It would be very dangerous for me to start down the dark path of assumption that to be at the peak of your creative spirit you need to a bit crazy, particularly given that I think I still have maybe another four decades of work left in me to write.
Most successful writers wrote a couple of books before they wrote that one big blockbuster book that made them popular. Most artists created things in the small before that one particular creation that propelled them to greater heights. And sometimes it’s exceedingly likely that anything an artist do from that point forward is going to be judged by the world as the work that came after that freakish success of their last hit creation, and sometimes it’s exceedingly likely that as an artist your greatest success is behind you. What a thought knowing that your big successful art, book or creative work is behind you. That’s the kind of thought that could lead an artist to start drinking gin at nine o’clock in the morning, and I don’t want to go there.
I would prefer to keep doing this work that I love even after my one successful book or creative work.
And so, the question becomes, how? How do you keep creating consistently after writing that one popular blog-post. It seems to me, upon a lot of reflection, that the way that I have to work now, in order to continue writing, is that I have to create some sort of protective psychological construct. I have to sort of find some way to have a safe distance between me, as I am writing, and my very natural anxiety about what the reaction to that writing is going to be, from now on.
As I have been looking, over the last year, for models for how to do that, I have been looking across time, and I have been trying to find other societies to see if they might have had better and saner ideas than we have about how to help creative people sort of manage the inherent emotional risks of creativity.
As part of researching my new book on Art and Innovation that research led me to ancient Greece and ancient Rome. So stay with me, because it does circle around and back.
In ancient Greece and ancient Rome, people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then. People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons.
The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity “daemons.” Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar.
The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio and would come out and invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.
So brilliant, there it is, right there, that distance that I’m talking about, that psychological construct to protect you from the results of your work.
And everyone knew that this is how it functioned. So the ancient artist was protected from certain things, like, for example, too much narcissism.
If your work was brilliant, you could not take all the credit for it, everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. If your work bombed out, not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame.
And this is how people thought about creativity in the West for a really long time.
I prefer to look at art and creativity with that distance between myself and that creative spirit.
Don’t let success go to your head and don’t let failure go to your heart.
Don’t take success too personally and don’t take failure too personally.
Just keep on doing your art, do it because you love it, don’t do it because you want to impress anyone out there.
I always maintain that I will keep blogging even if nobody reads my blog. I blog for me, not to gain popularity and make money out of my blog. If people read my blog that is awesome and I’m grateful, but I will not convert the interest and loyalty people show on my blog into commercial interest, hence I don’t have adverts on my blog.
We do art and creativity not because of fame, but because art and creativity is a friend, it is part of who we are.
Albert Einstein said it very well: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”