views updated May 29 2018


I. Psychological AspectsDonald W. MacKinnon


II. Social AspectsJ. M. B. Edwards Robert


III. Genius and AbilityE. L. Farts



Creativity, although currently much emphasized in psychological research, has been one of the most neglected topics in the history of psychology. The neglect of so complex a phenomenon as creativity by a psychology newly born in 1879 with Wilhelm Wundt’s founding of the first psychological laboratory at Leipzig is understandable. In its attempts to cut its affiliation with its parent discipline, philosophy, and to establish itself as an empirical and experimental science, psychology turned its attention to the simpler aspects of consciousness and behavior, e.g., simple sensory, perceptual, and motor responses, for the study of which manageable techniques were available. In the second decade of the twentieth century, when behaviorism became the dominant emphasis in American psychology, the climate was even less congenial to such global and complex topics as that of creativity. Before creativity could become a conceivable concern of psychologists, the discipline itself had to change.

Several events brought about that change: the demonstration by the gestalt psychologists, most notably Max Wertheimer and Kurt Lewin, that complex processes of thought and action could be brought into the laboratory and submitted to experimental manipulation and measurement; the introduction of the topic of personality into academic psychology, especially by Gordon W. Allport and Henry A. Murray; the demonstration by Murray and his colleagues of the possibility of gaining an understanding of personality through the use of a multiplicity of assessment techniques; the development of a cognitive psychology, particularly by the gestalt psychologists and Edward C. Tolman; the reintroduction into psychology of the concepts of self (George H. Mead) and ego (All-port), and the development of an ego psychology; the development of interest in and techniques for the assessment of the effective functioning of man (the United States Army Air Corps selection program, under the guidance of John C. Flanagan and J. P. Guilford, and the Office of Strategic Services assessment program, under the leadership of Murray); and Guilford’s presidential address to the American Psychological Association, entitled “Creativity” (1950).

What is creativity? In spite of the enormous amount of psychological research on creativity in recent years, there is today, as in the past, little conceptual agreement as to what creativity is. It is perhaps most often conceived to be the ability to bring something new into existence, yet others think of creativity not as an ability but rather as the psychological process or processes by which novel and valuable products are created. For others creativity is not the process but the product. Rather than attempt a complete listing of all the proposed meanings of creativity, it will suffice to indicate that definitions of the term range in scope and complexity from simple problem solving to the actualization of self.

Instead of seeking to choose from among this plethora of definitions, it might be argued, as it has been in the case of mental health, that creativity is not a theoretical construct at all but a general rubric, under which fall a variety of evaluative concerns. Such will be the orientation of the present treatment of creativity, and there are four major psychological aspects of creativity upon which attention will be focused: (1) the creative product; (2) the creative process; (3) the creative person; and (4) the creative situation. Each of these can be formulated as a question to which empirical research, if it has not already done so, can provide some answers: (1) what are creative products, and by what qualities are they identified? (2) what is the nature of the creative process, and what are the qualities and kinds of psychological processes that lead to the production of new creations? (3) what are the distinguishing traits and characteristics of the creative person? (4) what are the characteristics of the creative situation, the life circumstance, the social, cultural, and work milieu, that facilitate and encourage the appearance of creative thought and action?

The creative product

Anything that is experienced or made by man, for example, an idea, a response, a performance, a work of art, a scientific theory, a building, etc., may be a creative product. But of these, only a subclass that meets, at least to some degree, certain specified requirements or criteria will qualify as creative products.

To state that the first requirement of a creative product is simply that it be something novel or original is not sufficient; for one must next ask, novel or original within what range of experience or frame of reference—that of an individual, of a group, or of mankind? Much of a young child’s experience and many of his ideas will be new to him and in that sense creative for him; but if these experiences and ideas are ones that practically every child encounters in the course of growing up, they are not creative products for the society in which the child lives. Similarly, a man may think a thought new to him, yet it may be one of the most common thoughts in the whole world. Thus, the creativeness of a product, when judged in terms of its novelty, originality, or statistical infrequence, is always relative to a given population of products. The most creative products are those that are novel or original in the experience of an entire civilization or of all mankind.

Mere novelty or originality of a product is, however, not alone sufficient to justify its designation as creative. There is the second requirement that it be adaptive to reality. It must, in other words, serve to solve a problem, fit the requirements of a given situation, accomplish some recognizable goal. Artistic creation, no less than scientific creation, involves the solving of a problem: e.g., in painting, to find a more appropriate expression of one’s own experience; in dancing, to convey more adequately a particular mood or theme, etc.

But all solutions to problems are not equally good, even though they all may be equally correct or right. Thus, there enters a third requirement that a creative product must meet, although this requirement, like all the others, can be fulfilled to varying degrees. A response or product, if it is a truly creative one, meets the demand that the answer it provides be an aesthetically pleasing one. It is not sufficient that a solution is offered; it must also be, in the mathematician’s term, elegant. A product that meets this criterion is at one and the same time simple and complex, its apparent simplicity masking great complexity and its complexity hiding a simplicity that binds many complex elements into a single whole.

The truly creative product meets a fourth criterion, namely, that it in turn creates new conditions of human existence. In order to do this, it must transcend or transform the generally accepted experience of man by introducing new principles that defy tradition and radically change man’s view of things. Examples of creative products that have in their time transcended and transformed the then existing constraints of reality are the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis.

The fifth requirement of a creative product is that the insightful solution that underlies it be realized and that it be evaluated and elaborated, developed to the full, and communicated to others. In other words, the creative product must be produced.

In one sense much is known about creative products, since they are the manifest and tangible expressions or resultants of creative activity. A thorough examination of these should permit inferences to be drawn concerning the nature of the creative process, and it is only through the existence of these products that creative persons can be distinguished from their noncreative peers and from those others whose creative potential has not yet found expression. Yet, curiously, although the problem of the criteria is basic to any study of creativity, no fully adequate and systematic study of the distinguishing marks of creative products has been made.

All too often investigators have settled for obviously crude and fallible criteria, e.g., performance on so-called tests of creativity, self-reports of subjects on their creative interests and achievements, and over-all ratings of the creativity of products, rather than struggle with the more difficult task of developing better-differentiated criteria. In each field of creative endeavor there are several dimensions peculiar to the product of the field to which the five criteria listed above may be applied. For example, in determining the creativeness of architectural designs, one could seek to determine the degree to which they satisfy the five criteria of originality, adaptiveness, elegance, transcendence, and realization in meeting the several traditionally recognized demands of architecture, namely, firmness (technological requirements), commodity (planning requirements), and delight (aesthetic requirements). A similar extension of the criteria of creativity could be undertaken in all fields of endeavor.

The creative process

Stages described autobiographically

The largest literature on the nature of the creative process is found in the writings of highly creative persons who, fascinated by their extraordinary creative experiences, have sought to describe them for others. There is remarkable agreement among those who have enjoyed the peak experience of high creativity, as well as among psychologists who have made systematic analyses of the introspective and retrospective reports of highly creative persons, as to how, in the main, the process is to be described. Both types of studies have observed distinguishable stages, or phases, of creativity. To be sure, different terms have been used by different writers to describe the same phases, and there has been some variation in the number of stages that have been noted. It has even been argued that the differentiated phases should be thought of, not as stages at all, but rather as aspects of the creative process, since they blend together and do not always occur in the order of their usual listing. Yet despite these disagreements, the following generalized description has emerged.

The first phase of the creative process involves a period of preparation, during which one acquires the skills and techniques and the elements of experience that make it possible for one to pose a problem to oneself. In one sense the individual’s life history up to the moment of posing a problem constitutes the first, protracted phase of the creative process. Some have asserted, however, that only the acquisition of those skills and techniques and elements of experience that are directly relevant to the solution of the problem constitute the preparatory phase and that such purposeful and directed acquisition of knowledge occurs only after one has already posed a problem to oneself; consequently, they have argued that the creative process always starts with the recognition of a problem.

There is general agreement, however, that there follows next a period of concentrated attention in an attempt to solve the problem. This may involve a relatively brief period of time, during which attention is focused solely upon the problem until it is solved; but perhaps more often, and especially when the highest levels of creativity are ultimately reached, there is a blocking of one’s efforts to solve the problem and the experiencing of so much frustration, tension, and discomfort that one is led, out of sheer self-protection, to the third phase, a period of withdrawal from the problem, a psychological “going out of the field,” a period of renunciation of the problem or recession from it. Following this phase, which is usually referred to as a period of incubation and which may be of quite variable length, there is the fourth, brief phase, a moment or period of insight, accompanied by exhilaration, glow, and elation at the moment of insight. The fifth and final phase is a period of verification, evaluation, elaboration, realization, and communication of the insight that has been experienced. These phases may be telescoped into a very brief period of time, as in musical improvisation, or may involve a considerable span of years, as was required for Einstein’s creation of the theory of relativity.

Factor analysis and qualities of thinking

Although a gross analysis of the creative process reveals the phases just described, a more searching analysis indicates that the creative process is a complex set of cognitive and motivational processes, involving perceiving, remembering, thinking, imagining, deciding, etc. As more is learned about these processes, the more fully will the creative process itself be understood. Indeed, it was Guilford’s approach to the study of creativity and his attempt to conceptualize the intellectual processes that enter into it that led to his construction of a new model of intellect, for he soon realized that the intelligence tests developed prior to 1950 had almost entirely ignored the crucial variables of creative thinking. Consequently, he set about to construct a battery of tests hypothesized to measure these relevant but previously neglected variables. From the factor analysis of the correlated test scores of large samples of persons have emerged what Guilford believes to be the primary intellective factors that account for individual differences in creativity: associational fluency, ideational fluency, originality, adaptive flexibility, spontaneous flexibility, redefinition, and sensitivity to problems.

Out of this work there has developed a now widely recognized distinction between convergent thinking, which places a premium on analysis and reasoning, measured by the traditional tests of intelligence, and divergent thinking, which places a premium on richness and novelty of ideas, for the measurement of which the new tests of creativity have been developed. After a short period in which creativity was assumed by some enthusiasts for the new testing to be solely the result of divergent thinking, there is now general recognition that both divergent thinking and convergent thinking are required in all creative thought, although their relative proportions will vary widely from one creative task to another.

Other methods

In addition to the introspective autobiographical and factor-analytic approaches to the study of creativity, three other methods of study are frequently employed. One seeks to elicit and study creative performance under standard conditions of observation, e.g., a person is assigned a specific task, such as writing a poem, etc., under controlled conditions and within certain time limits. Another method, preferred by the experimental psychologist, seeks to test particular hypotheses about details of the creative process, e.g., comparing the relative speeds with which the insightful solution to an assigned problem is achieved under varied conditions of initial information, instructions to the subject, level of motivation, etc. A fifth method, of more recent origin and radically different from the others, seeks insight into the creative process by attempting to simulate creative problem solving and thinking on high-speed electronic computers.

Enhancement and inhibition of creativity

From the use of these several methods, information is being gained concerning, on the one hand, those factors that further the creative process and, on the other hand, those factors that block it. Among cognitive factors that have been shown to hinder creative thought are failure to perceive and define a problem correctly; too much, as well as too little, information; and the embeddedness of required elements in a functional context that makes it difficult or impossible to perceive their relevance to the solution, i.e., functional fixedness; rigid persistence of a misleading set; the formulation of inappropriate and rigid categories and schemata of information; an excessively analytical attitude; premature closure of cognitive processes, etc. Among motivational factors known to inhibit creative performance may be noted too much motivation (leading to incapacitating anxiety); too little motivation; a preponderance of extrinsic motivation (interest in external rewards) over intrinsic motivation (interest in a problem for its own sake); and a host of inhibiting fears, such as the fear of making a mistake, the fear of social disapproval, the fear of separateness and nonconformity, the fear of one’s images and impulses and of one’s own unconscious processes, etc. The obverse of these factors, both intellective and motivational, has been shown to facilitate creative thought and action.

The creative person

The determination of the characteristics of creative persons requires first that such individuals be accurately identified and the level of their creativeness measured. This is the troublesome problem of criteria, which is seldom if ever ideally solved in the study of the creative person. Far too often subjects’ performance on so-called tests of creativity have been taken as indicating the level of their creativeness, despite the fact that it has not yet been clearly demonstrated that, either singly or in combination, an individual’s scores on the presumed factor-pure tests of creative thinking yield a valid measure of his performance in actual creative work. When, on the other hand, creative persons are identified and the level of their creativeness is judged on the basis of their known products, such judgments, even when made by experts, are to some unknown degree contaminated and confounded by factors such as the subject’s social prestige and reputation. When, in a third type of study, the criterion of a person’s creativeness is taken to be the degree of his self-actualization or the extent to which he is a fully functioning individual, the criterion is even more vague and suspect.

Despite these unresolved methodological difficulties, there is an impressive congruence of findings from quite varied studies concerning the characteristics of the creative person. Those researches that have contributed most significantly to the picture of the creative person have relied on the opinion of experts who have identified members of a single profession whose creativeness, judged on the basis of their tangible creative products, has ranged from relatively low to extremely high. Such researches have involved intensive psychological assessment of the nominated subjects.

Relation to intelligence

The creative person appears to be intelligent, yet there is a far from perfect correlation between intelligence as measured by intelligence tests and creativity. In several professional groups, e.g., architects and research scientists, the correlation is essentially zero. The relationship in these instances is doubtless to some degree attenuated, because of a restriction in range of both creativity and intelligence. The general conclusion with respect to intelligence and creativity is that a certain degree of intelligence is required if one is to be creative, but beyond that point being more or less intelligent does not determine the level of a person’s creativeness; and the level of intelligence required for creativity, which varies from field to field, is sometimes surprisingly low. What is more important than the level of intelligence as measured by an intelligence test is the effectiveness with which the creative person uses whatever intelligence he has.

In addition to general intelligence, special skills and abilities appropriate to a person’s field of creative endeavor are clearly necessary for the achievement of high levels of creative performance.

Psychological health and cognitive styles

As to the relationship between a person’s creativeness and his psychological health—a relationship widely studied and widely disputed—the situation is again not a simple one. There is no doubt that some quite disturbed persons have been highly creative; yet there is no doubt, also, that many persons of apparent good health, both physical and psychological, have shown unusual creativeness. Perhaps the more general picture, and one that reconciles the opposites of well-being and pathology, is one in which there is a good deal of psychic turbulence and at the same time adequate ego control. In several studies, creative persons have earned, on the average, scores some five to ten points above the standard score mean of 50 on the clinical scales of an inventory that measures tendencies toward the major psychiatric disturbances. The meaning of such elevated scores, as well as the self-reports of creative subjects in psychiatric interviews, are less suggestive of psychopathology than of good intellect, complexity and richness of personality, general lack of defensiveness, and candor in self-description—in other words, an openness to experience and especially to experience of one’s inner life. Most typically, one finds evidence of psychopathology in test profiles of creative subjects, but at the same time there is evidence of superior mechanisms of control.

One of the prominent characteristics of the test performance of male creative groups is a tendency to score high on scales that measure femininity. This finding could be easily misunderstood. The proper interpretation is this: creative men reveal an openness to their feelings and emotions, a sensitive intellect, and an understanding self-awareness, and their wide-ranging interests include many that in Western culture are thought of as feminine. They give fuller expression to the feminine side of their nature than do their less creative peers. In the language of Jungian psychology, creative males are not so completely identified with their masculine persona roles as to blind themselves to or deny expression to the more feminine traits of the anima [seeAnalytical psychology; and the biography ofJung].

The perceptiveness of the creative person and his openness to richness and complexity are revealed also in his preference for perceptual complexity. As between perceiving and judging, they are on the side of perception—open to and receptive of experience. They are challenged by disordered multiplicity and by the unfinished, which arouses in them an urge, indeed a need, to achieve the most difficult and far-ranging ordering of the richness they are willing to experience.

The creative person is not only open to experience; he is intuitive about it. In perceiving, one may emphasize sense perception, focusing upon what is yielded by the senses, things as they are, the facts; and in the extreme, one can remain stuck there, bound to the stimulus, the presented material, or the situation. Or one may, in any perception, be intuitive about and responsive to its deeper meanings, its implications, and its possibilities, immediately grasping the real, as well as the symbolic, bridges between what is and what can be. Creative persons show a marked preference for intuitive perception.

With their awareness of inner life and their interest in the symbolic equivalents of experience, it is not surprising that highly creative persons are more often introvert than extravert, though there is no evidence that introverts as such are more creative than extraverts.

Relation to interests and values

Studies of the interests of creative persons have been remarkably consistent in revealing them to have interests similar to those of certain vocational groups and unlike those of others. If one focuses, not upon the specific interests that are shown, but upon what they reveal about those who hold them, it may be said that creative persons are inclined to be relatively uninterested in small details or in facts for their own sake and more concerned with their meanings and implications, cognitively flexible, verbally skillful, interested in communicating with others, and relatively disinterested in policing either their own impulses and images or those of others.

As with interests, so in the realm of values, creative persons show a preference different from that of their less creative colleagues. Of the six values conceptualized by the philosopher Eduard Spranger—the theoretical, economic, aesthetic, social, political, and religious—creative persons strongly value the theoretical and the aesthetic. For them it is not sufficient that problems be solved; there is the further requirement that the solutions be elegant. They seek both truth and beauty.

Although highly creative persons are characteristically independent in thought and action and are nonconformists in their ideas, they are not deliberately nonconforming. Often, in fact, they are quite conventional in matters and actions that are not central to their areas of creative endeavor.

General profile and summary

If a general picture of the productively creative person were to be drawn, it would read as follows:

He is dominant, possessed of those qualities and attributes which underlie and lead to achievement of personal status; poised, spontaneous, and self-confident in social interaction, although not of an especially sociable or participative temperament; intelligent, outspoken, sharp-witted, demanding, aggressive, and self-centered; persuasive and verbally fluent, self-confident and self-assured; and relatively uninhibited in expressing his worries and complaints.

He is comparatively free from conventional restraints and inhibitions, not preoccupied with the impression he makes on others, and thus, he is capable of great independence and autonomy and is relatively ready to recognize and admit self-views that are unusual and unconventional.

He is strongly motivated to achieve in situations in which independence in thought and action is called for, but unlike his less creative peers, he is not inclined to strive for achievement in settings where conforming behavior is expected or required. In efficiency and steadiness of intellectual effort, however, he does not differ from his fellow workers.

Finally, he is definitely more psychologically minded, more flexible, and possessed of more femininity of interests than less creative persons.

This is the generality. What needs to be equally emphasized is that there is no single mold into which all who are creative will fit. The full and complete picturing of the creative person will require many images.

