talks about an example of someone with similar experiences she calls Scanners: “Elaine doesn’t have attention deficit disorder. She checked it out with doctors long ago.
“And she knows that when she’s involved in any project, she doesn’t get distracted by irrelevant things. So what’s stopping her? Why is she so indecisive? For that matter, why is she interested in so many things?”
Sher concludes, “The conventional wisdom was overwhelming and seemed indisputable: If you’re a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll always be a master of none. You’ll become a dilettante, a dabbler, a superficial person — and you’ll never have a decent career…
“But one thought wouldn’t leave my mind: If the world had just continued to accept them as they were, Scanners wouldn’t have had any problems.
”Almost every case of low self-esteem, shame, frustration, feelings of inadequacy, indecisiveness, and inability to get into action simply disappeared the moment they understood that they were Scanners and stopped trying to be somebody else.
“It appears that Scanners are an unusual breed of human being. One reason they don’t recognize themselves is that they don’t often meet people like themselves.”
As I note in my article Being Creative and Self-critical, these are not unusual responses, according to researchers. Many people with multiple, exceptional abilities experience complex feelings including inadequacy and inferiority, and critical self-evaluation.
But thankfully, many of them, like both of the Coppolas, are able to keep exploring and expressing wide ranging interests.
Another example is actor Grace Zabriskie, who also makes sculptures and artistic furniture when she isn’t shooting movies or TV shows.
In her article about Zabriskie [Accent on ‘eccentric’ – “Big Love’s” Grace Zabriskie has always been a person inclined to take the road, and roles, less traveled, Los Angeles Times May 21, 2006], Lynn Smith notes, “While some people might write off a person with multiple vocations, Zabriskie said she is committed to the concept of ‘the passionate amateur.’
“After a wave of gallery shows, she said she just works now at what she needs to do, making pieces for customers or friends. ‘
Zabriskie said, “I do not consider myself a dilettante, and I don’t think I spread myself too thin. You can make your life an absolute bummer out of the inevitability of death. Or you can decide to absorb this blow and figure out a way to exist with as much energy and creativity and lack of fear as you can.”