I’ve been pondering over Smashley’s latest post about Superstition of Creativity.
I’d watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk at TED before and found her insight into the creative process maddeningly interesting.
The key point that stuck out for me wasn’t about the idea of creativity feeling as though it is out of your control and the superstition surrounding it. It was the claimed psychological freeing that this notion provides.
Basically her argument is that artists who think that creativity comes only from within put themselves under enormous, and even damaging, pressure to succeed. The idea that being a genius rather than having a genius (playing host to a muse) is dangerous.
“I think that allowing somebody… to believe that he or she is like the… source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidgen too much responsibility to put on one fragile human psyche. It is like asking someone to swallow the sun.”
She reasons that it is this pressure that has been killing-off artists, either literally in cases of suicide, or through harsh lives brought about by self destructive behaviour. The best way to avoid this is to go back to superstitious thinking, thereby taking the pressure off the artist.
Now, I am first to admit I am a lay psychologist. Ask Freud, I lay anything. But my main concern with this argument is that the illnesses Gilbert associates with creative minds such as manic depression cannot be cured by thinking differently. The idea that we can think ourselves happy is as damaging as the idea that we can cure cancer with hugs.
As a comedian, my ‘art’ is widely associated with mental illness. Lots of comedians have suffered and still suffer with it. Ruby Wax, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry etc etc. Most recently, my friend, the wonderful Mackenzie Taylor took his own life.
Perhaps Gilbert is right, that comedians suffer like all other artists from self induced pressure and it drives us potty.
Perhaps we have a bit of causation/correlation mix up. While I have no stats whatsoever of prevalence of mental illness in comedians compared to the rest of the population, I’d put money on it being higher. There is something peculiar about wanting a job where the goal is to have a room full of complete strangers laugh at you.
Comedy attracts the sick, it doesn’t make us sick.
But equally, there are many sane, well adjusted comedians and artists. The only difference I can see between artists and the non-creatives (like there is such a thing) is that firstly, we have an innate desire to fail in front of everyone, and secondly, the idea of doing a real job leaves us feeling a bit peaky.
Real mental illness is real mental illness. You can’t tackle that by lying to yourself. It is the worst idea in the world to tell someone suffering delusions that their delusions are real.