The problem of the identification of the creative person by means of assessment techniques is still largely unsolved. Many personality correlates of creativity, both intellective and nonintellective, have been reported in the literature and summarized above. Which of them, individually or in combination with others, will most accurately identify creative persons or persons with creative potential in any given profession or field of endeavor is today not known. That is an empirical problem that seems much less difficult of solution today than it did in the past, but it is one that must be solved separately for each professional group. There is no general solution, to be applied to all professions, because of the enormous differences between them. A core of techniques and a basic methodology for the identification of creativity are now available. What is needed are the energy and ingenuity to modify and extend them in the study of creativity, and of the creative person, in all fields of endeavor.

The creative situation

To speak of a creative situation is to imply that creativity is not a fixed trait of personality but something that changes over time, waxing and waning, being facilitated by some life circumstances and situations and inhibited by others. While such an assertion would be accepted by almost everyone, much less agreement can be found for statements that specify the types of situation or life circumstance that facilitate or inhibit creativity. Such disagreement merely underscores the continuing need, despite a considerable body of research findings, for studies to determine what kinds of situations contribute most significantly to the encouragement of what kinds of creativity in what types of person. The problem almost certainly has to be phrased in this manner, for it is unlikely that all persons will find the same situation equally conducive to creative effort.

Questions concerning the facilitating or inhibiting effect of environment on creativity can be directed both to the historical past and to the contemporaneous present of the individual.

Life history

Looking first at life-history data, the widest variety of early circumstances and family situations has been reported for persons of high creativeness. Despite this diversity, there are, however, several themes to be noted. For example, so recurrent is the theme of remembered unhappiness in childhood that one is led to speculate about its role in fostering creative potential. In the absence of a sensitive awareness of one’s own experience and that of the world around one, without considerable development of and attention to one’s inner life, and lacking an interest in ideational, imaginal, and symbolic processes, one can hardly be expected to exhibit highly creative responses. Something less than complete satisfaction with oneself and one’s situation in childhood, if not a prerequisite for the development of a rich inner life and concern for things of the mind and spirit, may nevertheless play an important contributory role.

In a nationwide study of creativity in architects, a number of events and circumstances have been discovered in the life histories of the more creative subjects that appear to have fostered their creative potential and independent spirit and to have provided the opportunity, if not the necessity, for their developing the secure sense of personal autonomy and zestful commitment to their profession that so markedly characterize the creative person (MacKinnon 1962).

These factors may be briefly summarized as follows: an extraordinary respect by the parent for the child and an early granting to him of unusual freedom in exploring his universe and in making his own decisions; an expectation that the child would act independently but reasonably and responsibly; a lack of intense closeness between parent and child, so that neither overdependence was fostered nor a feeling of rejection experienced, in other words, the sort of interpersonal relationship between parent and child that had a liberating effect upon the child; a plentiful supply in the child’s extended social environment of models for identification and the promotion of ego ideals; the presence within the family of clear standards of conduct and ideas as to what was right and wrong, but at the same time an expectation, if not requirement, of active exploration and internalization of a framework of personal conduct; an emphasis upon the development of an individual ethical code; the experience of frequent moving, within single communities or from community to community or from country to country, which provided an enrichment of experience, both cultural and personal, but which at the same time contributed to experiences of aloneness, shyness, isolation, and solitariness during childhood and adolescence; the possession of skills and abilities that, although encouraged and rewarded, were nevertheless allowed to develop at their own pace; and finally the absence of pressures on the child to establish prematurely his professional identity.

This particular set of early circumstances and interpersonal experiences, although observed in one study, takes on added significance because of its congruence with the set of life-history factors that Otto Rank thought so conducive to man’s winning his own individuality and the realization of his creative potential; with those interactions between the child and the significant others in the environment that Erik Erikson described as so crucial to the fullest development of ego; and with those experiences that, in Robert W. White’s theory, sustain and nurture the fullest development of competence.

It remains something of a moot question whether creative thought and action are most stimulated by solitariness and separateness—the individual working alone—or by interaction with others in group activity. There is mounting evidence that here again individual differences play an important role.

Implications for education

To many, the implications of the observed characteristics of highly creative persons for the training or nurturing of creativity seem rather clear. In contrast to earlier emphases in education, there is today a tendency to stress freedom and autonomy for the child, a substitution of self-discipline for discipline imposed from outside, an openness to all ideas and a deferment of judgment in choosing from among them, the adoption of a more playful attitude toward study, engagement in imaginative play, the nurturing of a feeling for analogies, similes, and metaphors, a searching for common principles in terms of which quite different domains of knowledge can be related, etc. It has yet to be demonstrated, however, that these new emphases do indeed foster more creativeness than did earlier forms of education, which stressed rote learning, repeated drill of material, precise memorization, orderly habits of study, strict discipline, etc. It may well be that here, as in so many other domains of creative performance, some reconciliation of these opposites (and the resultant tension that experience of the opposites produces) will turn out to be most nurturing of creative potential.

Donald W. Mackinnon

[Other relevant material may be found inAesthetics; Fantasy; Problem Solving; Stimulation drives; and the articles listed underArt.]


Barron, Frank X. 1963 Creativity and Psychological Health: Origins of Personal Vitality and Creative Freedom. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Bergson, Henri (1907) 1944 Creative Evolution. New York: Modern Library. → First published in French.

Bruner, Jerome S. (1960) 1965 The Process of Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Erikson, Erik H. (1950) 1964 Childhood and Society. 2d ed., rev. & enl. New York: Norton.

Gardner, John W. 1964 Self-renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society. New York: Harper.

Ghiselin, Brewster (editor) 1952 The Creative Process: A Symposium. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Mentor.

Gordon, William J. J. 1961 Synectics: The Development of Creative Capacity. New York: Harper. GUILFORD, J. P. 1950 Creativity. American Psychologist 5:444–454.

Hadamard, Jacques S. (1945) 1954 An Essay on the Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. New York: Dover.

Koestler, Arthur 1964 The Act of Creation. New York: Macmillan.

Knowlson, Thomas S. (1917) 1918 Originality: A Popular Study of the Creative Mind. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Kris, Ernst 1944 Art and Regression. New York Academy of Sciences, Transactions 6:236–250.

Kris, Ernst 1952 Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. New York: International Universities Press.

Kubie, Lawrence S. 1958 Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process. Lawrence: Univ. of Kansas Press.

McKellar, Peter 1957 Imagination and Thinking: A Psychological Analysis. London: Cohen & West; New York: Basic Books.

MacKinnon, Donald W. 1962 The Personality Correlates of Creativity: A Study of American Architects. Pages 11–39 in International Association of Applied Psychology, 14th Congress, Copenhagen, 1961, Proceedings. Volume 2: Personality Research. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.

MacKinnon, Donald W. 1965 Personality and the Realization of Creative Potential. American Psychologist 20:273–281.

Maritain, Jacques 1953 Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. New York: Pantheon. → Paperback editions were published in 1955 by Meridian and in 1961 by World.

Mednick, Sarnoff A. 1962 The Associative Basis of the Creative Process. Psychological Review 69:220–232.

Parnes, Sidney J.; and Harding, Harold F. (editors) 1962 A Source Book for Creative Thinking. New York: Scribner.

PoincarÉ, Henri (1908) 1952 Science and Method. New York: Dover. → First published in French.

Rank, Otto (1929–1931) 1945 Will Therapy and Truth and Reality. New York: Knopf. → The first work in this book is a translation of the second and third volumes of Technik der Psychoanalyse. The second work was first published as Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit: Entwurf einer Philosophie des Seelischen.

Research Conference on the Identification of Creative Scientific Talent 1963 Scientific Creativity: Its Recognition and Development. New York: Wiley.

Usher, Abbott P. (1929) 1954 A History of Mechanical Inventions. Rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Beacon.

Wertheimer, Max (1945) 1961 Productive Thinking. Enl. ed., edited by Michael Wertheimer. London: Tavistock.

White, Robert W. 1960 Competence and the Psycho-sexual Stages of Development. Volume 8, pages 97–141 in Marshall R. Jones (editor), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.


Creativity is a concept that emerged during the Renaissance and was first given formal expression by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; its original use was as a term in the “great analogy” (Nahm [1956] 1965, chapter 2) between the divine creator of the natural world and the artist with his power to create, as Sir Philip Sidney put it, “forms such as never were in Nature” ([1595] 1895, p. 25). Modern associations of the concept are nearly all psychological: creativity is often held to consist in personal attributes such as spontaneity, originality, sincerity, high intelligence, or some combination of these or of similar qualities. It would seem, then, that the sociology of creativity (however creativity may be defined) should consist in the study of those social conditions which either favor or impede the appearance of creative individuals.

But there is another sense altogether in which it is possible to speak of creativity as having social aspects. Civilizations, social institutions, formal organizations, and small groups can all be called creative, and this may imply much more than that they include creative individuals. One possible implication is that there is something about the way in which a social unit is organized without which none of its members would have become creative. Another is that the members of a social unit may in some sense work together to produce collective achievements that reflect creative qualities of the group as a whole.

Creativity can also be seen as an attribute of objects. Indeed, the terms “creative product” and “creative object” have by now become standard in the psychological literature on creativity (see, for instance, Bruner 1962, p. 8; Roe 1963, p. 155) and can be used to denote whatever is counted as evidence for the existence of individual creativity. It is here that a basic difference becomes apparent between the psychological and sociological approaches to creativity. Understandably, much of the psychological research has been concerned with measuring creative potential rather than creative achievement; the focus of interest has been on the internal psychological processes that issue in the finished creative object, with the general assumption that, once the object has seen the light, the creative process is complete. It is admitted that various social factors may facilitate or retard the process, but they are not generally thought of as part of it. Psychological study of creative actions of course involves more extensive consideration of social factors, but such study is usually carried out in a context other than that of creativity (see, however, Fiedler 1964).

But sociological theories, whether they are developed by professional sociologists or by historians and other authors with an interest in the quality of human achievement, also tend to give an incomplete account of the creative process. Many authors have remarked on the way in which the creative object seems to live a life independent of its creator, in the sense that the social mechanisms by which it is distributed, or the amount and type of attention paid to it, seem to be matters that are mostly beyond his control (see, for example, Rank 1932, p. 215; Valéry [1940] 1952, pp. 94–96). But historical studies of such processes are usually confined to the level of particular social institutions, such as literature or the fine arts, at particular periods and do not make structural comparisons between institutions.

However, there is a growing realization that practitioners of the various social sciences who have studied creativity may have been talking not about different sets of problems but about the same problems from different points of view (see the discussion in Mooney [1957] 1962). Moreover, a distinctively social conception of the creative process is slowly gaining recognition. Thus Rogers has defined the creative process as “the emergence in action of a novel relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances of his life on the other” ([1954] 1962, p. 65). In similar fashion Guerard has argued that “the word Art applies at the same time to the creative urge, to the process through which that urge is manifested, to the material result of the process, to the appreciation of the result. These are different phases or aspects of the same reality” ([1936] 1963, p. xxvii). The key notion in both of these definitions is that of the interrelatedness of the different phases through which the creative object passes in the course of becoming part of a culture. In short, and leaving on one side for the moment the question of how to establish criteria of creativity, the creative process in its social aspect is the process by which creative objects are produced and then become cultural objects (for a discussion of the “process versus product” issue by psychologists, see Utah Creativity Research Conference 1964, pp. 112–121).

But creative objects are not merely cultural objects, nor are they usually created with the whole culture in mind. To produce a work of art or science, for instance, is primarily to make a claim on the attention of other artists or scientists. The artist may desire self-expression but, as a Marxist sociologist has expressed it, this “is really self-socialisation, the casting of … private experience in such a form that it will be incorporated in the social world of art and appear as an art-work” (Sprigg [1937] 1963, p. 202). The creative work of art or science does not only claim to be incorporated into the institution appropriate to it; it also claims to modify or even subvert the collective ideology of the institution in some important respect. It is the fact that the claim is made good that enables us to identify the work as creative. In order to reach this conclusion it is not necessary to make assumptions about the intentions of creative individuals, but only to note that the objects produced by such individuals do in fact exert a fruitful influence on other members of the same institution. A creative object, then, is a successful demonstration that the sum of established institutional values does not exhaust the range of possible institutional values. It is through the incorporation of creative objects that institutions are saved from eternal elaboration of what is already known or believed.

The creative process

Person-oriented approaches, which focus on the psychological processes that issue in creation, can be contrasted with object-oriented approaches, which are more concerned with what is created. Many of the early person-oriented studies of creativity foundered because they treated established fame as if it were an infallible index of creative achievement. Such studies therefore became involved not only with the vastly complicated problem of estimating the degree of fame a creative individual enjoyed at any particular time but also with the fluctuations to which fame is subjected by changes in taste or interest. But if an object-oriented approach is adopted, considerations of personal fame and reputation become secondary; the main problem is to determine which scientific, artistic, or other objects had effects of an order that distinguished them from the common run of cultural objects. This is not to equate creativity with extent of influence, but it is to equate it with a certain type of influence on a certain institution during a specifiable period. The length of the period need not depend on anything but the purpose of the study.

Social institutions. A cultural system can be divided into as many parts or subsystems as suit the purpose of an inquiry, but the principal subdivisions are generally conceived in terms of the mutually irreducible classes of values that are generated in the pursuit of major human interests. The organized cultivation of a distinctive class of values in pursuit of a major human interest will here be designated as a social institution. This view of social institutions is quite close to that adopted by the Whites in their study of the nineteenth-century French art world (White & White 1965, p. 2). However, it differs somewhat from the traditional view in American sociology, which has tended to follow W. I. Thomas in regarding institutions as the systems formed by the “more or less explicit and formal rules of behavior by which the group tends to maintain, regulate, and make more general and more frequent the corresponding type of actions among its members” (Thomas, Social Behavior and Personality, p. 52). By contrast, the present definition emphasizes the ultimate values, whether religious, artistic, scientific, or political, that rules of behavior are designed to preserve.

It is generally realized that the social structure of a society may affect the creativity of its institutions. Most writing in this area has focused on the problem of cultural integration and disintegration. Some authors have argued that a high degree of cultural integration is necessary for creativity to reach its greatest heights in any institution, but they fail to explain why all institutions are not equally creative, even in societies that they regard as highly integrated. Other authors, pointing to the greater efficiency achieved through an increasing division of labor both within and between institutions, have seemed to support the opposite point of view, though they have not been able to demonstrate that a high degree of institutional autonomy is inconsistent with a high degree of social integration. A very few authors have confined themselves to demonstrating that creativity in one institution can have indirect effects on creativity in another. More often, comparison between creative achievement in different institutional spheres has taken the form of seeking to explain one type of achievement in terms of another, as when an outburst of artistic creativity is said to have been caused by a particular state of the economic system. But in any case it is clear that social institutions are interconnected as well as distinct, and there is a strong assumption, though little systematic evidence, that the type and degree of creativity that they display is somehow related to their mode of interconnection [seeIntegration, article onCultural Integration].

Social institutions vary not only in autonomy and distinctiveness but also in structural complexity, which usually increases with size. But the major institutional functions remain the same in spite of these changes. Thus creative objects cannot become cultural objects unless they are appraised by members of an appropriate institution, nor can they be offered for appraisal unless they find an appropriate institutional outlet. The process of appraisal, which is essentially collective, is the means by which the institution asserts its claim to a distinctive interest in the cultivation of those values which are its raison d’être. Appraisal is therefore a matter of deciding, for instance, not only how good a work of art is (a question that, in any case, is never finally settled) but first and foremost of deciding whether it is a work of art at all. If the work is never displayed for appraisal through a recognized outlet—that is, if it is never published, exhibited, or at the very least brought to the attention of someone whose influence on the process of appraisal makes him a kind of living outlet—then, from an institutional point of view, it does not yet exist as a work of art.

The nature of an institution’s outlets is sometimes determined largely by its appraisal system, though under open market conditions the relationship is often reversed. The form taken by outlets is also shaped by technology, including marketing techniques, which tends, as it grows ever more complex, to create multiple outlets for ever new classes of consumers. But the intimate connection between outlets and appraisal persists in spite of technological change, though various new types of appraisal may arise to match the new types of outlet. Indeed, if the volume of products is very great, release of a product through a certain type of outlet may largely supplant appraisal as the means by which products are, so to speak, stamped with the required institutional marks of identification.

An apparent difference between art and science in this respect has often been noted (see, for instance, Kuhn 1962, p. 163): an artist is thought to produce for a public that does not consist only of other artists, while a scientist’s work is appraised only by his professional colleagues. But whether or not one perceives a real structural difference here depends on where one draws the boundaries of art and science as institutions. If the full range of scientific products is considered, from high-level theories to minor technological innovations, it immediately becomes obvious that, like artistic products, they are submitted through different kinds of outlets for different kinds of appraisal.

Creative ideologies

Creative objects affect institutional ideology because they are themselves ideological creations. It is convenient to call the particular constellation of values expressed by a creative object its “creative ideology,” since in this way the elements common to several apparently divergent traditions of thought about creativity can be brought together under one head.

Personal and collective ideologies. The notion of artistic creation as essentially a process of conflict between personal and collective ideologies was first developed by Rank, who defined the artist as someone who “constructively applies his will-power in the service of ideological creation” (1932, p. 159). Rank draws attention to the institutional base of the art form or style by calling it “the ideology of the art” (ibid., p. 112; compare p. 186), and he further distinguishes between this and the “something personal” of the artist, on the one hand, and the “general ideology of the culture,” on the other (ibid.; compare chapter 4, passim). Thus art, for Rank, is neither mere self-expression, since it must make use of forms that are collective in origin, nor simply an expression of collective ideology, since artistic creation fulfills purely personal needs for the artist (for a similar view, see Hauser [1958] 1963, p. 407). In fact, the more creative the artist, the more his personal needs will conflict with the needs of the collectivity. Rank therefore reverses the Freudian theory of creativity. The artist does not create because he is neurotically maladjusted to society; rather, he lives in a state of necessary conflict with society because he is creative (Rank 1932, p. 169). Rank’s views have not been generally adopted by psychoanalysts, al-though the bulk of empirical psychological evidence would appear to support him (see, for instance, Barron 1963). Nor has it been pointed out that Rank’s emphasis on the difference between the neurotic and the creative personality is remarkably similar to W. I. Thomas’ distinction between the “Bohemian” and the “creative individual” (Thomas, Social Behavior and Personality, p. 159). But Thomas’ approach to the problem of creativity was essentially person-oriented. Rank, on the other hand, went far beyond both the person-oriented and the object-oriented approaches to the creative process by including in his schema not only the artist’s own conception of his role (ibid., p. 202) and the social basis of artistic creation (p. 207) but also the use to which society puts the creative object. “The artist in himself provides in his work the raw material the community uses in the creation of biographies and fame as an expression of its own eternalization” (p. 221).

