February 2009 TED talk. Locating the source of the creative spark within (as was the case since Renaissance), rather than without (in daimons of ancient Greece and geniuses of Rome), proved to be, according to Gilbert, an uncommonly destructive idea for artists. If you think you are the source, then you are to blame all those times when your pen, brush, or body, either refuses to move, or, worse, moves in a way that insults the muses. She suggests that the return to the old idea – that it is all out of our hands, good art and bad – may create a protective construct artists may hold up against the onslaught of creative blocks, anxiety, and self-destruction. The important thing, she says, is to keep showing up for work. If a great work of art is created, you can’t take the praise (which will prevent narcissism), and if you produce something lame, it is not your fault. After all, you have showed up for your part of the deal and it is really your daimon who must have been sleepy that day. She should take the blame.
One can’t but be moved by Gilbert’s tender plea for a shield with which to protect artists against themselves. But chasing the torment away, I think, is even more dangerous than yielding to it. Torment serves a purpose, and the purpose is to remind us that, at this particular time, we are not very good channels for inspiration. And being a rusty channel, I’m afraid, is entirely our fault. If we want to take lessons from the ancients, we should swallow both their sweet and bitter seeds. Socrates’ lesson was not that your daimon shows up some days to fill your page, other days staying away. It is that we all have a daimon, and that our daimon is with us all the time, but that our ears are too full of other things to hear it. Socrates was a slave only to his daimon, and consequently heard it all the time. Modern artists, like ancient ones, and like non-artists too, are slaves to many other things besides - success, fear, productivity – and enough noise will make the gentle music of art inaudible. Torment is the way we are reminded to quiet the noise, and start paying attention. It is a reminder to be slaves to our art. And being slaves to our art does not mean being chained to your desk. It means probing, and sometimes destroying, the inner landscape that has grown insensitive to the elusive caress of art.
So it seems it’s not just about showing up at your writing desk. While inspiration is still a gift, the torment is a warning signal that we are, for now, unfit to receive it. So, no matter how much Gilbert wants to save us from ourselves, we cannot wish away the paradox that seems both unfair and irrational - that in art, while we cannot take the praise, we have to take the blame.