What exactly is creativity? / American Psychological Assoc.

Beware the use of the adverb “exactly” by psychologists! 

Psychologists continue their quest to better understand creativity.

by KAREN KERSTING / November 2003

Not all creative people are alike, which makes defining creativity a challenge and assessing it a monumental undertaking. The traditional psychological definition of creativity includes two parts: originality and functionality.

“You can’t be creative unless you come up with something that hasn’t been done before,” says psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. (That leaves out just about every person, product and activity that neurotypicals label “creative”) “The idea also has to work, or be adaptive or be functional in some way; it has to meet some criteria of usefulness.” (?!!)

And in the U. S. Patent Office, which approves intellectual property rights for products and ideas born of inventors’ creativity, there’s a third criterion, Simonton says: The creative idea should not be an obvious extension of something that already exists.

But the study of creativity by psychologists, active since the beginning of the 20th century, has taken that definition and expanded it, complicated it and questioned it. (Aye, yai, yai!)

The personality-creativity connection

There is, for example, a distinction to be made between “little-c” creativity and “big-C” creativity, Simonton says. Little-c creativity, which is often used as an indicator of mental health, includes everyday problem-solving and the ability to adapt to change. Big-C creativity, on the other hand, is far more rare. It occurs when a person solves a problem or creates an object that has a major impact on how other people think, feel and live their lives. (I think this means it must be socially acceptable, socially understandable and socially “pleasing” to American neurotypicals – ie – “a gadget” that is entertaining and not intellectually demanding) 

“At the little-c level, creativity implies basic functionality,” Simonton says. “And at the big-C level, it’s something that we give Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for.” (!?!) 

In addition to this distinction, Simonton notes a difference between the kind of creativity that helps a painter create masterworks and the kind that helps a physicist develop new theories on the origin of the universe. Both types require similar mastery of skills, but personality differences lead individuals to particular pursuits, he says.

“The major criterion is how much restraint there is in the creative process,” Simonton explains. “Science has to be constrained to scientific process, but there’s a lot less constraint on artists. Many artists come from more chaotic environments, which prepares them to create with less structure.” (Wow! What a slap in the face of “artists” who are still assumed to be zany, irrational and lack discipline! Accidents waiting to collide with a canvas.) 

In the same sense, artists tend to show higher rates of mental illness and related symptoms than the average population, Simonton says, citing numerous empirical studies, including recent work by Arnold Ludwig, PhD, Kay Jamison, PhD, and James Kaufman, PhD (see page 42). “If you look just within the arts, there are styles that are very realistic and more expressionistic–the more expressionistic the art form, the more likely the artist is to have a mental illness,” he says. (OMG! How unsophisticated, simpleminded, prejudiced and idiotic!)

Motivation and intelligence

There are other components of creativity–domain-relevant skills, quality processes and intrinsic task motivation–according to a componential theory of creativity developed by psychologist Teresa Amabile, PhD, of Harvard University. But Amabile points out that environmental factors such as freedom, support and positive challenges also play a key role in fostering creativity (see page 56). Another important factor in creativity is intelligence, but contrary to beliefs at the turn of the 20th century, it is not the only factor, says Simonton.

In the 1920s, psychologist Louis Terman, PhD, (Google “Termites”) began looking at the relationship between intelligence and creativity. In a longitudinal sample of intelligent children, not all ended up developing their creative abilities, he found. That’s when psychologists started to realize more than intelligence was required–also critical is having an ability to see things from a different perspective, Simonton says.

“You need an IQ of around 140 to learn enough physics to be truly creative in it,” Simonton says. (!?!) “But once you have that minimal IQ, there’s still something else that must be there for a person to be truly creative.”

That “something” still eludes specific definition, but with a renewed APA emphasis on creativity from APA President Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, and a recent name change for Div. 10 from Psychology of the Arts to the Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, Simonton hopes more psychologists will join the ranks of creativity researchers. (Of course! Changing the word-name to sound like a proactive “foundation for the arts” will fool everyone into thinking that the same old archaic “psycho babble” is scientifically valid) 


Courbet’s famous self-portrait “The Desperate Man” (not “The Insane Man”) converted to  drink coasters by contemporary neurotypicals, thereby turning a useless piece of art into a socially “useful” item.

Hysterical presentation distorted by the psychology’s wacky  Condemnation of creativity as madness: (from The Guardian)

The painting ‘The Desperate Man’ by French painter Gustave Courbet can be seen at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt/Main, central Germany, October 14, 2010.
In a moment of Romantic exhilaration Courbet portrays himself as a “madman”, his face ecstatic and terrified. His desperate state of mind is not a shameful sickness but a badge of artistic pride. In a tradition that goes back to Durer’s Melancholia but reached new power in the Romantic age, he equates genius and madness. This face of desperation is the face of the 19th century avant garde, risking and even courting sickness with drink and drugs. Courbet looks like a character in one of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, his mind unravelling in a way the first modern artists were fascinated by.

Presentation by “gallery intelL” an art appreciation site:

“Proudest and most arrogant man in France” (How Courbet described himself)

The pioneering artist of the 19th century, Realist painter Gustav Courbet once and for all rejected academic traditions and conventions of the bourgeois society. He is the one who paved the way for the Impressionism and all the avant-garde movements that followed it in the 20th century.

Courbet became tired of the pretentiousness of the official art and was determined to render the world as he saw it. Courbet strived to be independent from the public’s taste and constantly challenged convention by his emphatically realistic renderings of scenes from the daily life. No graceful poses or impressive colors – Courbet was not depicting beauty, he was depicting truth. This uncompromising artistic sincerity made him stand out from all other artists working at that time in Paris and often forced him to exhibit his work independently from the Salon.

Before he developed his unique realistic painting style and before he produced his groundbreaking masterpieces, including The Origin of the World and The Stone Breakers, Courbet made a number of Romantic self-portraits including this one. Deeply emotional, The Desperate Man is among the earliest works by the artist that he completed in 1845. With his eyes wide-open, Courbet is staring straight at you and tearing his hair. Popular at the time, the Romantic approach to portraiture was concerned with expressing emotional and psychological states of the individual. And although Courbet never considered himself a Romantic painter, he coped with the task extremely well. When you look at this self-portrait you do not only experience his desperation (something Asperger types understand) (as the title suggests) but you also get the idea of what kind of personality Gustave Courbet was himself. Bold, wily, radical, ambitious and determined. Determined to challenge established painting genres, protest against traditional clichés, and change the course of art history.

This article ©galleryIntell

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