Internal and external ideologies. The ideological content of a creative object can also be analyzed into those value elements which pertain only to the institutions for which the object has been created and those which pertain to other institutions or, it may be, to no institution at all. The former elements constitute the object’s internal ideology (as we speak of something as being of “purely artistic” or “purely scientific” interest), and the latter its external ideology (as, for instance, the glorification of aristocratic ideals in a portrait or the religious world view implicit in a system of astronomy).

The extent to which art seems more capable than science of serving external ideologies—what might be called its apparent ideological penetrability—has been pointed out so often that some authors maintain that science as such has no ideological penetrability at all. Nor is it generally admitted that scientists are in any sense engaged in the production and elaboration of ideologies. This is probably because, with reference to science, ideology is considered only in an external sense. But the concept of paradigm, as developed by Kuhn (1962) in his study of scientific revolutions, has a distinct affinity with the concept of internal creative ideology. A paradigm is a body of scientific achievement that is “sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity … [and] sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve.” In this way it provides “models from which spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research” (Kuhn 1962, p. 10). Clearly, the same kind of service is performed for art by those artists who, whether singly or in a group, introduce a major new idiom or style that serves for any considerable length of time to define the range of artistic problems worth exploring. A scientific paradigm such as Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation (Kuhn 1962, pp. 39–40) can certainly be compared, in terms of its long-lasting influence and eventual replacement by other models, with a “musical paradigm” such as the major scale (Allen [1939] 1962, p. 192). Artistic and scientific paradigms are creative objects par excellence, since they institute the guiding principles that make many other discoveries possible. Such paradigms are almost never the unaided work of one individual, and it is this collective origin of theirs that makes them highly appropriate units of study for the sociology of creativity. In this respect they can be compared with what Ogburn called “basic inventions” ([1950] 1964, p. 23), though Ogburn’s preoccupation with the larger social effects of applied science and technology seems to have kept him from exploring the effects of discoveries in pure science upon the structure of science itself (see especially Ogburn 1942, pp. 235–236).

Creativity and ideological succession

The most striking fact about creative ideologies is that all of them are sooner or later subject to change. Here, this phenomenon will be called ideological succession. Any theory of creativity, regardless of the social level to which it is intended to apply, can be classified according to the kinds of assumptions that its author makes about the dynamics of ideological succession. Four major types of theory can be distinguished in this field: organicist, dialectical, societal, and factorial.

Organicist theories. At the societal level, the most celebrated attempt in modern times at an organicist account of ideological succession is that of Oswald Spengler, whose historical pessimism in his Decline of the West, published 1919–1922, owed more to Nietzsche than to Darwin. The most impressive application of biological evolutionism to the problem of creativity was Francis Galton’s Hereditary Genius, published in 1869, in which it was demonstrated empirically that certain families consistently produced more men of distinction than could be accounted for by chance (a point on which Galton has never been refuted). From these findings Galton inferred not only that distinction in any field is the result of superior genetic endowment but also, as a kind of sociological extension of Darwin’s principle of natural selection, that genetic superiority inevitably overcame social obstacles to achievement.

All such theories and approaches had in common a tendency to reduce creativity to a merely descriptive category with no independent causal role in the process of ideological succession. Regardless of the adequacy or inadequacy of the data on which they are based, organicist theories lack any real explanatory power because, although they assume that some periods of civilizations (or some races, nations, or families) are more creative than others, they have nothing to say about the dynamics of ideological succession except that efflorescence is inevitably followed by decline (or, in the case of Galton, will be followed by decline if nature is left to pursue its course).

Dialectical theories. Theories of creativity based on dialectical reasoning claim, like organicist theories, both to explain what has happened and to predict what will happen. In order to sustain this claim, they are forced to conceive the dynamics of ideological succession in terms of a fixed superstructure that determines once and for all the possible range of basic ideological forms. Creative ideologies as they actually occur and succeed one another are held to be composed of elements attributable to one or another of these basic forms, either singly or in combination. The forms are eternal opposites but may interact in the temporal sphere to produce unique combinations.

If the number of basic ideological forms is limited, it follows that any concrete ideology at a particular moment of its existence is closer to one basic form than it is to the others. The implication is usually that the more closely the ideology exemplifies some basic form, the more creative it is, though a position of equilibrium between two or more opposing forms is sometimes regarded as the most creative state of all. At any rate, dialectical theories of ideological succession tend to be prejudiced in favor of historical periods when some clearly identifiable style or set of values seems to have dominated a whole culture in such a way as to give it—at least in the eyes of the historian— a certain coherence and internal consistency.

Such periods of cultural integration are supposed to have been far more productive of outstanding creative achievements than the more confused periods of transition from one state of cultural integration to the next. Creative people born during periods of transition can hope to do little more than hasten the destruction of outworn ideologies and lay the foundations of the new. In this way, dialectical theorists seem to assign a somewhat more autonomous role to creative individuals. But this concession is an illusory one, since the dialectical theory itself becomes the only criterion of what is to count as creative. Thus, for the revolutionary Marxist only what is “progressive”—i.e., consistent with the Marxist interpretation of history—can be truly creative, though some of the more aesthetically-minded Marxists try to avoid the absurdities inherent in this doctrine by claiming that a bourgeois writer, for instance, can be “progressive” if his work mirrors the supposed decadence of capitalist society (Fischer [1959] 1963, chapter 3).

Some dialectical theories, however, contain valuable sociological elements, since they treat ideological succession not only in terms of the effects of one ideology on another but also in terms of the ideology’s structural base in the social system. Thus Sorokin, in his Social and Cultural Dynamics, published in 1937–1941, emphasizes that what at the cultural level appears as an abstract configuration of the ideological supersystem is, when viewed at the individual level, a matter of voluntary human allegiance to certain concrete institutional structures. According to Sorokin, transfer of allegiance from one basic form to another is possible because cultural integration is never absolute; values derived from other basic forms are always present in a subordinate cultural role. In short, Sorokin recognizes that a certain pluralism of values may exist in any social institution and that if this pluralism is not preserved as a basis for ideological succession, the culture will not be able to make the transition from one basic form to another and so will become “petrified, and uncreative” (Sorokin [1941] 1957, p. 25).

Dialectical theories of internal ideological succession at a purely institutional level are clearly of sociological interest only when they are related to accounts of institutional organization and structure. They are, moreover, extremely difficult to construct, because of the conceptual problems involved in setting up a set of categories that between them exhaust the known range of specialized ideological possibilities. The outstanding example of such a dialectic is Wölfflin’s theory of stylistic development in European painting during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Wolfflin [1915] 1956; for extensive comment, see Antoni [1940] 1959, chapter 6; Hauser [1958] 1963, pp. 139–149).

Societal theories. The revolution in social thought that took place during the period 1890–1910 was especially notable for its emphasis on society as a unique kind of entity that could not be reduced to a combination of other kinds of entities [seeSociety]. The societal approach had little use for organicist or dialectical theories, since they seemed to ignore such distinctively social processes as symbolic interaction, cultural accumulation, and socialization. Thus Cooley (1897) and many others (see Ogburn [1950] 1964, pp. 19–20) rejected Galton’s geneticism on the grounds that it was far more plausible to assume a constant and uniform amount of creative potential in all societies and to attribute differences in creative achievement to manifest differences in social conditions, such as literacy. This environmentalist position appeared to have been confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt by studies showing that identical twins, when reared in different settings, developed differences that could not, it was thought, be accounted for in terms of heredity (Newman et al. 1937). Thus the famous controversy about the importance of “nature,” or genetic endowment, as compared with “nurture,” or socialization, was not so much settled as abandoned. The social Darwinist model of creative achievement as a product of natural selection gave way to a model of creative potential as a kind of subterranean resource that had only to be “tapped” by the provision of educational opportunities in order to become creative achievement. This model, reinforced by popularized Freudian notions of creativity as an attribute of the unconscious, still underlies much of American educational theory and practice.

Cultural base as creative agent. Another key assumption of the societal approach was that, although the historical process is not just a succession of unique events, it does not evolve in any predetermined direction. This was a natural result of the vast increase, by the end of the nineteenth century, in the stock of historical knowledge, which now revealed processes that seemed too complex to fit into any deterministic theory. One such process was cultural diffusion, which for the first time began to be studied on a scientific basis [seeDiffusion]. Discovery of the great variety of influences that went into the making of any advanced culture, and of the capacity of some cultures to absorb influences from almost any source while others succumbed to alien penetration, destroyed the heroic image of culture as something created locally by a few outstanding individuals and replaced it with that of the common social heritage or “cultural base” (Ogburn [1950] 1964, pp. 24–25), which set the conditions for individual achievement.

This increase in historical and anthropological knowledge was paralleled by an increase in biographical knowledge of creative individuals; it became clear how much these individuals owed their pre-eminence to the peculiar historical circumstances into which they had been born. Study of the diffusion of ideas from one creative individual to another led to a search for more general societal mechanisms of cultural interchange and ideological succession. Thus it was pointed out that major discontinuities in ideological succession—the decisive “breaks” in the history of ideas—could be analyzed in terms of generational series [seeGenerations]. Most generational studies have been person-oriented and have hardly advanced beyond the descriptive level. They do not attempt to explain what general social or psychological mechanisms could make one rising generation differ so much from another in its ability to free itself of its predecessors’ ideas. One such mechanism was, however, proposed by W. I. Thomas, who argued that social change proceeds through a series of situations that disturb habitual ways of thought. These situations, which Thomas called “crises,” are perceived and reacted to in different ways by different members of the population affected, but only the creative individuals in that population are fully able to discriminate between situations in such a way as to surmount habit and adjust themselves to radically new social demands (Thomas, Social Behavior and Personality, p. 169, note 29; ibid., pp. 218–220). This theory of Thomas’ deserves more attention than it has received in recent years; certainly, the ability to deal constructively with changing circumstances is one aspect of creativity, and the empirical research that now exists on the diffusion of innovations might well be re-examined in this light [seeDiffusion, article oninterpersonal influence].

The city as creative setting. The theory of the city (for which see Martindale 1958) has also shed some light on the mechanisms of ideological succession. The city is often held to constitute a uniquely creative setting; thus Weber declared: “The city and it alone has brought forth the phenomena of the history of art…. So also the city produced science in the modern sense” ([1919–1920] 1961, p. 234).

The model underlying the city theory of ideological succession is one of a multiple stimulus proceeding from a central and cumulative cultural base that is open to all the available influences of cultural diffusion. Proponents of this theory are therefore inclined to equate creativity with rapid growth in complexity, which they see as a necessarily cumulative process taking place at ecologically determined central locations. This viewpoint is partly the result of an emphasis on particular organizational outlets and on the physical properties of the cultural base—properties that are coming to seem far less relevant now that modern techniques of mass reproduction and communication can diffuse knowledge of creative objects at low cost, regardless of distance.

Institutional creativity. The new emphasis on the variable properties of social systems and their elements resulted in a view of social systems and subsystems as creative agents. Those systematic properties which enabled the system or subsystem to vary adaptively in structure and type of output were assumed to be the same that caused creativity to emerge at the individual level. Durkheim’s theory of the collective origin of all values and concepts finally caused him to adopt a view of society itself as supremely creative ([1912] 1961, pp. 482–496). At the institutional level, Durkheim helped to direct a far more widely diffused preoccupation among social scientists with the processes of education and socialization. Since it was evident that, even if society was in some sense a creative agent, the more specialized creative ideologies were not uniformly diffused throughout society, sociological interest in creativity began to focus on the ways in which these ideologies had been institutionalized for cultivation by creative elites. As the division of labor increased, it seemed as if creative activity necessarily became professional activity. At the same time the influence of Marxist sociology led to an awareness of ideological vested interests that might stand in the way of creativity, not only because of their possibly uncreative character but also because they tended to recruit institutional members mainly from the upper and middle classes. Some theorists—not all of them Marxists —began to maintain that the more organized the cultivation of creative ideologies, the more ideological succession was likely to be a product of conflict between organized ideological interests.

Deviance and marginality. A variation on the theme of ideological conflict that has played a large part in the psychological study of creativity is that ideological succession is brought about by individuals who have deviant personality characteristics, since only such individuals could be motivated to overthrow received ideas. The sociological equivalent of this is the theory of marginality, which holds that “marginal men”—that is, individuals who are marginally located in the social structure —will, because they have been imperfectly socialized into the dominant value system (and therefore have no vested interest in maintaining it), have a greater potential for creative achievement than those who are more centrally located. The achievements of minority group members, especially Jews, have often been cited as evidence in support of this hypothesis (see, for instance, Veblen 1919).

But such arguments tend to overlook the discrepancy between societal values and the values in terms of which creative achievement is appraised by experts. It is probably true in all complex societies that entry to fields where distinction is based entirely on achievement is less restricted than entry into other fields where financial success is more easily come by (compare Toynbee [1934b] 1962, vol. 2, pp. 209, 217–220). Nevertheless, the theory of the marginal man has some value in the study of creativity because it raises the question of whether the experience of marginality, however acquired, may help to strengthen those faculties of detachment and self-reliance which some psychologists believe to characterize creative individuals (see, for instance, Henle 1962, pp. 45–46; Crutchfield 1962, p. 139). There is no good evidence that socialization into a marginal status, or voluntary adoption of such status, is necessarily favorable to creativity. On the contrary, everything we know of minority group psychology and of the psychology of deviance suggests that, for most people, marginality tends to produce feelings of insecurity and even self-hatred that are more likely to find an outlet in compulsive overconformity than in creative achievement. But it does seem likely that the creative person—for reasons that are not yet understood—is an exception to this pattern, in the sense that he is able to turn his marginal status, whether sought or unsought, to good advantage. Biographies of creative individuals suggest that marginality is usually a temporary episode in a creative career and that when it is sought out and cultivated (as Rilke, for instance, sought out the absolute solitude of the Chateau de Muzot), this is done with a very definite purpose. From a sociological point of view, the striking fact about such careers is the ability of creative individuals to alternate periods of disaffiliation and solitude with periods in which a variety of social roles are sustained with great effectiveness.

Factorial theories. The virtue of the societal approach to creativity was that, in spite of its failure to produce definitive results, it succeeded in demonstrating that collectivities can plausibly be regarded as creative agents and that their creative properties can be analyzed in structural terms. The ambivalence of this approach with regard to the autonomy of the creative individual can be traced to a far more general ambivalence in sociological thought with regard to the relation of the individual and society. In contrast, there is a large class of theories that succeed in evading this problem because they treat creativity as a purely individual property and regard creative achievement as a type of individual response to various social pressures. The sociological problem of creativity, in terms of this approach, is to establish correlations between the distribution of creative individuals or objects and the presence or absence of one or (more usually) a number of social factors. It therefore seems appropriate to call this the factorial approach.

Factorial studies of creativity are rarely concerned with explicating structural relations between the social factors that are held to stimulate creative achievement, and still less with constructing models of the creative process that would relate social factors to psychological ones. They do not attempt to explain why a creative response should have taken a particular form, or whether it need have occurred when it did. Because of these and other omissions, many factorial studies are open to the charge of determinism, since they tend to ignore the voluntary element in creative efforts, as well as the extent to which the creative individual defines problems for himself or chooses to deal with certain problems rather than others. Factorial theories also tend to play down the existence of conflict between institutional values. In this sense such theories often seem, as Kuhn points out, to “write history backward” (1962, p. 137).

Toynbee’s theories of creativity

Toynbee’s important historical treatment of creativity has often been criticized by social scientists on the grounds that it overemphasizes the “great man” at the expense of social factors. But this is to ignore Toynbee’s conception of society as a complex of institutions (vol. 1, pp. 454–455) and his carefully stated view on the relationship between the individual and society (vol. 3, pp. 223, 230). The difference between Toynbee’s approach and that of most contemporary American sociologists is that he judges the influence of institutions on creativity to be mainly negative (see especially vol. 4, pp. 133–245, 303–423). In this he can be compared with Thomas, who thought that the control exercised by the group over the individual “tends to destroy much more than to construct…” (Thomas, Social Behavior and Personality, pp. 164–165). But Toynbee also regards the communication of creative experience and the display of creative products as essential parts of the creative process (vol. 1, p. 454, note 3; compare vol. 3, pp. 235–236). His main contention is that the process also requires a withdrawal of potentially creative persons and minorities from these institutions into a socially marginal position where they are set free to carry out the creative work. The final stage in the process is reached only after the creative person or minority has returned to society in order to gain acceptance for a creative product (vol. 3, pp. 248–263, 366–377).

This model of withdrawal and return is also applied to whole nations and civilizations as creative agents, and it is here that Toynbee’s theory of creativity exhibits both dialectical and organicist features. It is organicist insofar as civilizations are conceived as entities that undergo the natural processes of birth, growth, and decay; it is dialectical insofar as these processes are conceived as necessarily determined by cycles of creative withdrawal and return (see, for instance, vol. 4, p. 125). Loss of command over the environment, whether physical or human, is explicitly ruled out as a cause of decadence; for Toynbee, it is merely a symptom (vol. 4, pp. 39–119). Yet Toynbee never goes as far as attributing creative primacy to the social structure or to any of its elements; structural arrangements as such originate nothing (vol. 3, p. 230). This is because, in Toynbee’s basic model of society, a clear line is drawn between those who lead—the creative minority—and those who are led. Loss of creative power by the leaders is equivalent to loss of influence and cannot be replaced by the use of force; once the majority have withdrawn their assent to the leaders’ values, they have in effect seceded from society, which then progressively disintegrates (vol. 1, pp. 187–188; compare vol. 4, pp. 5–6). From such a situation a new society can arise only through emergence of a new creative minority.

Need, demand, and support

Most societal and factorial theories of creativity assume that potentially creative individuals are stimulated to creative achievement by some combination of social need, social demand, and social or economic support. But the relative importance assigned to each of these factors varies greatly, as does the social level at which they are held to operate.

Demand and need in Toynbee’s theory. Toynbee explains the birth of civilization in terms of creative societal response to unusually severe environmental challenge (vol. 2, p. 18; see also vol. 2, passim). But he does not pay much attention to the way in which a society sets about recognizing its needs, or to the possibility that its perception of need—that is, the nature of its societal demands —may not accurately reflect the true state of affairs. On the other hand, it is clear that fulfillment of need sufficient to ensure a society’s survival is only part of what Toynbee means by creativity at this level. Similarly, his application of the term “response” to creative individuals and minorities often implies that they succeeded in doing far more than was required by the situation that “challenged” them.

Ogburn’s theory of invention. Ogburn differs greatly from Toynbee, first, in viewing creative potential simply as the upper end of the normal distribution of mental ability and, second, in adopting a conception of culture that makes the creative individual not so much a leader as a “medium in social change” (Ogburn [1926] 1964, p. 43; compare [1950] 1964, p. 22, note 4).

Ogburn’s overriding preoccupation with technological invention, and his commitment to a cumulative model of scientific development, gave rise to certain anomalies in his treatment of creativity that he recognized but was unable to resolve. Other social institutions did not appear to evolve in the same way or at the same rate as science, and this made it difficult to apply the theory of cultural accumulation to whole cultures, at least when dealing with complex societies. Moreover, different societies clearly evolved at different rates—a fact that Ogburn could not explain in terms of the accumulation of purely internal cultural materials, once he assumed that all races had the same creative potential and that cultural accumulation was the prime creative force.

The social processes adduced by Ogburn in order to remove these difficulties have an adventitious character. Cultural evolution is said to be explicable in terms of four factors—invention, accumulation, diffusion, and adjustment—of which invention is the “central” factor, while the others “all lead to further invention, but they do more. Each is a significant and special process, irrespective of its stimulation of new inventions” (Ogburn [1950] 1964, p. 23, note 6). In dealing with concrete examples, Ogburn tends to play these different factors off against each other rather than to analyze the way in which they are interrelated. For example, he states that the “inventional process” consists in the “operation of three factors: mental ability, demand, and … the “cultural base.” But then he admits the existence of a class of inventions that “are made accidentally while working on something else; for these, demand did not direct the invention. Such are many discoveries in pure science. The use of an invention, however, implies a demand” (Ogburn [1950] 1964, pp. 23–24). In other words, the absence, in a given type of situation, of one of Ogburn’s factors does not lead him to question his general model of invention but merely to change the topic. Elsewhere, Ogburn explains the fact that “significant invention” is not usually accompanied by change in all other parts of society by adducing his celebrated theory of cultural lag, which is based on the hypothesis that all societies seek through invention to regain the equilibrium that invention has upset (ibid., p. 30; compare Ogburn 1957). But by Ogburn’s own admission his theory of cultural evolution does not accord at all with his conception of artistic creativity ([1936] 1964, pp. 56–57)—though it is hard to believe, on this evidence, that he ever gave any serious attention to the history of art.

Demand and institutional appraisal. Both Toynbee and Ogburn tend to overlook the relationship between social demand and institutional processes such as appraisal. Thus the phenomenon of neglected genius—a central problem for the sociology of creativity—cannot be explained wholly or even mainly in terms of lack of demand, as it would have to be under Ogburn’s theory, nor yet as a deficiency of qualities making for successful leadership, as Toynbee would probably argue. Both of these factors are certainly capable of overshadowing creative achievement, but it must be very seldom that they obscure it altogether. A far more likely explanation in many cases is that, because of a breakdown in the system of appraisal (which may be associated with a sudden upsurge of new creative ideologies after a period of stagnation, or with the emergence of a new kind of audience for creative products) there is as yet no outlet for a certain type of creative object in those social areas where a demand for it exists. In any case, it is certain that different types of appraisal are linked with different types of demand and that appraisal systems are highly complex structural entities which are rarely examined as such.

Thus, for the creative individual, the existence of a stratified social demand mediated by a sophisticated appraisal system is likely to intensify the conflict between the claims of creative achievement and those of public recognition—or, as Rank put it, the antagonism between success and fame (1932, chapter 6). Little systematic work has been done on any of these questions, but notice should be taken of Kuhn’s suggestion (1962, p. 69) that the breakdown of established paradigms, as evidenced by their increasing failure to solve the problems they themselves generate, may have a greater effect on the emergence of scientific creativity than the more generalized social pressures that preoccupied theorists such as Toynbee and Ogburn.

Support. Social demand for creative products is so often measured in terms of economic support for their creators that these two factors have become inextricably confused. Yet it is clear that although they are for the most part closely associated, at least in capitalist societies with a high degree of literacy, they may vary independently. Thus, American concert and opera audiences, possibly from a historically conditioned sense of cultural inferiority, have always preferred European to American composers, even when the latter were of outstanding merit. This has not deterred the Ford Foundation from subsidizing American opera on a lavish scale (Rockefeller Brothers Fund 1965, pp. 29–31). Nevertheless, there is no regular audience for native contemporary opera in the United States, and American composers would probably cease to write operas were it not for foundation support. The reverse situation—a widespread demand that goes unfulfilled for lack of support—is probably quite rare in American society but can be inferred to exist in the Soviet Union, for instance, where the prerevolutionary classics of Russian literature are bought and read in huge numbers, while the output of contemporary Soviet writers seems quite insufficient to match this evident demand for serious reading matter (Friedberg 1962, chapters 6 and 7).

But economic support for cultural activities and products is not the same thing as economic support for creativity, nor is it possible to prove, simply from inspection of the amount a society spends on art museums, symphony orchestras, libraries, and the like, that the arts of that society are in either a creative or an uncreative state. This is the most damaging criticism that can be made of otherwise useful studies, such as that of Toffler (1964). One distinction that would go far to clear up this and many other confusions about the relation of creativity to support is that between economic and social support. The fact that few women have distinguished themselves in science or in most of the arts except acting and musical performance is clear evidence of the lack of social support for women to compete in these fields. There are also obvious differences in the nature of the social support meted out to the same pursuits in different cultures. For instance, the amount of social support for the creative scientist in the United States differs markedly from that for the creative artist—a fact that reflects the naively utilitarian conception of science that predominates in American society. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, it is the official theory of art that is naively utilitarian, and the artist who succeeds in accommodating himself to this credo enjoys the kind of prestige that, in the United States, is more often accorded to scientists. Such differences in the ideological basis of economic support undoubtedly affect creativity, but they have yet to be systematically investigated.

Patronage systems. Most writers on creativity who consider patronage treat it as synonymous with economic support. Patrons are usually classified according to their social status—for instance, aristocratic, as opposed to bourgeois—and frequent attempts have been made to relate the rise of this or that creative ideology to the growing economic prosperity of a social class (see, for instance, Hauser [1951] 1957–1958, vol. 2, pp. 26–52). Such analyses assume that the form taken by a creative product is determined largely by the tastes or demands of those who pay for it.

But even if we grant the assumption that some kinds of patronage are especially favorable to creativity, it is by no means clear what these are. For instance, Italian art patrons during the age of the baroque could hardly have been more generous or more tolerant, yet the achievements of Italian painting during that period were disappointing when compared with developments in other parts of Europe, in spite of the superior Italian “cultural base” for the fine arts. It has been suggested that one reason for this decline in creativity may have been the extreme tolerance of the patrons: “Un-orthodoxy was killed with kindness” (Haskell 1963, p. 385). On the other hand, major creative ideologies have been propagated successfully under systems of patronage that, by all common-sense criteria, would seem to have been peculiarly unfavorable: one has only to remember William Hazlitt’s embittered description of the social conditions that attended the birth of the English romantic movement ([1825] 1948, pp. 737–738).

None of the standard explanations of these anomalies are very satisfactory. The usual thesis is that to maximize social and economic support for any institution is to maximize its opportunities for creative development. But there is always the risk that hypertrophy of an institution may generate a flood of mediocrities and a corresponding dilution of basic institutional values (see, for instance, Butler [1962] 1963, pp. 21–22; White & White 1965, pp. 2, 44–54). A more systematic approach to the problem would be to study patronage systems as institutionalized patterns of support in which the social status of patrons and the amount of their financial outlays would be only two of the many elements to be considered. The essential features of this approach are already present in Haskell’s analysis of seventeenth-century art patronage (Haskell 1963, chapter 1). It is clear from Haskell’s account that many different types of patronage, serving many different needs, can coexist within the same system. What differentiated this system from the one that eventually replaced it was not so much the social status of its patrons as the set of values, shared by artists and patrons alike, relating to the nature of art as an institution. From a sociological point of view, it is this homogeneity of values that should probably be singled out when comparing baroque patronage with, for instance, the art market of the late nineteenth century. Clearly, a patronage system in which painters and patrons have different conceptions of art as an institution is likely to need entrepreneurs who will mediate between supply and demand. The forms taken by the mechanisms of display and appraisal are also likely to be different.

But these and similar hypotheses cannot be investigated systematically in the absence of a historically sound typology of patronage systems. Four such types can be readily identified: the personalized system described by Haskell, in which there is a clear distinction between patronage for public and private purposes, though in either case the patron is the direct employer of the artist or scientist; the academy system, which is essentially a system of ideological control based on official patronage and is the system preferred by authoritarian and communist regimes; the open market system, of which American show business is perhaps the purest form; and the subvention system, in which a variety of patrons, both public and private, underwrite the cost of cultural activities that would otherwise cease for lack of demand.

All of these systems—and probably others, too— may coexist in the same society. Thus a society’s art may be supported by an open market system and its science by an academy system. There may also be more than one system of support for a single institution, as when art is supported by both the personalized and the open market systems. Under these conditions, the creative individual may have a choice of patronage systems, any one of which will impose a definite type of demand. It may be difficult for him to serve more than one of these systems once he has made his initial choice. But these and related problems in the sociology of creativity have as yet scarcely been identified, let alone discussed.

Empirical studies

Most empirical studies of creativity are person-oriented. The samples on which they are based fall into two main categories: those in which the individuals studied have been selected on the basis of acknowledged creative achievement at some arbitrarily defined level and those in which an entire population has been sampled and classified, usually on the basis of projective psychological tests (though ratings by peers or supervisors are often collected as well), into “creative” and “uncreative” groups. Samples based on achievement criteria have often been institutional in scope; for instance, the entire population of “creative” American scientists is continually being studied (Roe 1963). A few attempts, of which Galton’s is still the best-known, have been made to study the characteristics of creative individuals at different historical periods on a national basis (Genetic Studies of Genius, vol. 2, 1926; White 1931). Studies using psychological measures have usually been conducted at the level of formal organizations and of the organized work groups that they contain (for a brief review, see Hughes 1963; for some of the current research, see Utah Creativity Research Conference 1964, parts IV and V; Fiedler 1964).

Few of the psychological studies examine their subjects over any considerable period of time: the outstanding exception is the work of Terman and his associates, who drew a sample of over 1,400 school children with IQs of 140 or more and successfully conducted follow-up studies over a period of 25 years (see, for instance, Genetic Studies of Genius, vol. 4, 1947). Studies using projective tests are occasionally made of mature creative individuals selected on the basis of acknowledged achievement in the arts or sciences (a good example is Barron 1963, chapter 19); such individuals are never identified, and it is therefore impossible to make an independent appraisal of their creative ideologies. The most interesting achievement of the psychological studies so far has been the differentiation of intelligence from creative potential (Getzels & Jackson 1962), and there are many indications that these two factors, though associated, may vary independently within a certain range (Meer & Stein 1955). Studies and autobiographies of creative individuals have, of course, been analyzed by social scientists, but Rank’s devastating criticism of the psychological approach to biographical material is still valid (1932, p. 150; compare pp. 129–130, 143–144).

A complete list of studies that fall into the categories outlined above would include nearly all the social science literature ostensibly concerned with creativity. But this list would omit most of the studies that have relevance for the sociological approach to the topic. Unfortunately, there is as yet no agreement on the nature of this relevance, though it has been clear to sociologists for some time that it exists. In my opinion, one of the main obstacles to the inauguration of a sociology of creativity is the assumption that all studies of creativity must be person-oriented. But the study of creativity need not be confined to the individual level. Many empirical studies of social movements, formal organizations, and small groups deal with creative actions and products, even though they may not use the word “creativity.” Findings at these different levels could be compared with respect to their definitions of the creative object; the amount of attention they pay to institutional values, creative ideologies, and outlets for creative products; and the ways in which they describe the basic mechanisms of ideological succession, display, appraisal, and support. But if a mature sociology of creativity is ever to emerge, far more empirical studies will have to be undertaken at the institutional and societal levels.

Societies. Social systems are usually conceived as having various kinds of outputs. Within this frame of reference any attempt to explain creativity at the societal level must be concerned with the quality of such outputs. But there is no agreement about what they are and considerable confusion about what they might be. Some studies treat the output of a single institution, such as art, as if it were a societal output and then relate variations in the quality of this output to different states of the social system. Thus Kavolis has made use of the phase-cycle theory of Parsons and Bales in order to argue that a society’s artistic creativity is likely to increase when social conditions are such as to “increase the social utility of art as a symbolic facility for reintegration, without necessarily destroying or massively diverting the resources needed for artistic creation” (1966, p. 215). This theory is held to be supported by Sorokin’s data on the rate of internal disorders in various countries. But even if it is granted that the social function of art is social integration, there remains the question of how institutional values are related to societal needs. Highly specialized creative ideologies such as artistic styles are clearly not generated by the social system acting as a whole, nor does an upsurge of creativity in a single institution constitute evidence that the entire social system is in a creative state. It might be possible to measure the outputs of different institutions on the same scale, but this would only obscure the question of how the institutions were related to each other. It may be that a truly creative state of society would be one in which the different institutions stand in relations of reciprocity and mutual support. In this case, the output of the creative social system would be, presumably, the civic morality that made such relations possible. Conversely, an uncreative social system would be one characterized by chronic and acute disharmony between its institutions (compare Toynbee [1939] 1962, p. 133). This hypothesis attributes creativity to social integration, not cultural integration, since if each institution had as much creative autonomy as was consistent with civic morality, considerable heterogeneity of cultural forms and styles would result.

Another topic on which more empirical research is needed is the relationship between creativity and national character. Although the notion of national character, generally accepted in David Hume’s day (see Toynbee, vol. 1, p. 470), has now fallen into discredit as a tool of social science, it still appears to have some use in literary and art criticism. For instance, Nikolaus Pevsner (1956) has argued that the English national character, as revealed in English art and architecture, has undergone a series of radical changes: opposing stylistic traits such as “moderation” and “fantasy,” which derive from the English social heritage, appear in different combinations at different periods without ceasing to reflect certain dominant formal qualities. What is impressive about Pevsner’s method of analysis, which owes much to Wolfflin, is the way in which he links aspects of internal ideology (that is, purely formal properties such as emphasis on verticals, and disembodiment) with aspects of external ideology (that is, with values such as conservatism, which derive from institutions other than art). Since Pevsner associates creativity in the arts with intensity and even fanaticism, he concludes that the diminishing frequency of these two qualities in English art since the Reformation shows that England is no longer a “visual nation,” and he attributes this decline in artistic creativity to the growth of reason and tolerance in English political institutions ([1956] 1964, p. 206). Whatever one may think of such daring analogies between internal and external ideological succession, the facts on either side of the analogy are clear enough, and the problem of connecting them more systematically than Pevsner has done is a genuine one for sociology [seeStyle].

Institutions. The importance of institutional values for the study of creativity has already been emphasized. There is no lack of relevant literature here; rather, there is a need for the development of formal categories in terms of which the internal dynamics of ideological succession can be systematically described. The greatest progress in this area so far has been made by those art historians who have followed the example of Wölfflin, but without his bent for dialectics.

A far more neglected area is institutional structure. The concept of institutional structure should (but usually does not) include not only the means by which an institution deals with recruitment, socialization, and ideological succession but also such aspects of its relations with the larger society as its sources of support (both social and economic), its outlets, and its provisions for display and appraisal. One of the very few sociological attempts at meeting all these requirements is a study by White and White (1965) of institutional change in the French art world during the nineteenth century. In this study the dimensions of painting as an institution are systematically mapped out in terms of such parameters as the total number of painters and the rate at which they produced paintings. The object-oriented ideology and centralized formal structure of the academic appraisal system are seen as contributing to the academy’s eventual loss of control over institutional values (White & White 1965, pp. 88–89, 100) and thus to the successful emergence of impressionism as a creative ideology. But the study does not deal with the internal ideology of impressionism except insofar as it brought a new importance to the previously minor genre of landscape painting. Impressionism, however, represented a far more drastic revolution in pictorial values, and it is possible that too much stress on institutional continuity may serve to obscure this.

In contrast, Kuhn (1962) stresses the discontinuity that accompanies radical change in the realm of scientific values. The introduction of a new paradigm—presumably the most creative feat a scientist or group of scientists can accomplish— is essentially a noncumulative episode in the history of science and represents such a sharp break with the established scientific world view that it can gain acceptance only after science has entered a period of acknowledged crisis. Thus the creative genius of a Galileo consists in the introduction of an entirely new mode of interpretation that, because it enlarges the whole field of scientific perception, cannot be described in terms of a single discovery or invention—rather, it is a “scientific revolution” (Kuhn 1962, pp. 118–122). But, as Kuhn has emphasized, it is “normal science” that makes scientific revolutions possible, since only to those who have mastered a particular scientific tradition does it become evident that the tradition has been exhausted ([1959] 1963, pp. 349–350).

These considerations suggest that neither personality factors nor basic abilities have any part to play in the higher forms of creative scientific achievement unless they are associated with thorough socialization into a firmly established tradition. Thus, for Kuhn the most important precondition of scientific creativity is an institutionalized consensus. Again, there are obvious parallels with the history of art. For instance, White and White have pointed out that the impressionist rejection of tradition was made more meaningful by the existence of a firmly established tradition to reject (1965, pp. 160–161); similarly, Shils (1964, p. 356) has pointed out that the function of an avantgarde in any institution is to reinterpret tradition. But if the history of art is to be systematically compared with the history of science, it will be necessary to give an account of artistic creativity in terms of problem solving and to distinguish between the different kinds of artistic problems as they are seen from the artist’s point of view, just as Kuhn has examined creativity in science from the scientist’s point of view. The creative object in art and science is essentially a solution to a series of problems; accordingly, the sociological researcher will always fail to understand why or in what respects an object should be considered creative unless he also understands what these problems are and how they relate to each other. From an object-oriented point of view, both art and science present themselves as hierarchically ordered complexes of problems—some basic, some less basic, and some quite trivial. Since creativity occurs at all these levels, the task of appraising creative objects for sociological purposes is not so much one of ranking them according to degree of creativity as of assigning to each object its appropriate place in the total hierarchy of problems and solutions to problems. To say that one creative object is more or less creative than another is to imply that it solves problems of a higher or a lower order. How this order is to be conceived is a question that can be decided only with reference to the values which constitute the internal ideology of the institution in question.

Other problem areas that still await investigation at the institutional level are the relation between ideological succession and patterns of support, the effects of technology upon institutional outlets, and the systematic comparison of patronage systems.

