[Photo Credits Below]

[Photo Credits Below]

One of my favorite TED Talks of all time is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” in which she talks about different models for creativity, and how artists can interact with the bizarre and sometimes unexplainable ether of creative power in a way that will not, as she puts it, “make us lose our minds.”

The main point of the talk is that somewhere along the road, we veered too far from our creative forefathers in our vision of artistry. Instead of believing that people were attended by a spirit of genius, we began to believe that they were the geniuses themselves, and that that pressure has been destructive to those seeking a creative life.

While I get what Gilbert was doing in her talk, and I agree that you don’t have to be tortured to produce great art, there are some things we should acknowledge.

1. It helps.

But on a more serious note, and most importantly:

2. This does not mean that artistry and suffering are not linked. 

Gilbert’s idea could use refining, because even though a tortured soul is not requisite for making art, art is transformation for the tortured soul. Put a different way: While suffering is not necessary to produce great art, art has always been necessary to relieve great suffering.

Put a different way: While suffering is not necessary to produce great art, art has always been necessary to relieve great suffering.

Look at beautiful works like, “Wide Sargasso Sea” which could only be created as an outgrowth of true-to-life experiences. There wouldn’t be an 8 Mile if that hadn’t been Eminem’s life. And the point here is that these works ring so true, not because the suffering was needed, but because the art was.

Art is used to make us laugh, cry, to relate to us, and most importantly, to help us frame our experiences. A slave doesn’t want to be just a slave, nor a prisoner a prisoner, nor a bullied gay kid simply thus. They want to be kings, emperors, debutantes, rulers, cool kids, as do we all.

Art is one of our most powerful vehicles to take our suffering and make something of it. Negro spirituals like “Wade in the Water” aren’t powerful because they recount a nice trip to the beach. They are powerful because they engage so heavily in one of the principal acts of art: Taking objectively awful or confusing experiences and making them mean something.

Art makes us feel better about both death and taxes, and other nasty things we don’t like to talk about.

So while I understand what Gilbert was saying, I disagree: Artistry and suffering are linked, and as long as we have suffering in the world, we will need great art to relieve it.

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[Photo Credits]

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Photographer: Erik Charlton

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