Recently my daughter showed me an inverted Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, balanced on the tiny point of self-actualization. It was the “Artist’s hierarchy of needs” because creating was more important than eating or sleeping. Despite Abraham Maslow’s theory that fulfillment of physical and psychological needs lead to self-actualization and creativity, creative people seem driven by something else. Something that often causes them to ignore basic needs. So it’s time to give others their fair shake and look at some competing ideas about what constitutes creativity.
Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychotherapy, saw creativity as a socially acceptable defense mechanism for expressing socially unacceptable urges. In other words being creative was the way to sublimate that pesky improper sex drive. He felt the creative process was driven by the unhappy suffering of unfulfilled fantasies. Basically being creative was akin to being neurotic.
Sarnoff Mednick came up with the associative theory. Creativity is a response to stimulus (sort of like drooling when you smell fresh hot cinnamon rolls). When a stimulus hits the senses, a creative response would be to think of an extremely remotely related idea. This was tested using words, with the theory that the more remote the idea was from the original word, the more creative the person was. Mednick is most famous for his research that associates psychosocial disorders (i.e. acting like a criminal) with genes the you inherit from your parents.
Carl Rogers saw creativity in a similar light to Abraham Maslow. He thought creativity was the result of healthy psychological growth, and the highest form of self-actualization. He saw creative people as being wonderfully balanced, open to new experiences, with internally based control. I’m sure most creative people would like to view themselves this way. However, many are honest and admit to deep insecurities. And of course, most of us have run into a few of the difficult, smug, prima donna types.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi does not see creativity as strictly residing within a person, rather it is an interaction between a person and society. Social systems and cultures determine what is creative and what is not. To be considered creative, an individual must strike a balance between coming up with a novel idea and relating to accepted conventions. Otherwise their work will not be viewed as creative. He also has the idea that when creative people are working they become so fulfilled in their involvement that they forget about other things – like food and sleep.
Finally we come full circle to Albert Rothenburg who proposes that creative people use a certain kind of thinking that allows them to consider two opposite concepts at the same time – sort of like two objects occupying the same space resulting in something new. His research shows that creative thought processes are not logical and actually resembled those of the mentally ill. However, creative people are actually aware of that they are indulging in ‘crazy’ thinking while they are doing this – at least most of the time.