Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) Talks Creativity and Fear

To All Our Creative Curls… This is a MUST watch video for you!

“Norman Mailer said shortly before his death that, “Every one of my books has killed me a little more.”  … (This is ) an extraordinary statement to make about your life’s work but we don’t even blink when we hear someone say this. We’ve internalized and accepted that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked (and that) artistry will ultimately lead to anguish.”

“Then the renaissance came and people began to put the individual human being at the center of the universe above all Gods and mysteries. And for the first time history, you started to hear people refer to this or that artist as a ‘genius’ instead of, having a genius and I think that was a huge error. Allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is the vessel…the essence and the source of all divine, creative and unknowable mystery is just a smidge  too much responsibly to put on one fragile human. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos and creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years. ” – Elizabeth Gilbert

 As an artist myself, I can identify with this completely. I am currently, in rehearsals for an off- Broadway show I’m doing and I was witness to an actor tearing himself apart. He was pacing, sweating, making awkward jokes, over-thinking and just plain drowning. If any of you are performers, you know that the rehearsal process can be one of the most frustrating, ego-shattering, and torturous things in the world if you don’t take it for what it is and truly trust that it is a process. To be in a room filled with fellow actors, the director, the musical director, the pianist, the choreographer, and the assistant director and not be able to ‘perform’ at your best or to their liking is one of the worst feelings of rejection a performer can feel. And instead of owning that it wasn’t perfect yet, he was fighting it. But ‘getting it’ isn’t even the hardest part. Once you make it work, you have to repeat it… over and over and over again while adding your own fresh little spin to it so that it doesn’t get stale and boring. It’s exhausting and mind-bogglng all at the same time but if you’re a creative person you live for it.

One of my favorite acting teachers once said to me that when it comes to live theater, “You make it different every night not just because you’re trying to be as truthful and in the moment as possible, but because you also need to preserve your own sanity.” The night before I received a standing ovation for my work in one of her products. I was on fire. Seriously, I slayed. That next evening, I was more than ready to go out and repeat my previous performance. To my surprise, nothing was landing. No laughs, no applause, nothing. I was beating myself up backstage… almost in tears, applying more makeup (as if that was going to somehow change my performance), questioning my talent, my physical appearance while lacing my corset a little tighter… straight trippin… and slipping into that rejected, misfit actor pit. It wasn’t until after I spoke to my director/teacher did I realize she let me bomb on purpose so that I would never again try to be perfect while trying to be creative. Those two efforts are like oil and water. Together, they don’t mix. I quickly understood that my previous performance could very well have been my absolute best and that I may not ever be able to repeat it again. But if I was ever going to get anywhere close to resurrecting that performance I was going to have to get out of my head, forget about the audience and my incessant need to be affirmed by them, get free and play moment to moment on stage. It’s really a crazy world to be in. If you are ever searching for yourself and need some clarity,consider being a performer or offer yourself to others in any creative form. It was surely bring all your deepest insecurities and victories for you to reflect on to the forefront. I promise.

So with all that said, how do we help creative people manage the “inherent emotional risks that come with creativity”? How do we battle creative narcissism when in today’s world with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and every other social media platform you almost HAVE to be somewhat self promoting and narcissistic?  Let’s be real, Shanti and I wouldn’t have a blog or platform to even ask these questions on if we didn’t constantly take pictures of ourselves and post them all over the internet with the latest hair trends and such attached to them. That helped put us on. I don’t know the answer. But I do know that it is a constant struggle for both of us. Where do we draw the line? And how do we handle rejection when we spend hours on a style or post that gets no love? How do I go on stage after I just cracked 3 times in rehearsal? How do we feel safe enough to continue to share creatively?

In the words of Dave Chappelle, “I just don’t wanna be that tragic m*thaF*CKa”.

I Couldn’t Help But Think About These Fallen Creative Soldiers.

Whitney Houston
Michael Jackson
Donny Hathaway
jean michel basquiat
Jean Michel Basquiat

 So, What Do You Think? Does Creative Genius and Artistry Ultimately Lead to Anguish?

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8 thoughts on “Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) Talks Creativity and Fear

  1. What is up with all the spam comments ^ ? :-((. Spammers go away!

    Anyway, this post is right on time for me. I’m a musician so that = performer. I am a perfectionist and always scared to death of not doing my best. I’m in school and it’s crucial right now because I have a performance class and the point of the class is to critique your performance. I have gotten feedback from my professors that I need to work on enjoying the process b/c I look uncomfortable on stage. I AM uncomfortable on stage! LOL. I even stopped playing for a few years b/c fear gripped me so bad. I am trying to find a way to connect so that it’s not so much about perfection but about the creative process, the emotion of it and the enjoyment of it. I’m totally there with you! :-). Re: the genius thing, I think that is so true. It does all of us a disservice. I have gotten caught up in the hype as well ( labeling people that or seeking to be on that level) and it’s like a dog chasing it’s tail. Gets you nowhere. If you are seeking that or labeling someone like that, it’s craziness! There is an expectation in labeling someone a “genius” that everything that comes from them should always be “genius”. It’s too much. I hope I didn’t get too off topic. :-). I would surely love to see you perform one day! :-) Thanks for this post. At least I know I am not alone. Do the darn thing girl! :-) xo

    ~M

  2. I think this topic was the very reason I was afraid of my own talent, and literally sabotaged myself for a long time. Its also the reason why I subconsciously chose to stay depressed, because that’s what I thought the “artist” in me, is. I’ve now realized, like your teacher taught you BEST: we as humans, and especially artists, no matter how much we are applauded, praised and blessed with this gift from God; are not perfect. That’s it. That’s the day I started to live, offstage and on the stage – in the moment. Beautiful article Antoinette.

  3. I’ve always admired artists (of all kinds) for their incredible courage. Painters must be brave to be able to put what they feel on canvas and treat it as important even if the rest of the world may not think the same way. I love how singers can reach for that high note and having the faith that they’ll get it. Musicians make something beautiful out of absolutely nothing and it blows my mind every time. I think courage is synonymous with being a true artist so this post was definitely interesting. On another note, I don’t know why so many people hate on Elizabeth Gilbert. When I was reading Eat Pray Love I was really touched by some of the revelations she came to. Of course her ability to take a year off and travel the world is unique but I’m not hating! If I could I would!

  4. I feel like it only leads to anguish when you feed into what the world wants. I think you hit the nail right on the head. You are a better performer because you saw that the true talent comes from getting lost in the performance. As a poet, I have poems that I write that I think suck, and I have others that I love. Sometimes people love the ones I hate, and hate the ones I love. That’s just how the world works, but more importantly, it doesn’t stop me from doing what I love. I just keep on writing poems and being creative because that what Gods wants from me. Anguish only comes when you go out and try to perform at a level that wasn’t meant for you..

  5. Girl tell me about it. I’m an artist too. I draw, paint and do photography but I’m always questioning whether my work is good enough. Questioning if I’m good enough to even call myself an artist. I really like what Elizabeth Gilbert said. Putting so much pressure on creative people really brings about a complex in the mind of artists that their lively hood and sometimes their life depends on how successfully they execute their creative talent. It really can get crazy and scary. It reminds me of the saying “With great talent often comes great demons.”

  6. Hello! Came across your website today, I wanted to let you know that I very much appreciate your openness. This post struck a chord with me.

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