Friday, February 13, 2009

Reflections on Genius; or, Colorful Thoughts

For the last few days I’ve been thinking about ideas, from a philosophical point of view. (I wish I were wearing this dress by Etro while doing so.)

You see, I watched a video of author Elizabeth Gilbert at the TED conference, where she was speaking about creativity and genius. (I don’t think I’m her usual audience--I didn't read her big book, for instance, but I did appreciate some of her thoughts here on the creative process.)

Her point was that it’s too much of a burden to place creativity exclusively on the artist’s shoulders, for that can lead to doubt and insecurity and tortured thoughts. Rather, she looks to ancient Greece and Rome for their concepts of “daemons” and “geniuses”—beings who would visit the artist and collaborate with them by giving them a poem, a character, a vision. Instead of being a genius, an artist can have a genius, which would relieve pressure, said Gilbert.

Then she talked about the musician Tom Waits, who was driving on the freeway in California one day when a melody started coming to him. Without a paper, pencil, or recording device at hand, he could have grown frustrated, but instead called out to the sky and told his “genius” to return at a later time when he was able to receive its message. I think he told it to go bother Leonard Cohen.

I’ve been thinking about this conception of genius and it has completely impeded my ability to write, not because I have nothing to think about, but because this notion is all I can think about. (But don’t get me started on Virginia Woolf and that darn “angel in the house.”)

For sometimes, just when I lie down to sleep, a patterned fabric will flash in my mind. The colors are gorgeous, the pattern harmonious and elegant, and it quickly disappears. I’m not a fabric designer, but is my “genius” telling me to design fabric? I don’t jump up to sketch it, and am content for the moment to enjoy these flashes as, well, flashes.

But what a cruel genius I must have, to visit me just when I’m finally ending my day, taunting me with a vision. Or is she a benevolent genius, sending me a textile lover’s version of a lullaby?

Now that I’ve got down these thoughts, perhaps I’ll be free to think of something else.

Like how much I’m loving the lines of my Loeffler Randall cut-out shoe booties. And how I need to bring them to the cobbler immediately to get a thicker sole put on them.

They’re pure genius.


materfamilias said...

That was a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking post (have you read Lewis Hyde's classic work, The Gift, on the artist and gift economy?), but I'm mostly arrested by those gorgeous booties. Can't help wondering what your students say about those -- they've got to help your evaluations!

miss cavendish said...

These booties make me insanely happy when I wear them. I'm a better prof. when I'm well shod!

I'll check out the work you mention . . .

*gemmifer* said...

I don't know if it's genius, but I have many nights where some idea for a piece of jewelry or some other creative project pops into my head while I'm trying to fall asleep. I think it's because that's the first time all day that I've not had anything distracting me, that my mind is "clear". I might be able to fall asleep faster if I just got up to jot the idea on a piece of paper, but I can't bring myself to get out of bed again!

enc said...

I keep notebooks all over the place to deal with flashes of "genious" or inspiration. Not every idea I have is good, but at least I don't forget or lose them.

Those shoes are so sweet!

Iheartfashion said...

I'm addicted to the TED videos-will have to watch Elizabeth Gilbert's.
LOVE the shoes!

Bonbon Oiseau said...

well said. thank you for this. i feel more capable for some reason now. i'm going to pass this on now to my friends who will love this idea even more.
i am loving your blog--found you through small expectations. i will be back for sure!

miss sophie said...

love the lr shoe booties - as a grad student (and aspiring lit prof), i definitely agree with you on the importance of killer shoes for teaching. which reminds's time i make a trip to MY cobbler...