Study of creativity at the societal and institutional levels has traditionally been a historical enterprise. But it is one thing to evaluate a dead civilization and quite another to diagnose the state of an ongoing civilization of which no one knows the outcome. Thus Toynbee’s theories, when applied to the contemporary United States (Toynbee 1964), issue in conclusions that are suggestive but that could be substantiated only by sociological analysis of data that are not likely to be available for many years to come. A more sophisticated account of obstacles to creativity in modern industrialized society is that of Murphy (1958), who offers hope that the rigidity of the cultural base can be counterbalanced by deeper understanding of human potentialities. This raises a question that has escaped most historians, Toynbee included: What will be the social effects of the increasing psychological knowledge of creativity? Historical research has no answers to this question because no civilization but the present one has had the opportunity to develop such knowledge. Intelligence and aptitude tests are now so widely used that they obviously meet a permanent demand in modern society. If a similar demand for creativity tests should ever make itself felt, the structure of society, especially its present highly inefficient mechanisms for ideological succession, might be permanently changed.

J. M. B. Edwards

[Directly related are the entriesCulture; Film; Fine Arts; Leadership; Literature; Science. Other relevant material may be found inCity, article onforms and functions; Communication, Mass, article onAudiences; Groups, article onGroup Behavior; Organizations, article oneffectiveness and planning of change; and in the biographies ofBuber; Cooley; Durkheim; Freud; Galton; Kroeber; Ogburn; Rank; Sorokin; Terman; Thomas; Weber, Max.]


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Antoni, Carlo (1940) 1959 From History to Sociology: The Transition in German Historical Thinking. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State Univ. Press. → First published as Dallo storicismo alia sociologia.

Barron, Frank X. 1963 Creativity and Psychological Health: Origins of Personal Vitality and Creative Freedom. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Bruner, Jerome S. 1962 The Conditions of Creativity. Pages 1–30 in Howard E. Gruber et al. (editors), Contemporary Approaches to Creative Thinking. New York: Atherton.

Butler, Reginald C. (1962) 1963 Creative Development. New York: Horizon Press. → Based on lectures given at the Slade School, University College, London.

Coler, Myron A. (editor) 1963 Essays on Creativity in the Sciences. New York Univ. Press.

Cooley, Charles H. (1897) 1930 Genius, Fame and the Comparison of Races. Pages 119–159 in Charles H. Cooley, Sociological Theory and Social Research, Being the Selected Papers of Charles Horton Cooley. With an introduction and notes by Robert Cooley Angell. New York: Holt. → First published in Volume 9 of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Crutchfield, Richard S. 1962 Conformity and Creative Thinking. Pages 120–140 in Howard E. Gruber et al. (editors), Contemporary Approaches to Creative Thinking. New York: Atherton.

Durkheim, Émile (1912)1961 The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: Collier. → First published as Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, le système totémique en Australie.

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Mooney, Ross L. (1957) 1962 A Conceptual Model for Integrating Four Approaches to the Identification of Creative Talent. Pages 73–84 in Sidney J. Parnes and Harold F. Harding (editors), A Source Book for Creative Thinking. New York: Scribner. → A paper given at the Research Conference on the Identification of Creative Scientific Talent in Utah in 1957; the published version includes the discussion that followed the paper.

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Newman, Horatio H.; Freeman, Frank N.; and Holzinger, Karl J. 1937 Twins: A Study of Heredity and Environment. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Ogburn, William F. (1926) 1964 The Great Man Versus Social Forces. Pages 33–43 in William F. Ogburn, William F. Ogburn on Culture and Social Change: Selected Papers. Edited by Otis Dudley Duncan. Univ. of Chicago Press. → First published in Volume 5 of Social Forces.

Ogburn, William F. (1936) 1964 Stationary and Changing Societies. Pages 44–61 in William F. Ogburn, William F. Ogburn on Culture and Social Change: Selected Papers. Edited by Otis Dudley Duncan. Univ. of Chicago Press. → First published in Volume 42 of the American Journal of Sociology.

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Toynbee, Arnold J. (1934c) 1962 A Study of History. Volume 3: The Growths of Civilizations. Oxford Univ. Press.

Toynbee, Arnold J. (1939) 1962 A Study of History. Volume 4: The Breakdowns of Civilizations. Oxford Univ. Press.

Toynbee, Arnold J. 1964 Is America Neglecting Her Creative Minority? Pages 3–9 in Utah Creativity Research Conference, Widening Horizons in Creativity. Edited by Calvin W. Taylor. New York: Wiley.

Utah Creativity Research Conference 1964 Widening Horizons in Creativity. Proceedings of the Fifth Conference, edited by Calvin W. Taylor. New York: Wiley.

ValÉry, Paul (1940) 1952 The Course in Poetics: First Lesson. Pages 92–106 in Brewster Ghiselin (editor), The Creative Process. New York: Mentor. → First published in French. This translation is a revision of one first published in Volume 5 of the Southern Review in 1940.

Veblen, Thorstein (1919) 1948 The Intellectual Preeminence of Jews in Modern Europe. Pages 467–479 in Thorstein Veblen, The Portable Veblen. Edited with an introduction by Max Lerner. New York: Viking.

Weber, Max (1919–1920) 1961 General Economic History. Translated by Frank H. Knight. New York: Collier. → Contains lectures delivered in 1919–1920.

Weber, Max (1921) 1962 The City. Translated and edited by Don Martindale and Gertrud Neuwirth. New York: Collier. → First published as Die Stadt.

White, Harrison C.; and White, Cynthia A. 1965 Canvases and Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World. New York: Wiley.

White, Ralph K. 1931 The Versatility of Genius. Journal of Social Psychology 2:460–489.

Wolfflin, Heinrich (1915) 1956 Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art. New York: Dover. → This English translation is from the seventh (1929) German edition.


In a popular nineteenth-century conception, geniuses were innately gifted men who somehow made history. The “great-man” theory, as argued by Carlyle and supported by Galton, Lombroso, and others, may be stated in the following simplified form: Fame is a consequence of genius and can seldom be achieved without it, and genius as a rule achieves fame, almost regardless of any environmental and social conditions. Furthermore, men gifted with high abilities overcome virtually all obstacles, but men having social advantages and lacking in high abilities cannot rise to eminence. All truly great achievements, in this view, are made by the few eminent men of high ability.

Although some sociologists were briefly influenced by the above view, the main trend of sociological thinking ran steadily in a contrary direction. C. H. Cooley (1897) published a lengthy and effective challenge to the great-man theory, based on his examination of lists of distinguished European men to see if any had risen to eminence despite the total lack of educational advantages. He found no case in which there was not at least some formal childhood education. Illiteracy, at least, he concluded, would constitute a sufficient barrier to eminence for persons of any degree of innate ability.

Galton (1869) had accounted for exceptional flowerings of culture, such as that of Athens between 530 B.C. and 430 B.C., in terms of abrupt genetic improvement following unplanned selection of superior types of immigrants. Cooley (1897) explained the same phenomenon in sociological rather than biological terms. The operating factors included the accumulation of traditions of technical skills that developed atmospheres encouraging valued types of achievement and linked these activities to other dominant motivating enthusiasms, such as political and religious interests. Cooley did not hold innate differences to be irrelevant, but he did contend that both ability and favorable conditions were essential to the flowering of human achievement. For the most part the subsequent sociological tradition has developed in this direction of thinking.

Genius as a sociological concept

The concept of genius is not widely used in contemporary sociological writings, perhaps because of an aversion to popular usage, in which the term implies an exaggeration of the abilities and powers of men of achievement so that they appear to possess hereditary equipment of an order entirely apart from that of the rest of the population. The modest, but essentially correct, self-deprecation by persons commonly reputed to be geniuses is widely over-looked or dismissed as only a display of good manners.

Sociological attention to the subjects of creation and social change has increasingly tended to be fixed mainly on broad social processes. The responsibility of research into the nature and importance of individual abilities is nowadays, for the most part, left to the psychologists. Even from the early days of their discipline, however, sociological scholars have warned against giving undue weight to the importance of the abilities of individual persons as a factor bearing on the course of history.

However, direct attention to the evaluation of mental achievements of specific persons is not entirely lacking in sociology. In many cases of persons nominated by popular acclaim or by judgment of historians as true geniuses, it is difficult or impossible to separate the contribution of mental ability from that of other personal qualities and from factors external to the persons, including good luck. There is no justification, for example, for the sometimes attractive inference that a victorious military leader has, solely by the fact of his triumph, qualified himself as a genius; the mental powers of Caesar, Napoleon, or Grant cannot be usefully estimated from the materials of history. The same methodological difficulty applies to the assessment of the intelligence, ex officio, of heads of governments, leaders of movements, and spectacularly successful criminals.

Popular lists of geniuses are heavily contaminated by the arbitrary standards of popular or critical approbation. Thus Rembrandt was widely held to be a great artist during the age when his work was in vogue and was later dismissed by some critics as a hack painter. Longfellow seemed to be a greater poet in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth. Whatever one’s view of aesthetic values, it is clear that the future standing of contemporary artists of renown cannot be known in their own time; and this is an undeniable handicap to empirical research.

The search for unmistakable instances of genius, in the more narrow sense of extraordinary and effective mental ability, has led to the examination of the mental operations of creative mathematicians, research scientists, and prolific inventors. The results of such inquiries support the theory that the admired feats of such persons do not rest on exceptional native ability or on special talents not possessed by the rest of the population, but can be attributed to a variety of factors such as effective training or experience, possession of symbolic tools that facilitate mental operations, exceptionally strong motivation, and sometimes the good luck of being at the right time and place for an important advancement of knowledge to be made (Paris 1940).

Types of ability. Psychologists have shown that tests of ability can usefully be divided into separate factors, and it is now generally conceded that ability is not a single entity but that there are various kinds, each valuable in a different way (Goslin 1963; see also Gruber et al. 1962). Ability for routine research and invention, effective judgment and wisdom, strong administrative and leadership qualities, various performing skills, and general creativity—all have seemed to be distinguishable; and expanding attention has recently been turned to the development of separate measures for the various types.

Of these, the concept of creativity has in recent times aroused a particularly strong research interest, in the wake of a realization that the conventional tests of mental ability have failed to identify a type of person who seems to be able to make distinctly original contributions to knowledge or the arts, even though he does not achieve a score at the top IQ level. Attempts have been made to identify such creativity in schoolchildren and to account for its occurrence (Getzels & Jackson 1962). No clear pattern has emerged so far, however, and it is possible that an abundance of ideas and an indifference to conventionality are the principal qualities that are assumed to forecast a capacity for making original and valuable contributions. Correlations among tests designed to reveal creativity are for the most part low and, in general, scarcely higher than the correlation of the creativity test scores with IQ.

Adults who have actually made original contributions in their professional fields have also been studied in order to find out the nature and sources of their creativity (Mackinnon 1962). Direct and intensive examination of a large number of specially selected writers, architects, mathematicians, and research workers in science and engineering failed to discover a clear and uniform pattern of anything that could be unambiguously labeled “creativity.” Compared to a more representative sample of professionals in their fields, however, the persons judged to be creative were in general more open to experience, were independent rather than either conformist or nonconformist, tended toward introversion without restraints or inhibition, and were relatively rich in range of thoughts. But there were differences among the creative persons by profession: writers, for example, scored high on verbal intelligence measures, and architects high on spatial intelligence.

The concept of creativity thus remains elusive. It may turn out that a variety of factors, rather than a unitary talent, will account for the observed achievements of valuable originality.

Ability and achievement

A contribution to the evaluation of the factor of genius was made by William F. Ogburn in his studies of the role of invention in social change (1922). He found that no inventor develops a complex device in its entirety; an invention is always made by a series of small steps, and the various steps in each machine are made by a number of different inventors. It is, therefore, a scientific error to designate, as so many uninformed persons have done, Fulton, Edison, and Marconi as the inventors of the steamship, electric light, and radio, respectively. Each of these men contributed only a small part of the series of innovative ideas required for the above inventions. In the case of the electric light, for example, it was already well known that current passing through a wire could cause it to glow and emit light. Enclosure of the source of light in a glass container was already a feature of the arc light. Edison’s achievement, admittedly worthy of appreciation, required not so much an exceptional amount of mental ability but rather an unusual degree of optimism, coupled with a persistence in finding the right materials. In fact, his “invention” was achieved far more by trial and error than by abstract mental effort.

Ogburn further found that when the cultural base of existing knowledge is ready, so that only one small additional step is needed to develop an important invention, more than one inventor is likely to take that step independently and at about the same time. Convincing evidence for this assertion is provided in an extensive list of simultaneous inventions (Ogburn 1922, pp. 90–102). It seems probable that similar conclusions apply to scientists, artists, and innovators of all kinds. The progress of civilization does not rest solely on the extraordinary contributions of a gifted few but more importantly on the uncounted achievements of persons whose abilities exhibit almost the entire range of human possibilities.

Civilization, and social organization, furthermore, may be seen not only as a result of human abilities but also as a cause of them. The limits of human potentiality for mental achievement cannot be measured at present; there are no tests that succeed in measuring the utmost mental capacities of a person, only tests that estimate crudely what he has already achieved. Some contemporary judgments hold that most, if not all, persons are in fact capable of far greater mental performance than they ever actually reach (Bruner I960; Paris 1940).

Social development of ability. Human powers rest not only on the physiological equipment of the nervous system and supporting mechanisms (Brain 1961) but also, and to a large extent, on the way in which they become organized in experience. Two persons starting with equally efficient brain mechanisms may become greatly unequal in mental performance if their life experiences differ importantly in the various aspects that influence mental organization.

The components of mental ability contributed by experience are not completely known, partly because the search for them has been delayed by the long-prevailing assumption that innate differences were of greater significance. It now seems fairly well established, however, that through both formal education and unique individual experience, the latter sometimes accidental in character, persons may acquire mental tools that contribute efficiency to their accomplishments by simplifying the operations, in a manner analogous to the simplification of arithmetic computations through the use of tables of logarithms.

Mental calculators, whose feats have appeared spectacularly superior to normal performances, achieve their results by the use of mental equipment known to be obtainable through training. All such prodigies have exceptional memory for digits, but previously “untalented” persons have been trained to equal the experts in this respect. Much of mental calculation is simplified by the use of tables and other arrangements of numbers held in the memory. A contemporary prodigious calculator, for example, able to multiply two 10-digit numbers in a little over a minute and six pairs of 3-digit numbers in nine seconds, is aided by his memory of multiplication tables up to 100 times 100 and by tables of logarithms to 14 decimal places up to the number 150. Specific devices vary, but all mental calculators reported in the literature make effective use of such memorized aids (Paris 1940). It is highly likely that equally prodigious mental feats in many other fields are simplified by such acquired mental structures. Chess, for example, is perceived by a master player in coordinated image patterns of a different order from those of a beginner, so that an extremely complex series of thoughts by the beginner may be handled by the expert through use of a single organized concept.

It also seems probable that man’s most important acquired mental tool is language itself, and differential mastery of language may be the greatest contributor to ability variation in the general population. Size of vocabulary surely contributes to thinking powers, as does orderliness and consistency of language use. Special languages support special abilities, in fields as separate as art, music, and mathematics and science. An important part of the widely known correlation of abilities of parents and their children is a consequence of differential linguistic heritages within families.

It has also long been recognized that variations in amount of reading correlate with school achievement and mental-test scores. The speed with which a person reads has been found to be related to the amount of reading he does, and speed is readily improved by training. It is also virtually certain that most of the population reads far below its potential with respect to both speed and quantity. Contemporary Western culture contains various factors operating in both directions to influence this variable in the population—from schools that train persons to read to diverting and distracting amusements that cut into the time they might have spent in reading [seeCommunication, mass, article onaudiences].

Ability and motivation. Formal education, however, provides only part of the actual differentiation of ability in a population. A variable of possibly equal importance is level of aspiration, on which recent research is tending to place ever-increasing emphasis. Opportunities to learn appear to be mainly wasted on persons with low motivation, and almost all instances of exceptional mental achievement are performed by persons whose aspirations are of obsessional strength.

Contemporary research indicates that aspiration levels are affected by the general atmosphere of a residential community, by peer groups, and by family traditions and interaction. It may also be suggested that among the various ways in which family interaction contributes to the mental development of children are the degree of richness and warmth of relation between parents and children, variations in clarity and orderliness of communication within the family, how much a child is encouraged to take the initiative in talking and relating his experiences, the development of early familiarity and ease in handling quantities and measurements, acquisition of advance motivation for reading and school learning, the creation of a broad appetite for orientation to the world and a hunger for knowledge of all kinds, a delight in novel thoughts, the development of a sense of confidence that answers to questions are not too hard to find, and a prejudice against persons and influences that would tend to distract from intellectual concerns.

The supply of ability

To the extent that achieved ability is determined by experience, the general intellectual power of a society is improvable by conscious design. Research in methods of making formal education more effective, plus research in ways of improving informal influences on ability, promise to give a society the power “to lift itself by its bootstraps.” As new levels of collective ability are achieved, the natural tendencies of cultural life would tend to maintain the new level, barring the occurrence of disorganizing influences.

The spread of formal education in the United States, especially at the college level, has been very rapid in recent years and gives promise of much more to come. Indeed, the country seems to be in process of upgrading ability levels throughout the population—a process that is likely to continue for half a century or more.

At the lower levels of education, the rate of illiteracy has declined in recent decades, so that the small number of illiterates remaining are mainly in the older age groups. The average number of years of schooling is steadily increasing, and there has been a long and accelerating rise in the proportion of the population graduating from high schools and colleges and earning graduate degrees. The effects of such increases cannot be fully experienced for at least half a century, since a permanent increase in the proportion of young persons graduating from colleges at the age of 21, for example, must automatically continue to enrich the intellectual level of the population as this generation ages all the way to the retirement stage of life, replacing year by year, all through the process, the older and less educated generations.

Improving formal education. An additional possibility of improvement lies in the enrichment of the educational process at all grade levels. Efforts are being made to speed the learning processes of preschool children as well as children at all other educational levels. Mathematical subjects formerly thought suitable only for college students are being taught in high schools, and a number of concepts once thought too difficult are now successfully taught in the lower grades. Similar enrichment is being tried in science, social studies, languages, and literature. Colleges and universities are also in a constant process of improvement through new instructional methods, teaching machines, honors courses, and other efforts. It appears likely that graduate education is also becoming ever more efficient, not only with the progress of knowledge but also with the availability of technical means, including computers, that reduce energy-consuming and drudgery operations.

