Friday, October 9, 2015

Originality Versus Authenticity

I read Elizabeth Gilbert's book on the creative process, Big Magic, yesterday. She writes simply and directly, but sparks shoot up at certain points. There is a lightning-quick energy in the book, the energy that belongs to the author and that magically dissolves in the gooey innards of the book. 

The book is like a shaking-up of all the used, rusted beliefs that we might be carrying as creative people. It asks us to lighten up. It talks about how "creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred." It tells us that "what we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all." It tells us to lighten up and to ride the magical steed of creativity, to surrender to its will, to understand that starting a conversation with our creativity has no guarantees except the full aliveness it brings to our lives. 

Gilbert tells us her own unique perspective on that age-old struggle of the artiste: feeling that he or she is just making the same things that have always been made. 

"Maybe you fear that you are not original enough. Maybe that's the problem--you're worried that your ideas are commonplace and pedestrian, and therefore unworthy of creation. Aspiring writers will often tell me, "I have an idea, but I'm afraid it's already been done." 

She goes on to say: "Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done--but they have not yet been done by you.

By the time Shakespeare was finished with his run on life, he'd pretty much covered every story line there is, but that hasn't stopped nearly five centuries of writers from exploring the same story lines all over again. (And remember, many of those stories were already cliches long before even Shakespeare got his hands on them.) When Picasso saw the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux, he reportedly said, "We have learned nothing in twelve thousand years"--which is probably true, but so what?" 

I remember reading this quote by Picasso a long time back, and at that time it had struck me as sad and as if there was nothing left in the world to do. I was a child then who had barely started a conversation with her creativity, and something in the quote had shut me down. Over the years, I think I have often made this excuse to stop myself from wading in the mud to get to the lotus. 

Yes, everything has been done before. Most things, in countless fields, have been done already. But what does that mean if you are a creative person? Elizabeth gives us her answer: 

"So what if we repeat the same themes? So what if we circle around the same ideas, again and again, generation after generation? So what if every new generation feels the same urges and asks the same questions that human beings have been feeling and asking for years? We're all related, after all, so there's going to be some repetition of creative instinct. Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours." 

She goes on to say that authenticity impresses her much more than originality as she gets older. 

"Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me. Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart. Share whatever you are driven to share. If it's authentic enough, believe me--it will feel original." 

So, if you want to make something, make it. If you want to try your hand at something new, whether it is creative with a capital C or a creative expression that feeds the rest of your life, do it. Maybe you want to do something silly or something that others might consider silly.  A silly thing I did some months ago was buy an adult coloring book and color away. Someone made an off-hand comment about it when I shared it. Well actually it was more like an off-hand, non-understanding "I don't get this" look and complete non-interest. Although I continued coloring after that for some time, something in me seemed to curl around this look and loosened its grip on this creative, playful activity. 

I dropped it. I abandoned it. It looked silly, but it was far from silly. It was one of the most heart-nourishing activities I have ever done. In the months previously, my heart had felt curdled. I think it was the creative child in me that was out of sorts. It had checked out. But with the coloring book, I had tools that this little child could play in. It delighted in the choosing of the colors. It knew there was nothing to achieve, just an engagement with the colors blooming on the page. My mind slowed down. In fact, it retreated to the back and stopped its incessant chatter almost as soon as I started coloring. 

For those few weeks, I had a tool to quiet my automatic mind, to drop down from it into my heart. I felt like I was pouring the colors back into my own heart. And yet, I gave it up because of a look. 

We give up such important things because someone else doesn't understand. But I will pick up my coloring book again and color in my lovely mandalas. I have found something, however small, that nourishes my being. It bypasses my mind and goes to my essence, the artiste who loves to play with colors, who likes making lines on the page, who feels like this little task is stringing up the pieces of disjointed time and making it flow smoothly again. 

Why would I give up something that makes me feel alive? Why would you? 


  1. I love your blog :-) I like the way you share your stories.

  2. Beautifully expressed - I love it! Do more of what you love indeed - and it doesn't matter if others don't "get it."