I am an artist. It took years for those words to stop getting caught in my throat, and years more for them to tumble out of my mouth in anything other than a reluctant mumble. This is because for years I have been inundated with the societal myth of the “creative genius.” I used to believe that, to be an artist, I had to contain something extraordinary within me, something I could never truly attain. I heard the term “creative genius” applied to artists, writers, and musicians, and would immediately become overwhelmed by the heavy ache of self-loathing. The projects floating in my head that I could not truly grasp at were a source of constant anxiety, so much so that it sometimes seemed my head might burst. I lacked control that I supposed I somehow ought to have gained, had I been talented and dedicated enough.
This anxiety of the Artist is not much different from the anxiety of the Anybody. We are part of a society that can seem to believe in almost nothing other than The Self (and even then, barely). We all desire control over our projects, our art, and our lives, yet we look to the finite self to gain this control. It is somehow unnatural for us, the postmodern, individualistic Artists and Anybodies, to believe that we can at any moment draw upon something outside of ourselves, outside of our own inborn abilities or hard work. We trap ourselves in anxiety about our limitations. The result is crippling dissatisfaction with ourselves and the constant nagging feeling that nothing is enough.
There are those who have embraced human limitation. The ancient Greeks knew that they were not creative geniuses. Rather, they had a creative genius. Their inspiration, their muses, came to them and left them, and could not remain in their possession. Socrates himself seemed the wisest man simply because he knew that he knew so little. G.K. Chesterton points out how men try to get infinite heaven into their finite heads, and it is their heads that break, not heaven. The poets, however, are the ones trying to get their heads into heaven, and they succeed. When writing a poem, Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite talks to his words. He asks the words on his page if they have any friends they’d like to have join in on the conversation. And he listens.
These men did not try to trap something great inside of them. They communed with something outside of them in order to bring ideas into physical existence. When we give up control and deification of The Self as the source of all things, the anxiety all but ceases. We are able to tap into something much, much greater than ourselves.
This is where Christians have an advantage over the postmodern, individualistic Artists and the Anybodies. We are more like the Greeks and the poets than we realize, except we have something much more infinite than muses. The Holy Spirit that dwells within us is certainly greater than our mortal bodies. We do not control Him: rather, if we allow it, He controls us. He is the source from which inspiration flows and stops when it will. What freedom there is, in knowing that we control so little, that we have such an infinite source to guide and inspire us, that nothing we create or do is of our own merit!
I am not a creative genius. I am limited, often a mere vessel, and I’m glad. I don’t want control anymore. I have learned to admire the “not enough” I find in my art-making, in my words. It reminds me that my art is an image, apicture, of a greater, perfect, elusive something. I hope my Christian walk and my artmaking become a testament to the existence of something infinite and holy rather than an affirmation of human glory. I hope I never have such a large ego and small conception of infinite heaven that I believe I can fit it all inside my own mind. I hope we all, Artists and Anybodies alike, learn to listen and respond to the greater, perfect, elusive something; realizing with joy that we are not, and never need be, creative geniuses.