Sunday, August 17, 2008

Defining Creativity?

Below I cite an article drawn from a relatively old book giving ten key criteria of creative people. I don't know much about this area. I thought it might be interesting to talk about. Some of the statements in the article seem insightful, others make me cringe (e.g., the reference to the completely discredited "g" IQ), and I'm not sure exactly what counts as the "population" for this analysis (and the reference to "g" makes me worried about how this population might have been defined).

This links to another research study that I do find convincing--that it is useful to place most creative people into one of two categories. Galenson argues
that creative people fall into two camps: the conceptual artists who come up with new visions for their fields and blossom early, and the experimental artists who spend long careers polishing approaches to their work and often achieve their most important success later in life.
Of course:
Galenson recognizes the limits of dogmatic duality. In his later papers, as well as in the book he published this year, he has refined his theory to make it less binary. He now talks of a continuum – with extreme conceptual innovators at one end, extreme experimental innovators at the other, and moderates in the middle. He allows that people can change camps over the course of a career, but he thinks it’s difficult. And he acknowledges that he’s charting tendencies, not fixed laws.
[Interestingly, Galenson is an economist, believe it or not, and a version of his newest book is available on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research.]

Clearly Dewey was in the second category. I'd like to think I'm in the second category--although I'm not the one to say how creative I am.

Another interesting set of categories is between those who have a single idea and keep spinning it out, and those who keep moving along into new arenas as they learn more. There is a lot of evidence that people in the first category (e.g., Bandura and self-efficacy theory) are the ones who end up being famous. Those in the second category generally don't become famous because they are talking to too many different audiences and can't be easily pigeonholed. E.g., I'll never be famous. But isn't it boring at some point to keep pounding the "same" post into the "same" hole, no matter how subtle the specifications might get. (There was a fascinating chapter about this, among other issues, in an old AERA anthology whose name I now forget).

The ten characteristics of creativity listed, minus the additional explanatory paragraphs, from Psychology Today, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, are:
1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they're also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. This suggests a superior physical endowment, a genetic advantage. Yet it is surprising how often individuals who in their seventies and eighties exude energy and health remember childhoods plagued by illness. It seems that their energy is internally generated, due more to their focused minds than to the superiority of their genes.

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. How smart they actually are is open to question. It is probably true that what psychologists call the "g factor," meaning a core of general intelligence, is high among people who make important creative contributions.

3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn't go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present. The rest of society often views these new ideas. as fantasies without relevance to current reality. And they are right. But the whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality At the same time, this "escape" is not into a never-never land. What makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or later we recognize that, strange as it is, it is true.

5. Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted. We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time. It is remarkable to meet a famous person who you expect to be arrogant or supercilious, only to encounter self-deprecation and shyness instead. Yet there are good reasons why this should be so. These individuals are well aware that they stand, in Newton's words, "on the shoulders of giants." Their respect for the area in which they work makes them aware of the long line of previous contributions to it, putting their own in perspective. They're also aware of the role that luck played in their own achievements. And they're usually so focused on future projects and current challenges that past accomplishments, no matter how outstanding, are no longer very interesting to them. At the same time, they know that in comparison with others, they have accomplished a great deal. And this knowledge provides a sense of security, even pride.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping. When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative. It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it's difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic. Being only traditional leaves an area unchanged; constantly taking chances without regard to what has been valued in the past rarely leads to novelty that is accepted as an improvement. The artist Eva Zeisel, who says that the folk tradition in which she works is "her home," nevertheless produces ceramics that were recognized by the Museum of Modern Art as masterpieces of contemporary design.

9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well. Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility.

10. Creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Most would agree with Rabinow's words: "Inventors have a low threshold of pain. Things bother them." A badly designed machine causes pain to an inventive engineer, just as the creative writer is hurt when reading bad prose.


Anonymous said...

Who needs a list with ten things on it? Maybe creative people just think outside the box better than the rest of us.

Anonymous said...