Monday, August 29, 2011

On genius and perfection

My first guest post is by Jeri Lynne Johnson, Founder and Music Director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra in Philadelphia. Please join me in gratitude for her contribution by commenting and sharing.

Arthur Koestler an early 20th century British novelist, journalist and critic said “The principle mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.”

Criticism is a vital phase of the creative process. It helps us analyze our mistakes, identify areas for improvement and refine our process to better bring our inspirations into reality. But for musicians and artists pursuing something new and different, criticism of the work into which they have poured so much of themselves can be especially painful. Negative, unhelpful opinions from people who cannot understand or are threatened by anything new and different can bring visionaries soaring on the wings of inspiration crashing back down to earth. As artists we eventually learn to shrug off or shut out external criticism and many even regard a growing number of what the modern vernacular terms “haters” as a sign of true genius and often use this to fuel their creative fires.

Unfortunately, however, we are sometimes our own worst critics. When the criticism comes from within, when we cannot externalize and therefore dismiss criticism as jealousy or fear from other people, when criticism stems from internal insecurities, habitual thinking or ingrained attitudes, it clips the artists’ wings so that they cannot even get off the ground, let alone soar. This kind of criticism stymies inspiration and can even become so destructive that it consumes the creative process destroying it entirely. For many frustrated artists, what lies behind this cancerous form of criticism is the pursuit of perfection. Perfection is static -- an impossible concept that connotes completion, totality, finality. Whereas creation is dynamic -- artists striving with new ideas, thriving in the potential and kinetic energies that make this world go around. As long as something is in motion, it cannot be perfect because it is moving toward something. So I agree with Koestler and feel that creative dynamism is truly at the heart of a genius. For in using healthy criticism to fully realize her dreams, the true genius does not seek a perfect end to her struggles, but the opportunity to realize bigger and more beautiful new dreams.

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