Friday, June 26, 2009

Creative Geniuses

I hesitate to jump on the Michael Jackson blog post bandwagon. I've never been one to follow the crowd in such things, but his untimely death did get me to thinking about creativity, genius, and suffering. Why is it too often those go hand in hand?

Just thinking about all of the actors, singers, authors, and other public figures who have had a tremendous impact on society and died under tragic circumstances, some were accidents, some were suicides. James Dean, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Princess Diana, JFK, Jr., Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, the list goes on and on. Not all of those are creative genius, but their early, unexpected deaths shocked the nation, if not the world. Icons. Larger than life. My response to Michael Jackson's death was the same as when I learned that Princess Diana died and then again when JFK, Jr. died: shock followed by an obsessive search for information trying to make sense of what doesn't make sense.

So, I am watching the videos and these questions start popping into my head: Is it necessary to the process of creativity for the person to suffer? Does great suffering lead to incredible bursts of creativity? Are creative geniuses also emotionally fragile or are they just very sensitive to the world around them? How do you nurture and support a creative genius? How do you stop things like this from happening?

My acting teacher in LA used to say that the best actors were not in Hollywood. They were too sensitive to handle the cut-throat world of Hollywood. Is the same true in the publishing world? Are the best writers not getting published because they are too sensitive to handle the rejection that goes along with the publishing process? Are we missing something? Is "The Great American Novel" stuffed into someone's sock drawer never to see the light of day, because the writer is so sensitive to the world around him/her that they can not bear to submit it to a publisher? Is the book that will change the world and make it a better place languishing on someone's desktop computer or still hiding out in the corner of someone's mind?

I have no answers to these questions.

I wasn't going to do this, but I think it is appropriate. Michael Jackson wrote this and sang it for Ryan White. I link to it for him, all the other icons, and creative geniuses both known and unknown that we have lost too soon.


  1. I was thinking the same thing today. I'm a classical musician and Mozart came to mind. He was a creative genius that died at the age of 35. It's been happening for centuries.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks. There are quite few literary geniuses who also died early or had tragic lives. Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde are a few more that come to mind.

    I received the following comment in my email. Jeff tried to post it, but it blogger gave him trouble. I think it's interesting, so I'm sharing it with you all:

    "Why should those who are possessed of an artistic temperament be so often tortured? Because the artist does not deal in, or even seek, provable certainties. The artist deals in emotions, impressions and abstract concepts. What they seek is truth and meaning, and such a quest is fraught with paradoxes and uncertainties. With each new insight comes the inevitable corollary – doubt. As wisdom is gained, only two certainties emerge: that life is short and will end soon, and that nothing can be known for certain. Oh, to be a simple scientist!"

    Jeff Beazley