the 10 paradoxes of creative people

pre-eminent psychologist mihaly cziszentmihalyi about the ten paradoxes of creative people. here’s an abbreviated version:

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. … One manifestation of energy is sexuality. Creative people are paradoxical in this respect also. They seem to have quite a strong dose of eros, or generalized libidinal energy, which some express directly into sexuality. At the same time, a certain spartan celibacy is also a part of their makeup; continence tends to accompany superior achievement. Without eros, it would be difficult to take life on with vigor; without restraint, the energy could easily dissipate.

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. … Another way of expressing this dialectic is the contrasting poles of wisdom and childishness. As Howard Gardner remarked in his study of the major creative geniuses of this century, a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, can go hand in hand with deepest insights. Mozart comes immediately to mind.

3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. … Jacob Rabinow, an electrical engineer, uses an interesting mental technique to slow himself down when work on an invention requires more endurance than intuition: “When I have a job that takes a lot of effort, slowly, I pretend I’m in jail. If I’m in jail, time is of no consequence. In other words, if it takes a week to cut this, it’ll take a week. What else have I got to do? I’m going to be here for twenty years. See? This is a kind of mental trick. Otherwise you say, ‘My God, it’s not working,’ and then you make mistakes. My way, you say time is of absolutely no consequence.”

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

5. Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted. … in current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits … Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.

8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative. … The artist Eva Zeisel, who says that the folk tradition in which she works is “her home,” nevertheless produces ceramics that were recognized by the Museum of Modern Art as masterpieces of contemporary design.

9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. … Deep interest and involvement in obscure subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule. Divergent thinking is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person may feel isolated and misunderstood.

From Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, published by HarperCollins, 1996.

for the rest of the article, go here.

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50 thoughts on “the 10 paradoxes of creative people

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  6. harry

    this is interesting, and really seems to explain many things to me. i am very artistic and creative, and, as the article says, am very passionate about my work. thanks for showing me that im not the only one experiencing this, and makes me feel less isolated (#10) 😀

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  8. Debbie Lattuga

    The beauty of creativity is that we all are born with it. But the process of living tends to remove it from many of us.

    It’s very difficult for left brained people (like me) to own the shadow self of creativity. But once you do, your happiness level skyrockets dramatically.
    .-= Debbie Lattuga´s last blog ..Make a Collage Vision Board =-.

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  10. KORANTENG JUSTICE

    I like the entire contributions and will wish to have topics under the Visual art course.

  11. KORANTENG JUSTICE

    To be creative means to be able to generate innovative ideas and manifest them from thought into reality.

  12. Francesca

    Wow. I wince a little at calling myself creative (humble as pointed out above..) yet I do (also proud as pointed out above :P) To the point, reading this somewhat reassured me because I feel like it perfectly described me and explained the reason I am like the ways described above. What particularly caught my attention was that creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time, and that are both introverted and extroverted, irresponsible and rebelious yet conservative. Basically being varied. Also, that being sensitive and open can be hindering as obscure interests go unrewarded and they feel isolated and misunderstood.
    I think creative people in a mild sense are a little bipolar and although they can get deep satisfaction out of something (like I am exploring this right now) they have a tendency to be dissatisfied with things and are more prone to ‘bad patches’ and lonliness.
    What someone has written above makes me feel better about my indecisivness : ‘some who often say, “it depends” are people who see the big picture, and when they find all the details of that picture intriguing and important they might need quite a few words to describe this picture.’

    Thankyou Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  13. Anon

    I call myself creative. The governemnt call me manic depressive. No joke, though at times it does seem funny.

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