What kind of childhood?

Club_03_VorbereitungenAccording to a review of research on the childhood of exceptionally creative individuals  “The growth of creativity in a young person suggests the effects of powerful nurturing and support” (Piers 2000).  But what is suggested may not actually be occurring.  For psychologists, like Maslow, who see creativity resulting from an enriched environment, it  would make sense that very creative individuals have a caring and supportive situation in childhood. Only the records of these individuals and their own recollections indicate that creative genius often comes from a harsher, less than ideal environment.

By their own report many creative individuals recall stern, and almost cruel parenting in which acceptance was not unconditional, but based on performance. Their talent was often supported by another family member, usually the father. However many describes  their upbringing as “more correct than warm” (Gardner 1993). Often home experiences were reflected in the creative products  of actors and writers, and perhaps the conflicts in the home actual contributed to the ability to conjure dramatic scenes and poignant plots (Goertzel 1962). The difficulty with finding the correlation between a demanding home life and creativity is that most information on the childhood and adolescence period of creative individuals comes from a relatively small number of sources, not a large enough population for a quality sampling (Piers 2000).

A biographical study of over 500 renowned creative individuals uncovered another seemingly negative childhood experience.  “Orphanhood” seems to be a more frequent plight for them. The death of one or both parents during the individuals’ childhood was somewhere between two to three times more common than for the general population (Eisenstadt 1978). Illness also seemed to be a greater problem with approximately 25% of renown creative individuals suffering serious or chronic illness in their childhood years (Goertzel et al 1978).

However, we should not assume the these difficulties outweighed the advantages that were typically available to the exceptionally creative person as a youth. Prior to this century notable authors, artists, musicians, and renown scientists and theoretical mathematicians came almost exclusively from the middle and upper classes. It would have been difficult to make their mark of originality without the additional education and opportunity that disposable wealth could provide (Cox 1926).

So it seems the childhood of many prominent creative people had a larger dose of unpleasantness in it, but that stress may have been the impetus that drove them to concentrate so intently on their gift.

Illustration “Club 03 Vorbereitungen” by Christian Wilhelm Allers – Buch “Club Eintracht” von C.W. Allers. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Cox, C.M. (1926) The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses. Volume IIin Genetic Studies of Genius, edited by L.M. Terman. California: Stanford University
Eisenstadt, J.M. (1978) Parental Loss and Genius. American Psychologist. March 1978, p211 – 223.
Goertzel, V. and Goertzel, M.G. (1962) Cradles of Eminence. London: Constable.
Goertzel, M.G., Goertzel, V. and Goertzel, T.G. (1978) Three Hundred Eminent Personalities. San Francisco: Josey Bass.
Gardner, H. (1993) Creating Minds. New York: Basic Books.
Worth, Piers J. (2000). “Localised creativity: a life span perspective”. PhD thesis, The Open University.
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