|A comparative view
of creativity theories:
Psychoanalytic, Behavioristic and Humanistic.
|"Creativity is the
step child of psychology" (May, 1975)
This statement characterizes the historically difficult relationship existent between gifted individuals and society and, between science and creativity research. As Rollo May's statement indicates, the awkwardness of the relationship is apparent in psychology which studies creative products and, the individuals which embody the process, without definitively grasping creativity itself. A similar awkwardness seems to exist in the life sciences which study live organisms without capturing life itself. Just so, the creative process can be observed and described but its source remains obscure. Psychology's numerous philosophical orientations have each attempted a meaningful relationship with this "step child" with varying degrees of success. This essay will chronicle some of those attempts in three branches of psychology respectively: psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology. Each of these branches holds a sharply different view of the nature on man which reflects in each psychology's explanation of creativity, its source and purpose.
Psychoanalysis proposes that creativity wells up from unconscious drives. There are differing opinions about how this occurs, but the various psychoanalytic schools of thought generally suggest that creativity is a by-product of primary processes. Freud takes a pathological view of the creative process. This seems characteristic of his general view of man. Freud felt only unhappy people experienced daydreams and fantasies; these are an integral part of the creative process. Freud said, "Unsatisfied wishes are the driving power behind fantasies; every separate fantasy contains the fulfillment of a wish, and improves and unsatisfactory reality" (Freud, 1908, cited by Arieti, 1976). To Freud there was great similarity between neurosis and creativity. He felt both originated in conflicts stemming from wish fulfillment and biological drives. Creativity is the sublimation of sexual drives in the psychoanalytic depiction.
According to Freud, the creative person's curiosity about sexual matters starts at three years of age and has three outlets later in life:
"...first is repression, which is quite energetic. The second outcome occurs when sexual investigation is not totally repressed but is coped with by thought processes or by compulsive defenses. In the third outcome which is the' most rare and perfect type,' sexual curiosity is sublimated into that inquisitive attitude which leads to creativity (Freud, 1908, cited by Arieti, 1976).
Other theorists in the Freudian school have built further on the premise that creativity is part of the mental functioning operative in the id; i.e., the individual uses it to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Ernst Kris (1952, cited by Arieti, 1976) says the use of these primary processes in creativity is "a regression in service of the ego." He believes the process occurs in the preconscious, an area not momentarily in consciousness but easily accessible. L. Bellak (1958, cited by Taylor, 1988) further explains that all forms of creativity are "permanent operant variables of personality" through which the ego allows preconscious and unconscious material to emerge. Lawrence Kubie (1958, cited by Arieti, 1976) adds that neurotic distortion can occur when the conscious mind inhibits "the [creative] process by rigid use of symbolic functions." Kubie says further, [the unconscious can] "hinder with even more rigid anchorage in unreality."
Two other Freudians address the source and motive of the creative act. Phyllis Greenacre (1957, cited by Samuels & Samuels, 1975) says that the future artist learns to disassociate with real objects and falls in love with the world as a whole. This happens through a heightened sensory awareness as early as breast feeding. Philip Weissman (1968, cited by Arieti, 1976) says these capacities may be the infant learning to "hallucinate the mothers breast independently of oral needs"; later in life this endowment is preserved and transferred into the creative act.
The link between primary processes (specifically sexuality), and creativity is important. Contrary to psychoanalytic intention, it inadvertently suggests there is an energy (biological creativity), which can be sublimated into higher psychological processes when the primary gratification urges of the id are inhibited. This suggests a discrete phenomenon, creativity, that is equally operative as both a biological and psychological function. Carl Jung (1953, cited by Arieti, 1976) extends creative functioning by further dividing artistic creativity into two categories, psychological art, and visionary art. It is psychological art which appears to be generated by primary processes. Thus, psychoanalytic theory seems best able to explain psychological art and creative acts where the incentive is not the act itself, but rather relief from pain, anxiety, or sexual tension. Explaining creativity solely as sublimated sexual energy, and libidinal curiosity is, in my opinion, reductionistic and cannot interpret all its dimension. Freud himself concluded in his Autobiographic Study:
[Psychoanalysis]...can do nothing towards elucidating the nature of the artistic gift, nor can it explain the means by which the artist works; artistic technique (1908, cited by Arieti, 1976).
