Thursday, July 08, 2010

Creative Spirits

In a video posted at, the American writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, talks of a "different" way to think about creative genius.

Talking about the pain and pressures of human creativity, Ms. Gilbert laments about the way in which it turns many artists into alcoholics, drug-addicts and other forms of social nuisance, as well as the western notion that creativity and suffering are, somehow, inherently linked. To escape from this "utter maddening capriciousness of the creative process", she digs the past for better and saner ideas on how creative minds could deal with inherent emotional risks of creativity, and finds a solution from the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Ancient Greeks and Romans did not believe that creativity came from human beings - it was considered a divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant unknowable source, for unknowable reasons. The Greeks called this attendant, unknowable spirit, the "Daemon", while the Greeks called the same spirit, the "Genius".

Ms. Gilbert also talks about a North African, Muslim tradition of chanting "Allah!Allah!" whenever a dancer elevated his performance to something truly exceptional, even transcendental. A tradition that was carried by the Moors into Europe and became the "Ole! Ole!" for dancers in modern Spain.

It is all very interesting...but at the end of Ms. Gilbert's talk, I wondered why her search for the creativity problem did not take her further East. She might have discovered the rationale behind the 'invention' of numerous deities in the Hindu pantheon; a tried-and-tested "protocol" to deal with the destructiveness of the ego or the "aham-karam" (Sanskrit for the "I" factor) in which all creativity was attributed to "Saraswati" - the goddess of knowledge, skill and learning. As well as the reason why some of the finest Indian classical musicians and dancers, wear the crown of fame & glory so lightly.

This also brought back memories of a performance by the flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia at Nehru Park in Delhi, a few years ago. Following a flawless rendition of Raag Yaman Kalyaan, when some excited fans shouted their praise, he simply said that he was merely being used by Goddess Saraswati.

"There are nights", he said, "when I'm practicing alone, she overwhelms me so completely with her music...that I am convinced that she's alive in my bansuri. On those nights, I end up carefully tucking my flute-set into my bed, while I sleep on the floor."



A different way to think about creative genius: Elizabeth Gilbert on -
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