Pigeonholing - Permission

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015


Somebody said to me the other day, “You claim that we can all be creative, but aren’t there huge differences between people’s innate talents and abilities? Sure, we can all make some kind of art, but only a few of us can be great, right?”

I don’t know.

Honestly, you guys, I don’t even really care.

I cannot even be bothered to think about the difference between high art and low art. I will fall asleep with my face in my dinner plate if someone starts discoursing to me about the academic distinction between true mastery and mere craft. I certainly don’t ever want to confidently announce that this person is destined to become an important artist, while that person should give it up.

How do I know? How does anyone know? It’s all so wildly subjective, and, anyhow, life has surprised me too many times in this realm. On one hand, I’ve known brilliant people who created absolutely nothing from their talents. On the other hand, there are people whom I once arrogantly dismissed who later staggered me with the gravity and beauty of their work. It has all humbled me far beyond the ability to judge anyone’s potential, or to rule anybody out.

I beg you not to worry about such definitions and distinctions, then, okay? It will only weigh you down and trouble your mind, and we need you to stay as light and unburdened as possible in order to keep you creating. Whether you think you’re brilliant or you think you’re a loser, just make whatever you need to make and toss it out there. Let other people pigeonhole you however they need to. And pigeonhole you they shall, because that’s what people like to do. Actually, pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order.

Thus, people will stick you into all sorts of boxes. They’ll call you a genius, or a fraud, or an amateur, or a pretender, or a wannabe, or a has-been, or a hobbyist, or an also-ran, or a rising star, or a master of reinvention. They may say flattering things about you, or they may say dismissive things about you. They may call you a mere genre novelist, or a mere children’s book illustrator, or a mere commercial photographer, or a mere community theater actor, or a mere home cook, or a mere weekend musician, or a mere crafter, or a mere landscape painter, or a mere whatever.

It doesn’t matter in the least. Let people have their opinions. More than that—let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.

Lastly, remember what W. C. Fields had to say on this point: “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.”

Actually, don’t even bother answering.

Just keep doing your thing.