Sublimated libidinal drives do not explain all the dimensions of creativity; however, sexuality in some form appears in many explanations of creative behavior even if only in metaphor. B. F. Skinner, a radical behaviorist, does not assign creativity to these unconscious drives; yet, a quotation he consistently used to assert the falsity of such assignment refers to this primal sexuality in life. In an essay "A Lecture on 'Having' a Poem" Skinner (1972, cited by Perkins, 1988) quotes Samual Butler, "A poet writes a poem as a hen lays an egg, and both of them feel better afterwards." Thus, "The Behaviorist" indirectly relates creativity to reproductive drives.
J.B. Watson (1913, cited by Frager, Fadiman, 1984) and others, developed behavioristic psychology early this century in response to psychoanalytic subjectivism. The basic premise is positivistic; it postulates that only what is observable is appropriate for scientific psychological study. Creativity, thoughts, and emotions are unobservable internal processes; therefore, behaviorism is unable to explore the processes themselves. Radical behavioral psychology completely dismisses the concept of an "indwelling agent" which creates, thinks, or feels as metaphysic and without proof. Therefore, behaviorism confines its study to the behaviors associated with these processes.
J.B. Watson believed that the social environment conditioned the personality and its behavior. He studied the respondent conditioning associated with various stimuli. Conditioning from the social environment is then stored in the unconscious memory throughout one's life. E.L. Thorndike (Reber, 1985) followed and formulated the "Law of Effect" which says that reward strengthens responses and failure to reward weakens them. Thorndike, and later B.F. Skinner, continued to study how these consequences, e.g., reward or lack of reward, influenced behavior over time. This conditioning is termed operant conditioning. Operant conditioning and unconscious memories are the primary elements in a behavioral explanation of creativity.
According to B.F. Skinner, creativity results from reshuffling psychic material which is unconscious to the individual and thereby only seems spontaneous (Skinner, 1972c, cited by Frager, Fadiman, 1984). The creative act, from a behavioral viewpoint, would be a cognitive behavior pattern which first accessed unconscious material and then synthesized it in the context of an immediate stimulus (problem). Then operant conditioning occurs as the tension subsides because the individual had found a successful solution. The individual may experience additional operant conditioning if other people praise the creative product. Thus as Skinner's refers to in "A Lecture on 'Having' a Poem" the artist has learned the creative response because it has the potential to make him feel better.
This accounts for some creative acts, but it lacks the magnitude to explain creativity which includes information impossible for the individual to have previously known. I believe behaviorism fails to explain works such as Handel's Messiah which is a massive volume of information created in a twenty-four hour period. It seems unreasonable to assume that a behavioral process could access and recombine that much unconscious material so rapidly and with such elegance. Behaviorism also inadequately explains acts such as Einstein's visions of riding on a light ray which led to the theory of relativity, or Kekule's vision of the Uroboros which inspired his chemical model of the benzene ring. Each of these represents man reaching beyond his current conditioning and knowledge to change his destiny.
Behaviorism is an excellent "lab animal" but in the "real world" it can not account for all creative endeavors. Its greatest strength is that experiments are precise and collect quantifiable data. However, I concur with Silvano Arieti (1972, cited in Arieti, 1976) description of Skinners work:
People like B.F. Skinner have characterized man as being molded, conditioned, and programmed by the environment in rigid, almost inescapable ways. Skinner should be appreciated for having shown the extent to which man can be affected in this manner; but...we must stress man's ability to escape his fate. Creativity is one of the major means by which the human being liberates himself from the fetters not only of his conditioned responses, but also of his usual choices.
My feeling is that the concept of creativeness and the concept of the healthy, self-actualizing, fully-human person seem to be coming closer and closer together, and may perhaps turn out to be the same thing. (Maslow, 1963)
The above quotation shows the esteem with which humanistic psychologists view human nature. There are many individual theories within the field but the human capacity for growth is central in all of them. Creativity is essential to growth as the individual learns, and adapts to his environment and to an inner sense of values. As Maslow's statement indicates, this is part of being a healthy human being. Viewing human nature as a conscious, self-directed, self-actualizing, healthy process distinguishes humanistic psychology from psychoanalytic and behavioristic psychology. These latter psychologies see humankind and creativity in terms of base instincts and conditioned responses respectively. They see creativity as a way of compensating for areas otherwise lacking in the personality (Alfred Adler, 1956, cited by May, 1975, & Frager, Fadiman, 1984). Humanistic psychology brings a wholeness to the human being and the creativity process. Creativity infuses all of life. Abraham Maslow (1968) describes creativity in the life of his clients as follows:
I learned from [them]...that a first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting, and that, generally, cooking or parenthood or making a home could be creative while poetry need not be...
A pioneer in humanistic psychology, Maslow describes creativity in three categories: primary creativity, secondary creativity, and integrated creativity. The first category describes creativity which proceeds from the primary processes, as does psychoanalytic theory, but Maslow includes cognitive and conative processes in addition to the Dionysian drives of the id. He separates primary processes from "forbidden impulses" believing the first to be far less dangerous. Maslow "redeems" base human nature believing that creativity allows us to escape our fate much like Arieti (1976).
Secondary creativity results from the use of higher thought processes; it is Apollonian. It takes over the creative process from primary creativity and adds to it analysis, discipline and hard work. The often quoted statement "Genus is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration" seems descriptive of secondary creativity. Secondary creativity dominates during the verification stage (Wallas, 1926, cited by Koestler, 64, Harman & Rheingold, 84, & Dacey, 89); it may also be the main process during the preparation stage but in a less refined form.
Maslow's final category is integrated creativity. This category fuses primary and secondary creativity: it is the source of the great works of art, philosophy, and scientific discoveries. This creative integration is also characteristic of the lives of self-actualized, healthy human beings. Integrated creativity in the arts appears to inhabit the same territory Carl Jung described as "visionary art."
As mentioned earlier, Jung (cited by May,1975) divides artistic creativity into two categories; psychological art (already discussed); and visionary art which, "derives its existence from the hinterlands of the man's mind." The second category connects us with the super-human and timeless worlds beyond our conscious knowing. When an artist, in any field, approaches this category, he becomes the scout for all of humanity. He transcends his personal fate, and begins to speak to, and for humankind. The answer is "channeled" through receptive individuals in response to the needs of the entire race. As channels of this greater vision, Marshal McLuhan, described creative people as the "dew line" for society at large who capture and express the spiritual meaning of the culture (May,1975). The collective unconscious described by Jung ties the psyches of humanity together; creativity thus includes an expression of the needs of the race, not solely the individual. Creativity in this portrayal becomes a function of the "whole" of humanity: the creative individual, the creative process, and the creation form a gestalt within the context of this larger "whole."
Gestalt psychology deals with the perception of "wholes." It was founded as a separate school of thought in Germany early this century. I am giving it a brief discussion here because of its more recent association with humanistic psychology. Max Wertheimer (1945, cited by Arieti, 1976) looks at all creativity from this Gestalt perspective. He says that the process moves from one unstable or unsatisfactory situation (S1) to one of greater stability and thereby forms a new gestalt (S2) which includes the resolution of tension. Wertheimer believed that dividing the wholes into parts without losing track of the original totality was an important aspect of creative thinking. Wertheimer also says that in the creative act the individual perceives some features of the final S2 from the beginning of the process; these features are the means through which the individual recaptures the final situation. Unfortunately, Wertheimer's theory does not explain how restructuring of S1 into S2 actually occurs. The importance of his theory is the emphasis on the process as a whole rather than as a linear sequence. To Wertheimer the creativity process was "one consistent line of thinking...[which sought] the nature of their [the elements] intrinsic interdependence."
Wertheimer, and the other models reviewed thus far, fail to grip the source of the process. They generally report the components of the process after it occurs, the nature of the product, or the characteristics of the creative individual. From where does the new solution come? How is something brought into being where nothing previously existed? We are distinctly uncomfortable with any explanation which suggests that something "just happens," yet all these inquiries leave us with these questions and no clear cut answer. When we attempt to explain creativity itself we experience one of its most telling attributes, ineffable encounter.
The ability to encounter life in its fullest and engage with that part of it which is just beyond our senses is a prime characteristic of the creative act, and individual, according to Rollo May (1975). May suggests:
For the consciousness which obtains in creativity is not the superficial level of objectified intellectualization, but and encounter with the world on a level that undercuts the subject-object split. "Creativity,...is the encounter of the intensively conscious human being with his or her world."
The above quotation describes an encounter of such intensity that the polarity of the world around is overlooked. This parallels Maslow (1963) who says that during the creative encounter the individual is self-forgetful. Thus, becoming completely "lost in the present," the individual merges with the encountered and the subject-object split disappears. May metaphorically posits that the creative individual "knows" the subject in the "Biblical sense"; i.e., presenting the similarity between the creative act and sexual encounter. Sexuality, and the union of opposites appear in many of the creativity theories thus far discussed. However, May's correlation of creativity and sexuality is notably different from psychoanalytic theory. Freud saw creativity as sublimation of sexual, and other primitive, drives. May uses the reference to sexuality as a healthy, engaging process. Creativity, like sexuality, is part of a full encounter with life: it is the "dance" that unites the opposites.
Uniting pairs of opposites is a theoretical premise of Arthur Koestler (1964) creativity theory. An author, Koestler represents no particular psychological school of thought but has done much research on the field of creativity. Koestler's premise on the creative process is "bisociation." Bisociation, a term Koestler has coined, means to join unrelated, often conflictual, information in a new way. Koestler says it is being "double minded" or able to think on more than one plane of thought simultaneously. Frank Barron (1988) also says the ability to tolerate chaos or seemingly opposite information is characteristic of creative individuals. In each of these theories, as May describes, resolution comes through intense encounter when as Maslow asserts, the individual is, "completely lost in the present."
Intense encounter, "lost in the present," suggests another phenomenon which accompanies the creative process, an altered state of consciousness. Transpersonal psychology focuses on the higher aspirations of human growth and expanded states of consciousness. Stanislav Grof (1988), a transpersonal theorist and psychiatrist, listed four categories of creativity which he feels come from transpersonal sources in his work with altered states of consciousness.
The first category relates to problems which an individual has struggled with for years without finding a solution. This category contains Wallas's four stages, and is brought to resolution by the sudden streaming of illumination during a "non-ordinary" state. His example is also Kekule's discovery of the benzene ring in a dream mentioned earlier in this paper.
A second category, involves transmission of great ideas or systems of thought which go beyond the state of the art in the field to which they relate. An examples of this is the concept of distribution of information about the universe found in the ancient Jainist theory of the jivas which resembles emerging holonomic theories of physics. Other examples are ancient cosmogenetic systems which say light is the creative principle of the universe, a theory now being explored by research into the photon's role in subatomic particles.
The third category contains creative encounters which give a nearly complete product ready for implementation by society. The mythological story of Prometheus bringing fire to earth is an ancient example. Modern examples are; the work of Nikola Tesla who saw his inventions as finished working prototypes; Einstein riding on a light beam in his imagination and thereby understanding the theory of relativity (previously mentioned); and Mozart who heard his compositions final form, all at ounce, inside his head.
Grof postulates one final creative experience somewhat different than those just cited; it is an encounter with the Creator. This experience can be transforming for both the individual and society. Examples are Moses receiving the Ten Commandments or Mohammed's vision which founded Islam. In these examples, creativity evolved spirituality in mankind.
The many theories of creativity cover a range of human experience from the most primitive subconscious drives to contact with the divine. When viewed independently, each theory is consistent relative to a specific field of human experience yet, many of these theories clash dramatically when contrasted with one another. Vaune Ainsworth-Land (1982) has examined the imaging and creative process and described four "orders" of the process and its product. Ainsworth-Land's theory is basically humanist. I will use these "orders" to relate the creativity theories discussed in this essay and thereby partially delimit the type, or types, of creative acts which each theory best describes.
First order creativity operates out of necessity. This area of creativity occurs in the learning process of a child. This order may also engage when there is an immediate urgent need such as a threat to survival. This area seems to correlate to psychoanalytic creativity theories and development such as that described by object relations (Mahler, Pine, and Bergman, 1975). It likewise relates to respondent conditioning in that it occurs spontaneously in response to immediate needs. Maslow's primary creativity is in this category. In this order there is no awareness of self, or ego, just spontaneous acts driven by primal needs.
Second order creativity involves analytic processes. The individual is self-aware and consciously involved in the project at hand. The process focuses on improvement, extension and evaluation. Maslow's secondary creativity fits this category This area also relates to higher ego functions described by psychoanalysis. It correlates with creative acts which behaviorism calls operant response; i.e., the individual is aware of their response and rewarded for it.
Third order creativity becomes more abstract. It deals with synthesizing and innovation. The product created is as much "new as old" (Ainsworth-Land, 1982). In this order the individual opens up to the process and gives up control and begins self-integration. This seems to be the beginning of Maslow's integrated creativity and the realm of Koestler's "bisociation."
The fourth order is, as Ainsworth-Land describes it, "the ultimate form of relatedness." This is the order in which Grof's fourth encounters occur. The self has merged with a larger reality and attained a transformed consciousness. In this order the individual attains "cosmic consciousness" (Bucke, 1906, cited by Ainsworth-Land, 1982) and beholds order in chaos without conflict.
Table #1 shows the various theorists in relation to Ainsworth-Land's four orders. I have listed the theorists in the general psychological school of thought to which they subscribe on the (x) axis and, in the "order" to which their theories best apply on the (y) axis. They will appear within their respective vertical columns in all "order" corresponding sections to which their theoretical work most applies as outlined in this essay. Jung's theories will be the exception appearing as both a psychoanalytic and humanistic theory.
Jung's Psycho. Art.
|Maslow Prim. Creat.
Grof- 1st. Cat.
|Maslow Sec. Creat.
Jung's Psycho. Art.
Creat. May-Encounter Wertheimer- Gestalt
Koestler- Bisociation Grof- 2nd. &3rd. Cat.
||Jung's Visionary Art Grof- 3rd. & 4th Cat.|
|In summary, it is clear that the various branches of psychology
have different views of human experience which influence their theories
of creativity. It is also evident there are common threads in many of the
theories. All these psychologies see creativity as an encounter with, and
merging of divergent information but disagree about the source of that
information and the procedure through which it is processed. Most creativity
theories, with the exception of the behavioristic ones, see creativity
as a process through which the individual finds relationship with the environment.
For psychoanalysis this is a neurotic function; for humanistic psychology
it is a sign of health. With this wide divergence the only seemingly obvious
conclusion is that the substance and source of creativity still elude discovery.
We are able to see creativity's effects, feel its inspiration, and use
it in a myriad of ways. As if standing in a hall of mirrors, we reflect
creativity back upon itself and speculate upon its nature never knowing
which image is real and which the reflection. Everywhere creativity reflects
itself without revealing its true nature. Each reflection is different
in its own environment yet isomorphic of the others. We "create" metaphors
that describe, and theories to explain the acts by which metaphors and
theories are themselves brought into being. Fully engaged we seek the mercurial
Rosetta stone that reveals the common language of these many forms. Creativity
may be the step-child of psychology but we are enamored by it and, as we
attempt to forge a relationship with it we remain"lost in the present"
and lost in the presence of a seemingly omniparous force.
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