The Pull-me, Push-You of Creativity

A photograph of two giraffes who face opposite directions and appear to have one neck due to the camera position.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again as many times as you need to hear it. You are creative. How do I know? For one thing, you found this information. You’re curious or information-seeking or both. The problem is, you have a hard time believing you are creative. It’s time you learn a bit about the creative personality.

Why You Don’t Believe

There are so many pieces to why not all of us believe we’re creative beings. Someone may have ignored or shunned you because of your wild imagination or behavior, so you toned it down. Maybe you were too big, too busy, or too much for your family and they made you calm down. 

A parent or teacher or other leader could have told you that you needed to stop dreaming, to be practical and live in the real world. (They always stress the word real as if we could live anywhere else.) 

Some of us may have had to take on adult responsibilities as children. 

School systems expect everyone to conform. Most work environments require everyone with the same job to do it all the same way. Perhaps a peer taunted your “original” idea as stupid or boring. 

If simply surviving, having a roof over your head, or food in your belly, was a daily struggle—your circumstances forced you to concentrate on those necessary-to-survive things and ignore the creative side of you. 

The Concept of Creativity

There was no concept of creativity (as we know it today) in Ancient Greece, China, or India. Deities could create, but humans could not. The ancients considered art a form of discovery linked to the sacred or divine.

It was during the Renaissance the concept of creativity was born. In the 14th century, the word “create” appeared in Chaucer’s The Parson’s Tale. But throughout that period (14th-17th century), they only recognized “great men” like Leonardo da Vinci as creatives. 

By the eighteen century (1701-1800), they linked creativity with the abilities or imagination of the individual and not the divine. Imagination was linked with genius. 

The creative process thought about much until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Less than one hundred years ago, Alfred North Whitehead gave a lecture at the University of Edinburgh. Many credit Whitehead with coining the term “creativity.” 

Formal studies of creativity may have begun as late as 1950.

It’s a wonder that anyone believes they are a creative person. But take a deep breath. You are about to confirm that you are creative. Yes, even you. 

Traits of a Creative Personality

Image is a photo of a black woman with her eyes closed her head and shoulders are enveloped by wavy lines that are in shades of blue

If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different to others, it would be complexity.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was a Hungarian-American psychologist, a researcher, educator, public speaker, and co-director of Claremont Graduate University’s Quality of Life Research Center. He studied creativity and creative people and is most known for having recognized and named the concept of flow. 

During his research into the creative personality, he concluded genetic predisposition affected the area of creativity. A simplified explanation is that if your genetics made you more sensitive to color and light, you’d be more creative in the visual arts. Those with the genetic makeup that gave them perfect pitch or enabled them to distinguish sounds well were likely to go into musical arts, and so on. 

He also identified ten pairs of conflicting personality traits of the creative personality. 

  1. Great Physical Energy and Needful of Plenty of Rest
  2. Intelligence and Naivete
  3. Playful and Disciplined
  4. Divergent and Convergent Thinking
  5. Able to Alternate between Fantasy and Reality
  6. Show Shades of both Extroversion and Introversion
  7. Simultaneously Ambitious and Selfless
  8. Both Traditional & Conservative and Rebellious & Iconoclastic
  9. Extremely Passionate About Their Work and Extremely Objective
  10. Possess both Openness and Sensitivity

Want to know more about Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of creative personalities? The University of Rochester has a copy of his twelve-page presentation. His published work includes: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, and Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, plus many more. 

Don’t Think These Traits Apply to You?

According to Csikszentmihalyi, many people repress those contradictory sides of their personalities. They refuse to acknowledge them. The reasons why are more than one can count.

You may not realize you are suppressing those parts of yourselves, but are deeply unsatisfied with life. You can actively reconnect with those pieces. For some it is simple, for others it takes a lot of intense personal work.

My Opinion

I think Csikszentmihalyi got of lot of his assessment right. We creatives are a bundle of contradictions. But in the selections of his work that I read, it appears he thought some people were not creative. This is where I strenuously disagree. 

He mentions suppression of and inability to communicate or access some part of your creativity is possible. To my mind, that supports my belief that everyone is creative. 

If you have suppressed those contradictory parts of yourself, you still can become creative, but you cannot access it. The same is true if you lack a skill, a bit of knowledge, or the exposure to or a way to express the art form in early life. Not accessing your creative side is not the same thing as not being creative. 

Recognize Yourself?

The creative process—from the first drop of paint on the canvas to the art exhibition—involves a mix of emotions, drives, skills, and behaviors.

Scott Barry Kauffman, “The Messy Minds of Creative People”, Scientific American

Do you feel as if you are “out there?” A little crazy? Like your brain never shuts off, but you’re the laziest person in the world? You can now embrace all those opposing thoughts and feelings you have. Welcome to the paradoxical world of a creative personality. 

What do you think? 


Psychology Today 

Exploring Your Mind 

Scientific American 

Rochester University 

About Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 

Image Credits

Top photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Second image by Merlin Lightpainting from Pixabay

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