There is no precise way to measure the consequences of such improvements in educational procedures, nor any realistic means of estimating future gains. There is reason, however, to suppose that the possibilities are of important magnitude. It has been found in a contemporary inquiry (Bray 1954) that among children having the advantage of “excellent cultural opportunities,” about 25 per cent have IQ’s of 125 or more—the level presumed to be adequate for earning a PH.D. Since only about 6 per cent of children in the general population achieve so high an IQ, it appears likely that an extension of similar cultural opportunities to all could quadruple the proportion of those with PH.D. ability in the population. Since improvements in quality of education may, in turn, create future cultural opportunities superior to those of the present, even further advance in the ability level would appear to be possible.

American society and human resources. Present trends toward mechanization and more elaborate organization of the economic and political order reveal the critical importance of effecting such increases in the ability levels in the population. During the early 1960s in the United States, a gap between the needed and the existing capacities of the population was indicated by the rate of unemployment among persons of low educational level and by an acute shortage of persons with high technical skills. In a situation of intense political and economic competition among large industrialized nations, it is conceivable that progress in the sociology of ability could become a major factor in determining the outcome of the contest. Knowledge, skills, and capacity for invention have sometimes been collectively called “human capital,” and some economists have suggested that it may become a more important factor in economic growth than “tangible capital.” Some areas of the world are relatively undeveloped, even though rich in natural resources, because of severe lack of such “human capital.” More significant, however, is the principle that great wealth of human capital would tend to give any nation relative independence of limiting environmental conditions.

Robert E. L. Faris

[See alsoAchievement motivation; Achievement testing; Capital, human; Education; Intelligence and intelligence testing; and the biographies ofCooley; Galton; Ogburn.]


Brain, Walter R. 1961 Some Reflections on Genius, and Other Essays. New York: Lippincott.

Bray, Douglas W. 1954 Issues in the Study of Talent. New York: King’s Crown Press.

Bruner, Jerome S. (1960) 1965 The Process of Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Cooley, Charles H. (1897) 1930 Genius, Fame and the Comparison of Races. Pages 119–159 in Charles H. Cooley, Sociological Theory and Social Research, Being the Selected Papers of Charles Horton Cooley. With an introduction and notes by Robert Cooley Angell. New York: Holt.

Faris, Robert E. L. 1940 Sociological Causes of Genius. American Sociological Review. 5:689–699.

Galton, Francis (1869) 1952 Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences. New York: Horizon Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by World.

Getzels, Jacob W.; and Jackson, Philip W. 1962 Creativity and Intelligence: Explorations With Gifted Students. New York: Wiley.

Goslin, David A. 1963 The Search for Ability: Standardized Testing in Social Perspective. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Gruber, Howard E. et al. (editors) 1962 Contemporary Approaches to Creative Thinking. New York: Atherton.

MacKinnon, Donald 1962 What Makes a Person Creative? Saturday Review 45:15–17, 69.

Ogburn, William F. (1922) 1964 Social Change With Respect to Culture and Original Nature. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.


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Creativity is most often defined as the individual capacity to generate ideas that are both original and useful. Thus, those who have highly novel but clearly maladaptive ideas are not considered creative. An example would be paranoid psychotics whose delusions of grandeur and persecution prevent them from leading normal lives. By the same token, in everyday life there are numerous solutions to problems that work just fine but are totally routine, such as a motorist's decision to take an alternate route to the grocery store when an automobile accident blocks the habitual route. Of course, the two defining components of creativityoriginality and utilityare not discrete characteristicsthere are varying degrees of these elements in a creative idea. Hence, a measure of originality can vary from utterly conventional ideas (the zero point) to ideas that can be considered extremely surprising or even revolutionary. Similarly, a measure of utility can range from an idea that proves completely impractical or unworkable (the zero point) to an idea that solves a problem perfectly. As a necessary consequence, their joint product, creativity, can also vary along some implicit scale. At the lower end of this scale is everyday creativity. This category includes successful and novel solutions to the problems that people often encounter during the course of their lives. At a higher level on this scale is creativity that actually results in some discrete product, such as a poem published in a regional literary magazine or a painting displayed at a local gallery or exhibit. Higher still are those products so creative that they exert a more lasting and pervasive impact on a discipline, culture, society, or civilization. At this extreme it is common to speak of "creative genius."

Yet it is critical to stress that genius-grade creativity is not necessarily superior to more ordinary forms of creativity. Although the influence of an artistic or scientific masterpiece is more impressive in the long run, such masterworks are also relatively rare. In contrast, ideas that appear at the middle levels of creativity, because of their frequency, play a bigger role in daily affairs, whether in the home, school, or workplace. Indeed, everyday creativity often plays a crucial role in making life more enjoyable. The amateur cooks who delight in devising and testing new recipes, the do-it-yourselfers who enjoy designing and building furniture for their homes, and the "Sunday painters" who derive joy from expressing their feelings and images on canvas all illustrate some of these commonplace forms of creative activity.

From the standpoint of aging, there are two fundamental questions that must be addressed. The first question concerns how creativity changes across the life span, particularly in the final years of a person's life. The second question regards the best explanations for any developmental changes. In short, the first question is empirical, the second theoretical.

Empirical findings

The first task in assessing longitudinal trends is to decide on an appropriate measure of creativity. For the most part, researchers have adopted one of two assessment methods: psychometric tests and productivity indicators.

Psychometric tests. A large number of psychometric instruments exist that purport to assess creativity. Some measures assess personality characteristics, others cognitive style, and yet others biographical background factors. Nonetheless, research on the relation between age and creativity has been almost exclusively confined to one particular set of tests, namely, those that purport to assess a person's capacity for "divergent thinking." Such measures determine whether an individual can generate an impressive number of novel responses to test stimuli. Typical is the unusual uses test that requires the respondent to conceive all of the potential uses for a paper clip. These tests can be scored for fluency (number of responses), flexibility (number of distinct categories to which the responses belong), and originality (how rare the response is relative to others taking the test). Moreover, some divergent-thinking tests use verbal stimuli, whereas other tests use visual stimuli. The underlying assumption behind these measures is that they tap the cognitive processes that are essential to creative thought. In any case, investigators who have applied such divergent-thinking tests have consistently found that divergent thinking tends to exhibit an inverted-U shape with regard to age over the life course, with a clear tendency for scores to drop off in the latter half of life. Optimum creativity usually appears around the fortieth year of life.

Even so, caution must be exercised in interpreting these findings. It cannot be confidently inferred from these results that creativity must decline after a person attains middle age. First of all, most of these empirical investigations depend exclusively on cross-sectional data, a methodological tactic that conflates the effects of aging with those of birth year (i.e., age versus cohort effects). Hence, special care must be taken to gauge aging effects from truly longitudinal data (within, rather than across, individuals). In addition, the specific shape of the longitudinal trajectory is contingent on the particular types of tests that are used. Because divergent-thinking tests constitute only one possible type of creativity assessment, different age curves can emerge when different measures are applied. Most tellingly, instruments that assess problem-solving abilities in more practical situations can actually yield scores that fail to decline with age, and may even increase. Lastly, not all experts in the area of creativity assessment accept the validity of so-called creativity tests. Most validation studies reveal that such tests exhibit small correlations with direct behavioral measures of creativity, such as achieved eminence in a creative domain.

Productivity indicators. The best single predictor of achieved eminence as a creator is lifetime creative output. Therefore, it appears reasonable to adopt productivity as a behavioral measure of creativity. Because scientific inquiries into age changes in creative productivity began in 1835, with the work of Adolphe Quételet (17961874), this topic can be considered the oldest in life-span developmental psychology. Yet the first truly important figure in this area was Harvey C. Lehman, whose work was summarized in his 1953 book Age and Achievement. Although Lehman's research was plagued with many methodological problems, later investigations that introduced more advanced methods have confirmed his central conclusion: the generation of products tends to increase with age until a maximum output level is attained, with productivity declining thereafter. Indeed, the age where output peaks corresponds approximately with the age where performance on divergent-thinking tests usually maximizes.

Nevertheless, research using productivity measures also have positive implications for the expected level of creativity in the later years of life. This optimism follows from seven empirical results:

  1. The age-curve specific formespecially the placement of the peak and the slope of the postpeak declinedepends on the domain in which creativity takes place. In some domains the optimum will occur much later in life, and the drop will be very slow, or even negligible.
  2. Creative productivity seldom declines to zero. On the contrary, in most creative domains, persons in their seventies will display higher output rates than they did in their twenties. Furthermore, those in their seventies will usually be generating ideas at a rate only 50 percent below what they achieved during their productive peaks.
  3. Individual differences in lifetime productivity are far more substantial than longitudinal changes in productivity within any particular creator's career. In other words, cross-sectional variation in output accounts for more variance than does age. Accordingly, highly prolific creators in their seventies and eighties are more productive than are less prolific creators during their career acme.
  4. Longitudinal fluctuations in creative output are a function of career age, not chronological age. Hence, "late bloomers" who begin their careers much later in life will not reach their career optima until much later in life. The same pattern holds for those who switch fields, thereby resetting the longitudinal clock.
  5. A respectable amount of the productivity loss in the last half of life is not necessarily inevitable, insofar as it can be ascribed to various extrinsic factors, such as declining health or increased professional or personal responsibilities. By the same token, certain settings can sustain creativity well into the later years. In the sciences, for instance, those creators who are enmeshed in a rich network of colleagues and students are prone to exhibit longer creative careers.
  6. If one looks at the quality ratio of successful works relative to total works produced in consecutive age periods, one discovers that this ratio does not change systematically over the course of a creative career. Most notably, this success rate does not diminish as a creator ages. As a result, although creative elders may produce fewer masterpieces in their final years, they also generate fewer inferior works. On a work-for-work basis, there is absolutely no reason to speak of any age-related decrement.
  7. Quantitative declines in creative productivity across the life span are often accompanied by qualitative changes in the nature of the outputchanges that frequently operate in a compensatory manner. For instance, as creators mature, they will tend to focus on more ambitious products, such as epics, operas, novels, and monographs. More critically, creators in their concluding years often greatly alter their approach to their creative endeavors. In the visual arts, this longitudinal shift is called the old-age style, while in music this change is styled the swan-song phenomenon.

The foregoing considerations imply that psychometric measures may underestimate the creativity of older persons.

Theoretical explanations

Several researchers in several disciplines have attempted to explain the observed declines in creativity. These explanations can be assigned to the following four categories:

Psychobiological theories. These strive to explicate developmental changes in terms of the physical and neurological changes that attend the aging process. For instance, individuals entering the latter part of life may exhibit declines in sensory acuity, reaction time, and memory retrieval. To the extent that these perceptual and cognitive functions underlie the creative process, such decrements can have negative consequences for creativity.

Psychological theories. In contrast to psychobiological theories, psychological theories attempt to explain any age declines in terms of cognitive processes more directly tied to the creative process. According to one information-processing theory, for example, the career trajectory is a function of an underlying two-step cognitive process by which potential creativity is converted to actual creativity. The theory obtains a postpeak decline without assuming the intrusion of any psychobiological decrements.

Economic theories. These theories treat creativity as another form of productive behavior. As a consequence, economists will speak of creativity as the consequence of sufficient investment in "human capital" and the existence of incentives that give output high utility. Thus, any age decrements in creativity will be ascribed to the obsolescence in the accumulated capitol or to the decreased incentive to maintain productivity in the final years.

Sociological theories. These place the causal locus of any developmental changes outside the individual. In particular, longitudinal changes in creativity may result from corresponding shifts in the norms and role expectations that a society associates with distinct age groups. For instance, poets may produce their best works at younger ages than philosophers because that is most consistent with societal expectations about the romanticism of youth versus the wisdom of maturity. In addition, declines in creativity in the later years might simply reflect shifts in the number and kinds of roles that people are expected to occupy as they get older.

Each of these theoretical accounts can be shown to be inconsistent with certain empirical facts about how creativity changes in the later years. For instance, psychobiological explanations predict that creative productivity should vary according to chronological age, whereas the research shows that career age accounts for more longitudinal variance. Likewise, economic interpretations predict that creativity must decline in the last years, due to the higher cost-benefit ratio, in contradiction to the observation that creativity can resuscitate in the final years. Such empirical inadequacies imply that creativity in the latter part of life is probably the complex function of numerous distinct factors, some beneficial and others detrimental to continued creative activity.

Dean Keith Simonton

See also Intelligence; Wisdom.


Adams-Price, C. E., ed. Creativity and Successful Aging: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches. New York: Springer, 1998.

Cohen, G. D. The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life. New York: William Morrow, 2000.

Lehman, H. C. Age and Achievement. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1953.

Levy, B., and Langer, E. "Aging." In Encyclopedia of Creativity, Vol. 1. Edited by M. A. Runco and S. Pritzker. San Diego: Academic Press, 1999. Pages 4552.

Lindauer, M. S. "Old Age Style." In Encyclopedia of Creativity, Vol. 2. Edited by M. A. Runco and S. Pritzker. San Diego: Academic Press, 1999. Pages 311318.

Simonton, D. K. "Age and Outstanding Achievement: What Do We Know After a Century of Research?" Psychological Bulletin 104 (1988): 251267.

Simonton, D. K. "Creative Productivity: A Predictive and Explanatory Model of Career Trajectories and Landmarks." Psychological Review 104 (1997): 6689.

Simonton, D. K. "Creativity and Wisdom in Aging." In Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 3d ed. Edited by J. E. Birren and K. W. Schaie. New York: Academic Press, 1990. Pages 320329.


views updated May 21 2018



Creativity is the ability to think up and design new inventions, produce works of art, solve problems in new ways, or develop an idea based on an original, novel, or unconventional approach.


Creativity is the ability to see something in a new way, to see and solve problems no one else may know exists, and to engage in mental and physical experiences that are new, unique, or different. Creativity is a critical aspect of a person's life, starting from inside the womb onward through adulthood.

Although many people equate creativity with intelligence , the two terms are not synonymous, and it is not necessary to have a genius-level IQ in order to be creative. While creative people do tend to have average or above-average scores on IQ tests, beyond an IQ of about 120 there is little correlation between intelligence and creativity. Researchers have found environment to be more important than heredity in influencing creativity, and a child's creativity can be either strongly encouraged or discouraged by early experiences at home and in school.

Standard intelligence tests measure convergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with a single correct answer. However, creativity involves divergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with new and unusual answers.

Creative individuals tend to share certain characteristics, including a tendency to be more impulsive or spontaneous than others. Nonconformity (not going along with the majority) can also be a sign of creativity. Many creative individuals are naturally unafraid of experimenting with new things; furthermore, creative people are often less susceptible to peer pressure , perhaps because they also tend to be self-reliant and unafraid to voice their true feelings even if those go against conventional wisdom.

Creativity in childhood is typically assessed through paper-and-pencil measures such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. These tests are designed to measure divergent thinking, such as fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. Signification criticisms have been raised about these tests as measures of creativity. First is the general problem that there are no universally accepted definitions of creativity. Second, critics of creativity tests argue that these tests do not measure creativity per se but instead reflect the specific abilities that are assessed by the tests. Third, the scores on these tests often depend partly on speed, which is not necessarily a criterion for creativity. A final consistent concern relates to the scoring of creativity tests, which by definition are somewhat subjective. Thus, the reliability of such tests is commonly questioned.


Scientific research in the late twentieth century revealed how the quality of interaction with unborn infants affects their later development of creative abilities. From birth to 18 months, infants can be encouraged to engage in creativity by playing with a variety of safe household materials, such as margarine tubs, empty boxes, and large empty spools. Parents and caregivers can encourage experimentation by showing excitement and interest in what babies do.

Parents can encouraged infants to develop creativity by singing to the infant and playing music, moving the infant's hands to music, hanging a colorful mobile over the crib, placing pictures and photos where the baby can focus on them, and playing sound games with infants, such making up nonsense words or using rhyming words when talking to them.


From ages 18 months to four years, toddlers have progressively better hand and eye coordination. Caregivers should give them opportunities to develop this coordination by allowing them to draw with water-based paints, with chalk, and with crayons. Toddlers also can develop their creativity by pasting, tearing, cutting, printing, modeling with clay or play dough, or working with various materials to create collage, and for the older child, experimenting with fabric, tie dye, batik, printing, and simple woodwork.

From around 12 months, children may begin to imitate things that adults do. Real fantasy play begins at around ages 18 to 21 months. This should not prevent caregivers from playing imaginatively from a younger age, since fantasy play is linked to creativity. Studies have shown that children with very active fantasies tend to have personality traits that contribute to creativityoriginality, spontaneity, verbal fluency, and a higher degree of flexibility in adapting to new situations.

Children who fantasize a lot have unusually good inner resources for amusing themselves. Parents can provide materials that lend themselves to fantasy play (dressing-up clothes, dolls, housecleaning sets, and stuffed animals), play pretending games with their children, and make suggestions and encourage new ideas when toddlers play alone.

Adults should start involving toddlers with creative activities as soon as they feel the child will enjoy them. Adults need to remember that young toddlers are not skillful enough to consciously produce works of art. At 18 months they may be more ready for creative play and even at this age, they may spend no more than five minutes of concentration on any one activity.


Preschoolers can use the same materials as toddlers but can use them in more complex ways. By age five, many children start drawing recognizable objects. By age six, they are usually interested in explaining their art works. They also like to tell stories and can make books of their stories, including drawing pictures to accompany the writing.

At this age fantasy play becomes more complex. Preschoolers often direct each other on what to do or say as they play "Let's pretend." Play is a critical part of developing creativity, according to Mary Mindess, a child psychology professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Play allows children to construct meaning for themselves," Mindess stated in an article in the August 2001 newsletter The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter. "Two children may share an experience, but each will process the experience differently. Very often during play, children take things they see in real life, or things they imagine they experiencelike something they read in a book or saw on televisionand make meaning of it," she wrote. As an example, she cites Mark Twain's stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as good role-playing examples. "They include many examples of play," she wrote. "If, as in a scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a child pretends to be a riverboat captain, there's a lot more to that role-playing than simply knowing what a captain does and some basic boat terminology. There are feelings that accompany the role-playing: mainly, the power of being captain and the satisfaction in the ability to make decisions."

School age

Early school-age children, six to nine years, incorporate lots of fantasy into their play, including action games with superheroes. Children of this age group spend much of their time daydreaming. Some daydreams become "real" as children begin to act them out in stories and plays.

Many researchers believe that in order to foster creativity in schools, education should be based on the discovery of knowledge and the development of critical attitudes, rather than on the passive absorption of knowledge. They believe this applies whether the class is in art, history, science, or humanities. However, most school teaching in the United States is based on the child's ability to memorize. The highest marks are often given to those who merely studied their lessons well. The pupil whose creative side is more developed may be considered a disruptive member of the class.

For this reason some educators decided to encourage creativity outside the school system. Science clubs are open to the young, in different countries, in which students can unleash their ideas and imagination. Student science fairs are also useful in developing creativity.

In the United States, children who participate in the nationwide invention contest organized by the Weekly Reader do not have to submit a model. A drawing or a photograph is sufficient to enter the contest, the purpose of which is to stimulate creative thinking among all the students in a class, all becoming involved in the process of invention either individually or in small groups. The class then chooses the best invention that will be presented later at the level of the national contest.

At ages nine to 12, children's creativity is greatly affected by peer influence. They increase the amount of detail and use of symbols in drawings . They also have expanded their individual creative differences and begin to develop their own set of creative values.

Teenagers are highly critical of the products they make and ideas they have. They try to express themselves creatively in a more adult-like way. Their creativity is influenced by their individual differences, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. In most high schools, classes that stress creativity, such as art, music, writing, and drama are electives and many may not be required. For many adolescents, high school is their last opportunity to take these creative classes.

Also, teens become more self-aware and self-conscious. This focus often causes them to conform to their peers, which stifles their creativity and makes their thoughts less flexible. Flexibility refers to the ability to consider various alternatives at the same time.

Common problems

Rewards or incentives appear to interfere with creativity and reduce children's flexibility of thought. Studies show that any constraints such as structured instructions reduce creative flexibility in children. Many parents and teachers do not understand that children who are creative are often involved in imaginary play and are motivated by internal rather than external factors.

Parental concerns

Environment appears to play a greater role than heredity in the development of creativity: identical twins reared apart show greater differences in creativity than in intellectual ability. Family environments with certain characteristics have been found to be more conducive to creativity than others. One of these characteristics is a relaxed parental attitude rather than one that is overly anxious or authoritarian.

On the whole, the families of creative children discipline them without rigid restrictions, teaching them respect for values above rules. Similarly, they emphasize achievement rather than grades. The parents in such homes generally lead active, fulfilling lives themselves and have many interests. Finally, they reinforce creativity in their children by a general attitude of respect and confidence toward them and by actively encouraging creative pursuits and praising the results. It has been found that creativity in both children and adults is affected by positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement has also been shown to boost fifth graders' scores on creativity tests, help sixth graders write more original stories, and lead college students to produce novel word associations. Studies have also found that positively reinforcing one kind of creative activity encourages original thinking in other areas as well.

Just as certain actions and attitudes on the part of parents can encourage creativity, others have been found to discourage it. Devising restrictive guidelines or instructions for an activity reduces its potential as a creative experience. Unrestricted, imaginative play is central to creativity in childrenexposure to new objects and activities stimulates the senses, reinforces exploratory impulses, and results in the openness to new experiences and ideas that foster creative thinking. In addition, anything that takes the focus away from the creative act itself and toward something external to it can be damaging. For example, knowing that one's efforts are going to be evaluated tends to restrict the creative impulse, as does knowing of the possibility of a prize or other reward.

Schools as well as families can encourage creativity by offering children activities that give them an active role in their own learning, allow them freedom to explore within a loosely structured framework, and encourage them to participate in creative activities for the sheer enjoyment of it rather than for external rewards.

When to call the doctor

Several studies have shown relationships sometimes exist between creativity and mental illness, including depression, schizophrenia , and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

For decades, scientists have known that eminently creative individuals have a much higher rate of manic depression or bipolar disorder than does the general population. But few controlled studies have been done to build the link between mental illness and creativity. One study that does support such a link was presented at the 2002 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association by Stanford University researchers Connie Strong and Terence Ketter. Using personality and temperament tests, they found healthy artists to be more similar in personality to individuals with manic depression than to healthy people in the general population.

While creativity itself is not a sign of mental illness, parents should be aware that there is a much higher degree of mental illness, especially depression and bipolar disorder, in creative children than in their less creative peers.



Bruce, Tina.Cultivating Creativity in Babies, Toddlers, & Young Children. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2004.

Einon, Dorothy. Creative Child: Recognize and Stimulate Your Child's Natural Talent. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, 2002.

Fisher, Robert, and Mary Williams. Unlocking Creativity: A Teacher's Guide to Creativity Across the Curriculum. London: Taylor & Francis, 2004.

Runco, Mark A., and Robert S. Albert. Theories of Creativity. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2004.


"Biological Basis for Creativity Linked to Mental Illness." Mental Health Weekly Digest (October 27, 2003): 4.

Carruthers, Peter. "Human Creativity: Its Cognitive Basis, Its Evolution, and Its Connection with Childhood Pretence." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (June 2002): 22549.

Mindess, Mary. "Play: The New Dirty Word." The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter (August 2001): 1.

Talsma, Julia. "Encourage Creative Process to Spur Innovation: Dr. Kelman Outlines Three Elements of Creativity: Inspiration, Insight, Intuition." Ophthalmology Times (June 15, 2003): 50.

Tecco, Betsy Dru. "Unleash Your Creativity! When You Take the Time to be Creative, a World of Possibilities Unfolds." Current Health 2. (December 2003): 1418.;

Underwood, Anne. "Real Rhapsody in Blue: A Quirky Phenomenon that Scientists Once Dismissed Could Help Explain the Creativity of the Human Brain." Newsweek (December 1, 2003): 67.


American Creativity Association. PO Box 5856, Philadelphia, PA 19128. Web site: <>.


Fowler, Lynda K. "Encouraging Creativity in Children." Ohio State University Extension, 2004. Available online at <> (accessed November 23, 2004).

"Good Times Being Creative." National Network for Child Care, February 2004. Available online at <> (accessed November 23, 2004).

Ken R. Wells


Attention deficit disorder (ADD) Disorder characterized by a short attention span, impulsivity, and in some cases hyperactivity.

Batik A method of hand-printing a fabric by covering with removable wax the parts that will not be dyed.

Bipolar disorder A severe mental illness, also known as manic depression, in which a person has extreme mood swings, ranging from a highly excited state, sometimes with a false sense of well being, to depression.

Convergent thinking The ability to come up with a single correct answer.

Divergent thinking The ability to come up with new and unusual answers.

Hereditary Something which is inherited, that is passed down from parents to offspring. In biology and medicine, the word pertains to inherited genetic characteristics.

Manic depression A psychiatric disorder characterized by extreme mood swings, ranging between episodes of acute euphoria (mania) and severe depression; also called bipolar depression.

Schizophrenia A severe mental illness in which a person has difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not real. It is often characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and withdrawal from people and social activities.


views updated May 29 2018






Since the mid-nineteenth century creativity has become increasingly recognized as an extremely valuable natural resource. It plays a role in cultural evolution, innovation, and virtually all societal change. It also plays a significant role on an individual level, contributing to psychological health, learning, and adaptability, as well as to artistic and scientific endeavors. Creativity is not easy to define, in part because it plays such diverse roles.


When defining creativity most people agree that originality is necessary but not sufficient for creativity. Yet creative things are more than merely original; they must also be fitting, solve a problem, or have some sort of value or aesthetic appeal. This is especially easy to see when creativity is put to use solving problems, for then the creative solution is an original one that also solves the problem. Yet many creative activities and behaviors do not depend on problem solving. Sometimes, creativity is self-expression.

Creativity may also be distinguished from problem solving by defining it to include problem finding, which must occur before a solution is attempted. Problem finding may involve problem identification (recognizing that there is a problem at hand) or problem definition and redefinition (changing a problem such that it can be solved). The German physicist Albert Einstein (18791955) and many other unambiguously creative individuals have pointed to problem finding as more important to creative achievement than problem solving.

Definitions of creativity are sometimes debated because it can be difficult to separate self-expression from problem solving. This ambiguity is apparent in the arts, where self-expression is artistic performance; yet artists may be solving problems of technique or solving problems in the sense of finding the best way to express themselves. It may even be that there are preconscious processes at work and the artist is dealing with a problem, even if the artist him-or herself is unaware of the origin or exact nature of the problem. Engaging in artwork can sometimes be an attempt to clarify ones thinking and feelings.


Researchers agree that creativity is tied to motivation. Studies of eminent individuals, as well as investigations that recognize the wider distribution of creative potential, confirm that creativity does not just occur. People work at it, are interested in it, and intentionally nurture or utilize it. Although some creative achievements have been extrinsically motivated, and the creator interested in fame, money, or some sort of reward, it appears as if the vast majority of creative actions are motivated by intrinsic interests. In fact, when an individual is intrinsically interested to perform in a creative fashion, extrinsic incentives can undermine and lower the eventual creative output. Intrinsic interest is also tied to the creative process in the sense that individuals may be more capable of considering a broad range of options and more capable of finding original insights when extrinsic pressures do not distract them.

Personality studies often include intrinsic motivation as one of the core characteristics of creativity. Other relevant personality characteristics include a wide range of interests, autonomy, openness to experience, and nonconformity. Frequently humor and introversion are tied to creativity, but there is much more variation with these two character traits. Some creative domains, such as the performing arts, preclude introversion. The most widely recognized domains that include creativity are linguistic, mathematical, musical, and scientific, though some theories also pinpoint bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal domains. Contemporary research has supported an everyday domain, which includes original and adaptive behaviors used in daily life (e.g., when driving, cooking, and conversing).

It is not uncommon for social scientists to also include seemingly unhealthy characteristics in the list of personality traits that are related to creativity. Nonconformity can be considered one such trait, in the sense that an individual can have excess nonconformity and thereby be alienated from social activities. Another common example of a potentially unhealthful tendency involves affect, and in particular mood disorders. These are frequently observed in eminent creative individuals, and there are reasons to believe that mood swings can facilitate the creative process. Mood disorders contribute to the long-standing and widely recognized stereotype of the mad genius or the highly eccentric creative person.

Another characteristic that may contribute to the creative process involves the capacity to tap ones unconscious. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (18751961) emphasized the creative individuals capacity to utilize unconscious material in an effective manner, saying that the ability to reach a rich vein of such material [from the unconscious] and to translate it effectively into philosophy, literature, music, or scientific discovery is one of the hallmarks of what we call genius (1964, p. 25). He also concluded that completely new thoughts and creative ideas can also present themselves from the unconscious thoughts and ideas that have never been conscious before. They grow up from the dark depths of the mind like a lotus and form a most important part of the subliminal psyche (p. 25).

For Jung, material from the unconscious often takes a symbolic form. Some symbols are widely shared, as is implied by Jungs theory of the collective unconscious. Jungs view of creativity and the unconscious is entirely consistent with late-twentieth-century views of incubation and its role in creative thought. Biographies of famous creators often describe how good ideas and insights depend on this kind of incubation and only become conscious through sudden insight, often described as the a-ha! moment. On the other hand, in 1988 the psychologist Howard Gruber demonstrated that sudden insights are not all that sudden; instead they are protracted and require time and energy. The appearance of the insight is sudden, but the thinking that led up to it is not. However, because insight is an unconscious process, one is not necessarily aware of the work involved in bringing it about.


Many programs and techniques have been designed to encourage and enhance creative potential. Some techniques focus on very specific tactics that can help the individual break mental sets, question assumptions, become more flexible and original, shift perspectives, and produce original insights. Other programs are formal educational efforts and parts of programs for gifted and talented children, which depend heavily on tests of creativity. The most common test utilizes the concept of divergent thinking, which involves performing open-ended tasks that produce a large number of ideas or answers, many of which are divergent or remote. Divergent thinking tasks are statistically independent from convergent thinking tasks (which yield one correct or conventional answer), meaning that children who produce many original ideas may not be the ones who have high intelligence quotients (IQs), and vice versa. Divergent thinking is only moderately predictive of real-world achievement, however, probably because many other factors play a role in the creative process. Intrinsic motivation is an example of one of these other influences on creative work. An individual needs more than the capacity to produce ideas and think in an original fashion; he or she also needs to be interested in doing just that, and perhaps also have the temperament to be unique and unconventional.

Educational programs targeting creativity assume that creativity is widely distributed in the human population. Because creativity is a multifaceted personality trait, existing educational programs and existing tests of creative potential may not fully capture the range of possible creative expressions, nor even the multidimensional nature of the creative process.


Gruber, Howard E. 1988. The Evolving Systems Approach to Creative Work. Creativity Research Journal 1: 2751.

Jung, Carl G. 1964. Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell.

Runco, Mark A. 2004. Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology 55: 657687.

Runco, Mark A. 2006. Creativity: Theories, Themes, and Issues San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Mark A. Runco


views updated May 18 2018


It has often been claimed that genuine creativity is largely if not entirely a matter of inspirationthe sudden, involuntary, and inexplicable outpouring of innovative ideas and actions. In many expressions of this thesis, including Plato's, the source of this outpouring is a sacred instancea spirit or musewhile in other versions it is the unconscious mind. The antithesis to such inspirationist theses is the rationalist doctrine that all creativity is ultimately reducible to a form of calculation or more or less deliberate problem-solving.

Although both the extreme inspirationist thesis and the rationalist antithesis have adherents, many investigators find an intermediary position more tempting. Inspirationist theses are hard to square with basic, naturalist inclinations and with a commitment to scientific research. That creative behavior is complex and hard to explain does not mean that it is essentially mysterious or could never be modeled with some modest measure of accuracy. Inspirationism is further challenged by evidence that most if not all significant episodes of innovation require industry, rational thought, and action. Extreme rationalist accounts, on the other hand, confront testimony regarding the involuntary and sudden onslaught of important new ideas, such as vivid accounts of inspiration's "sudden illumination" offered by Pyotr Il'ich Tchaikovsky (1970 [1878]), Henri Poincaré (1952 [1908]), Albert Einstein, and scores of other impressive informants. Yet some of these same sources identify rational elements of creativity, as when Tchaikovsky goes on to underscore the necessity of daily, strenuous efforts. How to balance such divergent insights and data in a synthetic account of creativity remains a matter of great controversy.

Understanding Creativity and Creation

A nontrivial problem is that of specifying how the terms creativity and creation are to be understood in the first place. While there is widespread agreement that creative acts and their products must be new or innovative, there is disagreement as to the sense in which this is true, as well as with regard to other conditions on creativity. In what way are all creative acts novel or original? Although every particular action is new in the sense that this particular event never happened before, genuine creativity involves something far less common. Saying that creative acts must never have been performed before is not only vague, but overly restrictive. Is not someone's wholly independent repetition of a great discovery creative? With this question in view, Margaret A. Boden distinguishes between historical and psychological creativity. An act is historically creative, she proposes, only if it has never been had before by anyone else in all of human history. In contrast, psychologically creative acts may replicate previous inventions.

Even if one agrees to focus on what Boden calls psychological creativitya move disputed by some theorists, including Mihály Csikszentmihályithere remains the problem of coming up with a nontrivial elucidation of the novelty clause. To that end, Boden attempts to characterize radical psychological novelty in terms of the creative act's transformation of "a conceptual space," by which she means the principles that unify and structure a given domain of thinking and action. She contrasts the relatively uncreative writer who produces a new and interesting novel while conforming entirely to the rules of some established genre, to a genuinely creative writer who creates a strikingly new work that transforms generic patterns and establishes a new literary category. Boden further contends that what sets off the genuinely creative transformations of conceptual spaces is that their results could not have been thought before by the person working within that space. Given that a conceptual space is governed by a system of constitutive rules, its transformation entails that at least one of these rules is dropped or violated in a genuinely creative act. Jon Elster (2000) also explores the relation between creativity and rules or constraints of various sorts, arguing that originalitywhich may be either sterile or of genuine valueinvolves not merely a rebellious violation, but the revolutionary replacement of constraints.

David Novitz (2003) challenges Boden's proposal and identifies counterexamples. Some inventions, such as Thomas Edison's creation of the phonograph and Henri Matisse's use of color in his paintings, are not plausibly described as having arisen within a rule-governed conceptual space. Matisse, after all, was playing around with color combinations he found pleasing, hardly a pursuit organized by a system of rules. And some actions that do arise within a rule-governed practice or "space," such as a chess player's invention of a new opening, may nonetheless be genuinely creative. Thus if Boden's discussion offers insight into some forms of creativity, it does not adequately cover all of them.

Novitz defends an alternative, "recombination" theory of creativity. He proposes that creative acts are novel in the sense that they are not predicted by, and are surprising to a given population. Alternately, creative acts are those which would have been surprising had the members of the population become aware of them. Novitz does not specify how the population in question is to be identified, but does remark that the members of the population must have some familiarity with some of the ideas or objects that get recombined in the creative act. Another alternative is to say that it is the invention's creator or creators who must be surprised by the discovery.

Novitz argues that it is a mistake to associate creativity with the making of art. Many creative acts and inventions have nothing to do with the fine arts, and much art-making, or creation, is routine and devoid of creativity. Novitz joins a long tradition in specifying that genuine creativity must, in addition to manifesting a novel or surprising recombination of ideas or objects, bring forth a result having some real, positive value: "Creative acts are valued positively because they are intended to, and have the potential to, satisfy actual human needs and desires" (2003, p. 186). Novitz also allows that creative acts may also display a form of intrinsic value in addition to such instrumental value. These points are not, however, uncontroversial, as some authors are willing to allow that a fiendish or malicious invention, or intentionally immoral act, could be creative. Some forms of creativity may be useless. Nor is it clear that a viable conception of creativity need entail strong, realist commitments in the theory of value.

The Nature of the Creative Process

Additional controversy surrounds proposals concerning the nature or basic structure of the creative process or processes. One key issue has to do with the question whether the expression "the creative process" really refers to a single type of process or activity. Francis Sparshott (1981), John Hospers (19841985), and others state that there is no such thing as a single, determinate process involved in all creative acts, but instead, different sorts of processes having little or nothing in common. Another controversy concerns the extent to which creative activity can be adequately described as a species of problem-solving or means-end rationality. Vincent Tomas rejects the idea that artistic creation is "a paradigm of purposive activity" (1958, p. 2). David Ecker's description of the creation of art as "qualitative problem-solving" (1963) is critiqued by Monroe C. Beardsley (1965), who deems it a mistake to think that creative thinking, in the arts at least, is characteristically a matter of means-end calculations. Even if the sought-for aesthetic and artistic effects do depend on the artist's manipulation of some medium or media, creative work is not throughout guided by the effort to realize some preconceived goal or end: it would be unusual if the precise quality of the final painting were in the painter's mind from the start.

Various investigators have contended that there is a characteristic creative process having a hybrid nature. In an account popularized by Graham Wallas in The Art of Thought (1926), this process breaks down into four discrete stages. Creativity requires, first of all, apprenticeship and preparation: even the most brilliant innovator must learn his or her craft. Second comes "incubation," a stage in which the creative person stops working consciously on some problem, allowing unconscious processes to predominate. The result, when circumstances are favorable, is illumination or inspiration, the moment when some unexpected and innovative idea "pops" into mind. In the final stage of "verification," the creator assesses and revises what inspiration has yielded. As Beardsley observes, it would be wiser to replace talk of four linear stages with the idea of an interplay between two alternating phases, namely, preconscious invention and conscious criticism and selection of the latter phase's results. This is similar to Paul Valéry's contention that creative art-making is always a matter of both the spontaneous emergence of ideas, and conscious, means-end adjustments and rearrangements of the latter (19571960 [1938]). Only their relative proportion varies, he adds.

