I remember when the book Eat, Pray, Love hit the bookstores and roared to the top of prominent best seller lists. Oprah was loving Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir and movie producers were thrilled to adapt this spiritual journey to the big screen. A few of female friends had read it and used words like “life-changing” and “page-turner”. Try as I might, the “curling up” that is suppose to happen with a good book, just didn’t happen for me, so I returned the book back to the friend who enthusiastically loaned it to me, mumbling something about how it was interesting and did not give Elizabeth Gilbert another thought.
Recently, a friend sent me a link to a TED talk about creativity. We had been talking about the creative process and perceptions of creativity and I was surprised to see that the talk was given by Elisabeth Gilbert, author of the best selling book turned movie, yes you guessed it, Eat, Pray, Love. Ok, I thought, I’ll bite.
Who would have thunk that 18 minutes of someone, just, well… talking would be so satisfying. Gilbert is funny, thoughtful and curious. She articulated so well what it feels like to walk the path of artist in this society. In 18 minutes Gilbert analyzes how creative types (artist, actors, singers, writers, poets, etc) are generally viewed as doomed to suffer mentally, emotionally and financially. The common view is that their pursuits are somehow the sign of mental illness.
I am very fortunate to know many people who are sincere supporters of the arts (ie folks who regularly attend theater, live music, dance etc) who know the value of the arts on the mind and heart. Therefore, I am surprised, when in their concern and care, they give me fearful predictions for my creative journey and how I am surely doomed to a life of economic hardship and difficulty. I have walked away from those conversations baffled.
Supporting the arts is not just about purchasing tickets or subscriptions to your favorite venues, it means supporting a culture/conversation that sees the artist as thriving, sane and necessary. To support the arts means to challenge the assumptions that artists will always have to limp economically through life. If we truly value their contribution, then why hang such limiting and fearful thoughts on a profession that has the potential to give illumination and joy? Where does this thinking come from? Rarely are aspiring medical students told that their dream to become doctor is just crazy talk? Do we interrogate them as to whether their skills are practical and/or transferable? Gilbert’s talk is a great springboard to explore the assumptions that we have about artists in our society. And you know what? I think I’ll try reading her book again.