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Just Show Up, With or Without Your Muse

How we think about the origin and development of creative abilities can have a strong impact on actually using our talents.

If we think creative expression has to wait for inspiration from a muse, or that there are only a few “chosen” geniuses with exceptional “gifts” – and think we aren’t one of those few – we may not even explore our inherent creative talents.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) made a presentation for a TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) and considered ‘the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses,’ as the video description of her presentation notes. She ‘shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius.’

In his post The Daimonic Insight: Creativity is a Force Separate from You on his Demon Muse blog, horror writer, teacher, and musician-composer Matt Cardin provides a summary of some of her main points.

Gilbert talks about the ancient Greco-Roman view of an inspiring daimon or genius as “a magical divine entity that was believed to live literally in the walls of an artist’s studio and would come out and invisibly assist the artist with the work and shape the outcome of the work,” Cardin writes.

In the video, Gilbert says the Romans did not think this Genius was a particularly clever individual, and one way to think of it is like the house elf Dobby in the Harry Potter movies.

In the movie The Golden Compass, based on the novels of Philip Pullman, a person’s daimon is depicted as an aware and verbal animal, such as the big cat of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) – see photo and read more in my post Do we all have genius? Does it get drummed out of us?

Cardin notes that Gilbert laments the loss of this idea of muse, beginning around the time of the Renaissance, to the human-centered attitude that views artists as geniuses instead of as having geniuses: “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,” she adds. “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.”

Gilbert also related a “story told to her by Tom Waits, who said he was once driving down the road when a burst of musical inspiration came to him. He had no way to capture the idea at the moment, and he entered a new phase of his creative life when he  spontaneously spoke to the sky, addressing the hypothetical creative force itself and asking it to go away and come back when he was in a better situation to greet it.”

Gilbert said our real creative task is simply to do our work and let the inspiration come and go as it wants, Cardin notes.

“Just do your job,” she told the audience. “Continue to show up for your piece of it. If your job is to dance, then do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed for just one moment for your efforts, then Ole. And if not, do your dance anyhow. Ole to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”

See the video “Elizabeth Gilbert: A new way to think about creativity” and related material in my post Creative talent: genetics, a muse, or hard work?

Painting: Kiss of the Muse by Paul Cezanne [From]

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Just Show Up, With or Without Your Muse

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Just Show Up, With or Without Your Muse. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 12 Apr 2012
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