Psychologists and cognitive scientists continue to attempt to provide models of complex creative processes in various domains, including musical composition, the formation of scientific hypotheses, the visual arts, and storytelling (for surveys, see Albert and Runco 1999; Boden 2004). The greatest challenge is perhaps that of providing detailed explanations and effective simulations of the processes that underlie and generate moments of inspiration, or "popping." Psychologists working in a range of traditions, including Gestalt theory, psychoanalysis, associationism, cognitive psychology, interactionism, systems theory, and so on, have devised elaborate labels for the mind's unconscious generation and selection of novel ideas. Some of these traditional insights have been revived in the development of computer simulations using connectionist and other approaches (Martindale 1995). And in a philosophical vein, Berys Gaut (2003) explores the Kantian connection between creativity, genius, and the imagination, taking metaphor's linking of diverse domains as a paradigm.

See also Imagination.


Albert, Robert S., and Mark A. Runco. "A History of Research on Creativity." In Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert J. Sternberg. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Beardsley, Monroe C. "On the Creation of Art." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 23 (1965): 291304.

Boden, Margaret A. The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1990. 2nd rev. ed., London: Routledge, 2004.

Boden, Margaret A. "What is Creativity?" In Dimensions of Creativity, edited by Margaret A. Boden. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1994.

Ecker, David. "The Artistic Process as Qualitative Problem Solving." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 21 (1963): 28390.

Elster, Jon. Ulysses Unbound: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment, and Constraints. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Feyerabend, Paul. "CreativityA Dangerous Myth." Critical Inquiry 13 (19861987): 700711.

Gaut, Berys. "Creativity and Imagination." In The Creation of Art: New Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics, edited by Berys Gaut and Paisley Livingston. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Ghiselin, Brewster, ed. The Creative Process: A Symposium. New York: Mentor, 1952.

Halper, Edward. "Is Creativity Good?" British Journal of Aesthetics 29 (1989): 4756.

Hospers, John. "Artistic Creativity." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43 (19841985): 243255.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment [1790]. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.

Martindale, Colin. "Creativity and Connectionism." In The Creative Cognition Approach, edited by Steven M. Smith, Thomas B. Ward, and Ronald A. Finke. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1995.

Novitz, David. "Creativity and Constraint." Australasian Journal of Philosophy 77 (1999): 6782.

Novitz, David. "Explanations of Creativity." In The Creation of Art: New Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics, edited by Berys Gaut and Paisley Livingston. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Poincaré, Henri. Science et méthode. Paris: Flammarion, 1908. Translated by Francis Maitland as Science and Method. New York: Dover, 1952.

Sparshott, Francis. "Every Horse has a Mouth: A Personal Poetics." In The Concept of Creativity in Science and Art, edited by Denis Dutton and Michael Krausz. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981.

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'lich. "Letters" [1878]. In Creativity: Selected Readings, edited by P. E. Vernon. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penquin, 1970.

Tomas, Vincent. "Creativity in Art." The Philosophical Review 67 (1958): 115.

Valéry, Paul. "L'invention esthétique" [1938]. In Oeuvres. 2 vols. Edited by Jean Hytier. Paris: Gallimard, 19571960.

Wallas, Graham. The Art of Thought. London: Jonathan Cape, 1926.

Paisley Livingston (2005)


views updated May 17 2018


Creativity is the ability and disposition to produce novelty. Children's play and high accomplishments in art, science, and technology are traditionally called creative, but any type of activity or product, whether ideational, physical, or social, can be creative.


Creativity has been associated with a wide range of behavioral and mental characteristics, including associations between semantically remote ideas and contexts, application of multiple perspectives, curiosity, flexibility in thought and action, rapid generation of multiple, qualitatively different solutions and answers to problems and questions, tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, and unusual uses of familiar objects.

Biographical studies of exceptionally creative individuals have uncovered recurring features. Creative individuals typically master a practice or tradition before they transform it. They organize their lives around a network of interrelated and mutually supporting enterprises. They are prolific. There is no evidence for an inverse relation between quantity and quality; instead, the two appear to be correlated. Exceptionally creative accomplishments are complex, evolving outcomes of long-term efforts sustained by high levels of intrinsic motivation, often in the absence of societal rewards.

There are many examples of exceptionally creative individuals who led troubled and turbulent lives and there is widespread belief in a relation between creativity and mental disorder, but it has not been conclusively shown that the more frequent such disorders are, the higher the level of creativity.

The rate of professional productivity in art, science, and other creative endeavors increases rapidly at the beginning of a career, reaches a peak in midlife, and then slowly declines. It is not known whether the decline is necessary or a side effect of other factors, for example, health problems. That some individuals begin creative careers late in life is evidence against an inevitable decline.

Creativity as Ability

All individuals with healthy brains have some degree of creative potential, but individuals vary in how much novelty they in fact produce. Psychometric measures of creativity are based on the hypothesis that the ability to create is general across domains of activity (art, business, music, technology, etc.) and stable over time. This view implies that a person whose creativity is above average in one domain can be expected to be above average in other domains also.

The Remote Associations Test (RAT) developed by Sarnoff A. Mednick measures how easily a person can find a link between semantically different concepts. E. Paul Torrance's Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) measures divergent production, that is, how many different answers to a question a person can provide within a time limit. For example, a person might be asked to propose alternative titles to a well-known movie. More recent tests developed by Robert J. Sternberg uses complex test items from realistic contexts. Creativity tests correlate modestly with each other. Critics point out that there are no objective criteria for scoring the responses and that test performance might not be indicative of a creative mind.

Relation to Intelligence

Correlations between creativity tests and IQ tests vary in magnitude from study to study and depend on which tests are used. Some correlations are no smaller than correlations among creativity tests, so they do not provide strong evidence that IQ and creativity are distinct dimensions. The findings can be understood in terms of a so-called triangular correlation (also known as the threshold hypothesis): Individuals in the lower half of the IQ distribution lack the requisite cognitive capacity to create and hence necessarily exhibit low creativity; individuals in the upper half of the IQ distribution have the requisite capacity but may or may not develop a disposition to create. Consequently, creativity and IQ are highly correlated at low IQ levels but weakly correlated at high IQ levels. Alternative interpretations of the relation between creativity and intelligence have been proposed, including that they are two aspects of the same ability, that they are unrelated, and that they are mutually exclusive.

Creativity as Process

The fact that the human mind can generate novel concepts and ideas requires explanation. Cognitive psychologists aim to infer the relevant mental processes from observations of how individuals solve problems that require creativity. One hypothesis states that creation is a process of variation and selection, analogous to biological evolution. The mind of a creative person spontaneously generates a large number of random combinations of ideas, and a few chosen combinations become expressed in behavior. An alternative hypothesis is that a creative person is able to override the constraining influence of past experiences and hence consider a wide range of actions and possibilities. The moment at which a previously unheeded but promising option comes to mind is often referred to as insight. A closely related hypothesis is that creative individuals are more able to break free from mental rutstrains of thought that recur over and over again even though they do not lead to the desired goal or solution. It has also been suggested that people create by making analogies between current and past problems and situations, and by applying abstractionscognitive schemasacquired in one domain to another domain.

These process hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. Each has received support in research studies. Due to the separation within psychology of the cognitive and psychometric traditions, there is little or no interaction between process hypotheses and test development.

Relation to Imagery

There is widespread belief that highly creative individuals think holistically, in visual images, as opposed to the step-by-step process that supposedly characterizes logical thinking. Although consistent with often quoted autobiographical comments by Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, F. A. Kekulé and others, systematic support for this belief is lacking. There is strong research support for a function for visual imagery in memory recall, but its relevance for creativity is unclear.

Relation to Knowledge

Cognitive and biographical studies have shown that creative problem solutions require thorough knowledge of the relevant domain and domain-specific strategies. For example, scientific discovery depends, in part, on knowing what the current theory predicts, plus the strategy of paying close attention to data that deviate from those predictions; creativity in other domains requires other strategies. It is possible that creativity is not a general ability or process, but that creative behaviors and products emerge when a competent and knowledgeable person is motivated to engage in a cumulative effort over a long period of time. If so, a person who is unusually creative in one domain of activity is not necessarily unusually creative in other domains.

Creativity and Education

It is not known to what extent an individual's ability to create can be enhanced. The popular press produces a steady stream of books that advocate particular techniques and training programs; most have not been evaluated, so it is not known whether they work. The small number of training techniques that have been evaluated systematically produce modest effects. It is possible that more effective training techniques exist but have yet to be invented. Most training programs implicitly assume that creativity is a general ability or process.

Although it is unclear whether the ability to create can be enhanced, there is consensus that the disposition to create can be suppressed. Creativity and discipline are not antitheticalcreative individuals practice much and work hardbut extensive reliance on overly structured activities can thwart the impulse to create, with negative effects on students' well-being. Students with high ability will perform better than others in activities that require design, imagination, or invention, but participation in such activities encourages the disposition to create in students at any level of ability.

Creative individuals often elicit negative reactions from others by violating social norms and expectations. In a school setting, care should be taken to distinguish creative students from students who cause disturbances due to emotional or social problems. Creative students who find ways to engage others in their projects are likely to become outgoing and adopt leadership roles. Creative students who experience difficulties in this regard are likely to engage in individual projects. In short, high creativity is compatible with both social and individualistic life styles; either outcome is healthy.

There is widespread concern among educators in Western countries that the trend to define the goals of schooling in terms of standardized tests forces teachers to prioritize fact learning and analytical ability over creativity. Participation in creative activities is emphasized in schools that implement particular pedagogical theories, for example, the Montessori and Waldorf schools.

Broader View

Creativity is a historical force. Art and science transform people's ideas and worldviews, and technological innovation continuously transforms social practices. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the importance of innovation for economic production was widely recognized among business leaders.

See also: Intelligence, subentry on Triarchic Theory of Intelligence; Learning Theory, subentries on Constructivist Approach, Historical Overview, Schema Theory.


Sternberg, Robert J., ed. 1999. Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge, Eng: Cambridge University Press.

Stellan Ohlsson Trina C. Kershaw


views updated Jun 08 2018


The ability to juxtapose ideas in a new and unusual way to find solutions to problems, create new inventions, or produce works of art.

Any human endeavor can involve creativity and is not limited to just the arts. Numerous theories of creativity were proposed by 20th-century psychologists, educators and other social scientists. Howard Gruber, who worked to understand creativity by studying the lives of famous innovators, found broad common characteristics:1) they engaged in a variety of activities within their chosen fields; 2) they held a strong sense of purpose about their work; 3) they had a profound emotional attachment to their work; and 4) they tended to conceptualize problems in terms of all encompassing images. Graham Wallas's 1962 study of well-known scientists and other innovators yielded a widely used four-stage breakdown of the creative process. The preparation stage consists of formulating a problem, studying previous work on it, and thinking intensely about it. In the incubation stage, there is no visible progress on the problem; it may be periodically "mulled over," but it is largely left dormant, allowing subconscious ideas about it to emerge. At the illumination stage, an important insight about the problem is reached, often in a sudden, intuitive fashion. In the final, or verification, stage, the idea is tested and evaluated.

Creativity differs from the kinds of abilities measured by standard intelligence tests. Creative people tend to

have average or above-average scores on IQ tests. Beyond an IQ of 120, there is little correlation between intelligence and creativity. J.P. Guilford first distinguished the thought processes of creative people from those of other people in terms of convergent and divergent thinking . Convergent thinkingthe type required for traditional IQ testsinvolves the application of logic and knowledge to narrow the number of possible solutions to a problem until one's thoughts "converge" on the most appropriate choice. In contrast, divergent thinkingthe kind most closely associated with creativity and originalityinvolves the ability to envision multiple ways to solve a problem. Guilford identified three aspects of divergent thinking: fluency entails the ability to come up with many different solutions to a problem in a short amount of time; flexibility is the capacity to consider many alternatives at the same time; and originality refers to the difference between a person's ideas and those of most other people.

Special tests, such as the Consequences Test, have been designed to assess creativity. Instead of based on one correct answer for each question, as in conventional intelligence tests, the scoring on these tests is based on the number of different plausible responses generated for each question, or the extent to which a person's answers differ from those of most other test takers. Typical questions asked on such tests include "Imagine all of the things that might possibly happen if all national and local laws were suddenly abolished" and "Name as many uses as you can think of for a paper clip." While divergent thinking is important to the creative process, it is not the sole element necessary for creative achievement. Researchers have found little correlation between the scores of fifth and tenth graders on divergent thinking tests and their actual achievements in high school in such fields as art, drama, and science.

It appears that creative accomplishment requires both divergent and convergent thinking . Originality is not the only criterion of a successful solution to a problem: it must also be appropriate for its purpose, and convergent thinking allows one to evaluate ideas and discard them if they are inappropriate in the light of existing information. In addition, studies of people known for their creative accomplishments show that certain personality traits that may be impossible to measure on a testsuch as motivation , initiative, tolerance for ambiguity, and independent judgmentare commonly associated with creativity. Other traits known to be shared by highly creative people include self-confidence, nonconformity, ambition, and perseverance. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) once remarked that for every hundred thoughts he had, one turned out to be correct.

In a 1986 study, a group of researchers identified three essential criteria for creative achievement: expertise in a specific field, which must be learned; creative skills, including divergent thinking; and the motivation to engage in creative activity for its own sake regardless of external reward. In this study, items created by people who were told that their work would be judged and possibly rewarded for creativity were found to be less creative than the results produced by those who were simply asked to work on a project with no prospect of external reward.

Creativity does not appear to be inherited. Studies with identical twins raised separately show that environmental influences play at least as great a role in the development of creativity as intelligence. Creative skills of identical twins reared apart vary more than their intellectual abilities. Studies have shown that reinforcing novel ideas in both children and adults leads to increased creativity. The originality of block arrangements produced by four-year-olds increased dramatically when novel designs were praised by adults; when this positive reinforcement was stopped, the children reverted to producing unimaginative patterns. Other studies have used similar techniques to boost creativity scores of fifth graders, improve the originality of stories written by sixth graders, and increased the ability of college students to produce novel word associations. One interesting finding in studies such as these is that positively reinforcing one kind of creative activity encourages original thinking in other areas as well. The play of children is closely related to the development of creativity. The sensory stimulation that results from exposure to new objects and activities reinforces the exploratory impulse in both children and adults and results in an openness to new experiences and ideas that fosters creative thinking.

Schools as well as families can encourage creativity by offering children activities that give them an active role in their learning, allow them freedom to explore within a loosely structured framework and participation in creative activities for enjoyment rather than an external reward.

See also Intelligence quotient

Further Reading

Briggs, John. Fire in the Crucible: The Alchemy of Creative Genius. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Dacey, John S. Understanding Creativity: The Interplay of Biological, Psychological, and Social Factors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.


views updated Jun 27 2018


The term "creativity" is not used by Sigmund Freud but the concept is Freudian if we understand it to mean the creative imagination embodied in fantasies or daydreams. These may or may not receive further elaboration and be transformed into a work of art, regardless of its specific nature. However, it is primarily Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott who are responsible for establishing the concept as an active attitude of the ego with respect to its objects.

As early as the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), Freud realized that the world of fantasy (Anna O's private theater) can take the place of the real world, and this includes the researcher captivated by his subject. In discussing humor (1905c), Freud also emphasized the freedom of the intellect in the face of highly constrained situations. Literary creation (1908e [1907]) appeared to Freud as an extension of children's daydreams, situations in which the fantasy is affirmed in the face of the empire of reality, without, however, leading the subject to misinterpret it as happens in delusional states. It is precisely this ability, whose origin remains mysterious, to turn fantasies into a reality inscribed in a work of art and therefore something that can be shared with others, that constitutes creativity, regardless of the field of endeavor. Freud was especially interested in literary (Dostoyevsky, Hoffmann, Jensen) and artistic creation (Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo).

Melanie Klein (1929) had a very different outlook on creativity, which she saw as an impulse experienced by the infant to repair the object that had been initially split into good and bad and attacked during the paranoid phase. The creative function is therefore initially curative but goes hand in hand with the representation of a unified object. In this sense the creative function constitutes a reconstitution of the ego and the object, which having been simultaneously destroyed, subsist in an empty or mutilated state.

Donald Winnicott (1971) gave the fullest extension to the concept of creativity by emphasizing its function as an attitude in the face of outside reality and not necessarily successful or recognized creative work. He contrasted creativity and submission to the outside world but, unlike Freud, emphasized the fact that fantasy life could diverge from the creative attitude. Fantasizing is not living but can, on the contrary, as Freud noted with respect to hysterics, isolate the individual from life; it will never serve as an object of communication.

For Winnicott, while creativity is related to dreaming and living, it is not really a part of our fantasy life. The experience of self can only be achieved through that physical and mental creative activity whose model is game playing. Creativity is not the creative capacity but something universal, inherent in the very fact of living. In the case where the individual submits to outside reality to the point of losing himself in it (false self), his creativity disappears and remains hidden without however being destroyed. It is in this way deprived of contact with the experience of life. "The creative impulse," Winnicott writes, "is present as much in the moment-by-moment living of a backward child who is enjoying breathing as it is in the inspiration of an architect who suddenly knows what it is that he wishes to construct" (1982, p. 69).

The concept of creativity is much closer to the question of activity than to the production of a work of art. This aspect is only sketched out by Freud but was theorized by Winnicott for whom the concept is associated with considerations of the ego and non-ego and the transitional space that serves as an "outlet" for primary narcissism.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Literary and artistic creation; "Creative Writers and Day-dreaming"; Fantasy; Heroic Identification; Repetition; Reverie; Sachs, Hanns; Sublimation.


Freud, Sigmund. (1905c). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. SE, 8: 1-236.

. (1908e [1907]). Creative writers and day-dreaming. SE, 9: 143-153.

Klein, Melanie. (1975). Infantile anxiety situations reflected in a work of art and in the creative impulse. In The Writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 1). London: Hogarth. (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10, (1929) 436-443.)

Winnicott, Donald. (1982). Playing and reality. London: Routledge.

Further Reading

Nagera, Humberto. (1967). The concepts of structure and structuralization: psychoanalytic usage and implications for a theory of learning and creativity. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 22, 77-102.

Niederland, William. G. (1976). Psychoanalytic approaches to artistic creativity. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 45, 185-212.

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