on creative genius

I just listened to this extraordinary talk by Elizabeth Gilbert at TED 2009 for the second time.  If you have a spare 20 minutes, you will not regret taking the time to listen to it as well — she is quite funny & articulate and speaks on a fascinating topic, the nature of creativity.

Gilbert gives a whirlwind tour through the history of Western thought on creativity and its origins – from the daemons of the Ancient Greeks to the moment when humanists began ascribing genius to a particular person (‘he is a genius’ as opposed to ‘he has a genius’).  She believes that ever since beginning to place the weight of genius upon the shoulders of individuals, the creative community has suffered under this heavy load of responsibility.  Noting the otherworldly power that visits ‘works of genius’, she argues that genius is not in fact owned by any person, but on loan for a brief time, like a train rushing through a station.

Gilbert expresses her ideas far better than I can.  And she gets in a Harry Potter reference to boot.  Some favorite quotes:

“I am afraid of many things that people don’t know about – like seaweed.”

“The meddling capriciousness of the creative process can feel paranormal.”

As the Moors entered Southern Spain, the ovation of “Allah, Allah!” became “Olé, Olé!”


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