Genius Is Like "Mystical Fairy Juice," Says Eat, Pray, Love Author

Do society's expectations destroy geniuses? So says the ubiquitous Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (which we promise not to bash at all in this post).

Speaking at the 2009 Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference, Gilbert said we put too much pressure on artists and other creative people by holding them responsible for their own inspiration:

Allowing somebody ... to believe that he or she is ... the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, internal mystery is just like a smidge of too much responsibility to put on one fragile human psyche [...] It's like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all of these unnatural expectations about performance. I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.

Instead, she advocates a return to a pre-Renaissance attitude in which creativity was believed to come from the outside, from "a magical divine entity" or "mystical fairy juice." Artists would feel better, she says, if they accepted that their creative impulses didn't come from them, but were instead "on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life, which you pass along when you're finished to somebody else."

Focusing too much on one's own greatness or lack thereof can drive anybody off their rocker, but this "mythical fairy juice" smacks of New Age faux-religiosity to us. If you believe in God, then divine inspiration makes sense — but if all you've got is "some unimaginable source," is this vague spirituality really all that helpful? Leaving the spiritual question aside, the biggest problem for most artists/writers/creative people in general isn't crushing societal expectations — it's money. Give me reliable health insurance and I'll believe in whatever fairy juice you want.

TED: Eat, Pray, Love Author on How We Kill Geniuses [Wired]