The Creative Personality : Week 2

by Sam Watson





(Albert Einstein with his Tongue Out)

“Two things are required. One is a brain. And second is a willingness to spend long times thinking, with a definite possibility that you come out with nothing.” — Hans Bethe


This weeks’ reading delves into the idea of what it means to be a creative person and what traits creative people possess that makes them creative. When reading the article, I found it interesting to think about my own personality and how it matched up with the traits described. I noticed that my personality contains many traits described as being within the realm of creative personality.


Initially, the article spoke of a genetic predisposition for a given domain, an innate ability for music, or art, or science. However, the article was quick to point out that raw ability alone is not all that it takes to realise one’s creative potential and many other factors come into play. For example, an early interest in a subject is assisted by being “born into a family where there are interesting books, stimulating conversation, expectations for educational advancement, role models, tutors, useful connections” and other factors. I thought of my childhood where I always had access to stimulating materials and other opportunities to expand my range of experience. Again, this luck of birth is not all that is needed either, and hard work is signaled as being an important element in success of any kind. Nonetheless, the fortune to be able to use connections and networks to gain the acceptance of the cultural gatekeepers in one’s chosen filed is important, as without this a person’s ability might never see the light of day.


The chief trait ascribed to creative people is that they are complex. Creative people are thought to have personalities that encompass a range of emotions and feelings that do not always go together and even sometimes conflict. As Csikszentmihalyi says, “creative people know the extremes of human emotions and experience both with equal intensity and without inner conflict.”


The article then goes on to the ten paradoxes of creative personality.


Firstly, creative individuals are seen to be energetic and but also often quiet and at rest. They also tend to work long hours whilst still appearing fresh and energetic. This struck a chord with me as I am a very active and energetic person who plays a lot of sport in addition to my studies, but I also tend to sleep very long hours.


Secondly, creative individuals are said to be smart but naïve. This was a concept that I found more difficult to grasp because naïveté is not usually associated with knowledge.


Thirdly, the dichotomy between responsibility and irresponsibility was explored. Csikszentmihalyi says, “despite their carefree air most creative people work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.” I find this also applies to me as I am able to take on lots of responsibility with certain things but also drift into irresponsible behaviour from time-to-time.


Fourthly, the clash between imagination or fantasy and reality can be seen as a creative personality trait. Csikszentmihalyi brings up a statement from Einstein that art and science are two of the greatest forms of escape from reality that humans have devised. When I am creating, I like to start with something based in reality and then take it out of context and add elements of fantasy to it, I find this the most rewarding and interesting way of creating art.


Fifth, creative individuals are said to be partly introverted and partly extroverted. The solitary artist is a common misconception. Interacting with other human beings helps drive the creative process and feedback makes everyone better. I find this applies to me as well. I often enjoy sitting alone in my room meditating while some incense burns, but I also love bouncing ideas off other people and getting their input while sharing ideas.


Sixth, creative individuals are considered to be humble and proud at the same time. They are often acutely aware of the role that luck played in their achievements, as well as being driven towards the future rather than dwelling on their previous work. While, if I look back on some of my past work I am proud of it, I usually shy away from being too proud.


Seventh, the blurring of gender lines and an element of androgyny was discussed as a creative personality trait. Csikszentmihalyi says that creative women are more aggressive and assertive than normal, while creative men more sensitive and emotional than normal. I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself sensitive, but I do care about people’s feelings and emotions more than, say my brother despite us having the same parents.


Eighth, creative people are typically thought to be rebellious and independent; people who like to bend the rules. Even though I do have respect for authority, I have a fiercely independent streak. I think independence of though and action helps with the creative process.


Ninth, Csikszentmihalyi says creative individuals are very passionate about their work but also very objective when looking at it. He says that “without passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility.” This is somewhat true with me and I often find myself getting too absorbed in my work and being overly passionate about what I have done. This is where the other trait of collaboration comes in and helps me to get another perspective.


Finally, the openness and sensitivity of creative individuals is said to often expose them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment. Again, this is the typical portrait of the troubled artist. I wouldn’t really classify myself in this way and I don’t really have anything in my life to be upset about. Perhaps future disappointments will give me this trait and spur me to create better art.


In this weeks’ reading Csikszentmihalyi breaks down the elements of a creative personality. This article helped me understand myself better.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The Creative Personality. Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention (pp. 51-76). New York: HarperCollins. 

 Arthur Sasse, March 14, 1951 (AFP getty images)  Albert Einstein with his Tongue Out – Reverted from: