I recently rewatched the TED talk “Your elusive creative genius” by Elizabeth Gilbert from 2009.
It reminded me again of the possibilities that await if I am continually opening myself to their arrival.
Some historical background
Ancient Greece and ancient Rome did not believe that creativity came from human beings but believed it was a divine spirit that visited human beings from somewhere.
The Greeks called these spirits “daemons” and Socrates believed his wisdom came to him from a daemon.
The Romans also believed in this creative spirit but called it a “genius”. However, they did not think that a genius was particularly clever – just a magical divine entity, who would come out and invisibly assist the artist with their work.
Jump to the Renaissance. People started to believe that creativity came completely from the individual. So, for the first time in history, people started referring to an artist as being a genius, rather than having a genius. This puts an incredible demand on the artist!
Back to now
I would guess that almost anyone involved in creative pursuits, whether they be of the “agreed” “artistic” kind – painting, writing, design, dance, … – or the rest – business, parenting, relationships, life! … has had that moment of inspiration, that spark of an idea, that gift. Being aware of its arrival can be a joy and a scramble to jot it down, capture it in that moment before it’s gone and perhaps forgotten.
The saying “First thought, best thought” also captures this fly-in spark. As a designer, I would often be gifted with this during the initial briefing for a new job. I would be scratching it down on paper as the conversation continued. Invariably, as was convention, three designs were submitted, post briefing.
Once I’d completed the gifted piece, then was the slog began to deliver up the two others to meet the brief’s requirements. But, for me, it was always that first gifted one that was the winner.
I recall rightly or wrongly, (see box below for the facts!) a famous New York adman from the sixties saying to a client, when they requested three designs, “No. You’ll get one design – the right design.” I haven’t been able to track this down as fact – maybe it was a scene from the hit show Mad Men! ,
Paul Rand – one design only
Paul Rand on trusting that first design idea:
an Interesting example – Steve Jobs approached Paul Rand and asked him to design the NeXT identity. Paul stipulated that $100,000 would be paid upfront, he would design one identity/logo and Steve would have to like it or lump it.
It takes a confident designer to take this approach, but it also takes a very confident client to accept!
Day to day reality
But most of us don’t have that kind of confidence.
Few of us can we call upon the genius – at will and on-demand. But some of us practice to make this visit more possible.
What we can do is to be open to the moment – because you never know when the spark will come. We can be curious and keep playing with what comes our way – then we are honing our skills to welcome the genius.