By: Jess Canty
We have this notion of the artist as the "inspired emotional genius" who relies on their imagination for their creations.
Our metaphors for creativity are lightening - something to be struck by. And the lightbulb - that goes on and off in an instant.
And one of the most looked-to poster-children for this kind of so-called "creative genius" is Vincent Van Gogh - who painted the majority of his most well known works in the final two years of his life.
I agree Van Gogh may have been a genius. But he was also plagued by mental illness throughout his life and was subjected to the available drugs at the time that often did more harm than good. There is even a theory now that his abundant use of yellow was a possible side-effect of one of the drugs he was likely treated with. Because it casts a yellow-green hue on - and often yellow coronas around - everything that those who are taking it see. Sort of gives a different context to Starry Night no?
We have this notion - I think a very dangerous and out-dated one - that the artist is to be a tortured, melancholic, difficult to deal with soul, and one who must give their brains and even lives, as Van Gogh ultimately did, in service of a "creativity" that drives them to madness.
Is this how creativity works? That there are some people in this world that apparently are in a perpetual lightening storm and lightbulbs are going off all the time? If you aren't one of these "lucky" people you should just quit right?
I am sorry, but I did not sign up for a life of tortured madness, poverty and unhealthy relationships in service of my so-called creativity, when I decided to join this industry.
True creativity? I believe that comes in forcing yourself to sit down and work, even if you aren't feeling "inspired."
Every year I force myself to watch every Oscar-nominated film, if possible, prior to the telecast (though I admittedly don't always get there with the foreign films and shorts).
Yesterday I watched At Eternity's Gate and RBG.
And I was struck by the contrast between these two geniuses. Because one could argue that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most creative legal minds of her era. Why?
Because in her determination to un-do the hundreds of sexist laws in this country that were holding women back, she started with cases in which men were being discriminated against because of these very same laws.
Pretty creative approach. And one that could only be arrived at by the deep knowledge of the legal landscape for women at the time. Knowledge obtained by an obsessive work-ethic that has remained to this day. Just watch the doc, and see if you don't go to the gym more LOL.
Neil Simon wrote every day. I guarantee you Shonda, Ryan and Greg (you should know these last names by now LOL) are working 70-80+ hours per week over-seeing their television universes.
Is it "easier" to apply this to writing and the law and paining? Perhaps. Nobody has to give you permission to fill a blank page or a blank canvas or review case-files at the university law library.
So where do you "act" every day if you don't have an audition, class, or an acting gig?
You do it by observing.
Start with your own behavior. How do you act in a fight? In an negotiation? When you are trying to seduce someone?
Watch other people.
Sit at a cafe and people watch. Yep! That's right - I am telling you to go sit at a cafe and watch how people behave and interact and that counts as acting work.
Want to be on a medical procedural? Go sit in the main atrium at Cedars for a day. What is it like? How do the doctors and nurses move? Interact? Talk?
Watch great performances. Which actors and actresses blow you away? What turns you on?
Want to be an action hero? Watch Bruce, Tom, Sly, Arnold, Dwayne. How do they do what they do? What makes their performances stand out as the best?
Who is on your ECK list? Have you watched everything they've ever done? Have you watched it in linear order? How did they grow as an actor over the course of their career? How are they still growing? Love Meryl? What if you watched every movie she ever made in the order she made it? I bet you'd know something you didn't before if you did this exercise.
And yes, for the record I am telling you that watching your favorite movies, TV and theater IS part of your "going to work."
So next time you aren't "feeling creative" or wishing you were a mad genius overcome by so-called inspiration remember that this is a notion of artists likely derived from the lack of reliable medical care to treat, and understanding of, mental illness.
True, we have done it to ourselves - the story of the tortured artist who is overcome by their genius in a world that does't understand them has become grist for the Hollywood mill.
Which is why I personally am rooting for Rami to win best actor this year. Was his portrayal of Freddie due to some crazy madness lightening strike? Freddie's hand touching him from somewhere in the cosmos?
Perhaps only in that it gave him the energy and stamina to watch the Live Aid performance a supposed 800+ times in order to embody it. That kind of work-ethic I personally believe IS genius and deserving of an Oscar.
For my part, instead of talking about the "genius" that produced over 500 paintings in two years - I am going to start to talk about the paintings that the world missed out on because Van Gogh was dead by 37.
Let go of the lightening and bulbs.
Get to work.