Creativity Myth #2: Only out of suffering comes great art.

This Fall Quarter, students enrolled in Courtney Putnam’s HUMAN 210 course (part one in the year-long series to produce Cascadia’s creative arts magazine Yours Truly) are reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and debunking common myths about creativity, myths that Gilbert addresses in her book. In the following post, Cascadia students Shaun Segraves and Josh Ontiveros address the myth that only out of suffering comes great art.

Take Care of Your Creativity, and Your Creativity Will Take Care of You

by Shaun Segraves and Josh Ontiveros


The kalo (taro) plant has supreme importance to the Hawaiian culture and was the main staple of the natives. A Hawaiian deity named Hāloa is said to be the first Hawaiian who took the form of the kalo plant, therefore providing life for generations to come—”the genius within us.”

There’s a common misconception in the modern art and literary community which sets an unreasonable expectation on artists and creative thinkers. The familiar myth “only out of suffering comes great art” has been a standard measurement of success for a long time, hasn’t it? From a young age, we are taught that only the best work comes from a tortured soul. Then and only then can we value their work to its fullest extent. Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven was a bothersome little fellow, Vincent Van Gogh lost his temper (and part of his ear) in a fit of rage, and George Seurat sabotaged meaningful relationships all for A Sunday Afternoon These familiar stories fit the stereotype quite nicely. Now we realize we have to choose, either follow in the footsteps of these so called “geniuses” and buckle up for a bumpy ride, or run like hell in the opposite direction of every creative thought that crosses your mind. It’s okay, we understand, we would run like hell too!


However, what if you are one of the brave few who stick it out, creating meaningful works of art, but you haven’t suffered? Does that mean you won’t reach your fullest potential until you do? Will your work be valued by your peers? You start to think, “I need to experience a death, a breakup, a sickness, or something majorly traumatizing in order for my art to have a sense of purpose,” but do you really? Elizabeth Gilbert tells us in Big Magic, choosing to be the suffering artist is all well and good, it’s one method that’s proven to get results, until “it kills you.” Self-destruction may seem like a pretty solid plan, but is it really healthy? Think about it, if you don’t take care of your creativity, how can you expect your creativity to take care of you?

Gilbert offers an alternative to the suffering. To do so you must “cooperate fully, humbly, joyfully with inspiration…you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting- its partner.” We really like how simple this message is to everyone. It seems far less terrifying than having to geniusfindyouagonize for our art, writing, or creativity. The Roman’s had a similar belief to this partnership between a creative idea, and a person who brings it to life. They believed a talented person “had a genius.” Yes, you read that correctly. Like a magical deity that helped lead them in the right direction, of course, this only worked if the talented person allowed the genius to do their job.

So, we offer you this message the next time you feel like you haven’t suffered enough to create something great. Listen to the genius speaking to you in your mind, say hello, offer it a warm beverage, and listen to what it is they need from you. If you can open yourself up to this, the possibilities are endless.

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