Is there truly a difference between the creative mind and the mind of someone, shall we say, less so? Many a study has been done, and many a piece written, on this very subject. I imagine in some sense it would help to put some definition on creative for the sake of the writing. Traditionally we see, or imagine, a creative person as a producer of art, be that painting, writing, music, dancing, acting or any other myriad mediums available. I suppose I can put myself in the creative box under those conditions as I have spent my entire life drawing, painting, writing, playing guitar, all to various levels of success. This gives me some insight as to what a creative mind is good at, and bad at, I would like to think.
I know as a kid I always struggled to pay attention in classrooms and, well, everywhere. If someone was speaking, even if I was somewhat interested in what they had to say, which was rare, my mind wandered. I discovered over time that if I had a pencil and paper I could doodle and this helped me focus. I began to doodle pretty much non-stop. Every paper in my hands for more than a few minutes had a drawing on it somewhere. I had creatures hanging from margins and leaping off names and dates and any other imagined precipice upon the paper. I drew comic books of my teachers and myself on occasion. It extended into my real life when I was in business meetings or submitting paperwork on jobs, often to my detriment, as employers didn’t fancy my artwork on company papers. What they failed to understand was that if I am not doodling I am not listening to them at all. While it seems rude that I appear to ignore everyone around me it is my way of keeping my mind in the moment and in the room.
I have been around enough creative people in my life to recognize the traits. No one has them quite the same but many have similar ones. Like attracts like they say and to some degree this is probably true, but too much of a thing can be a bit overwhelming also. There are traits in creative people that are maddening to normal humans eventually, after the “oh you’re sooo talented” thing wears off.
There is a difference though in levels of creativity, as there is in anything else one might imagine. A short list of traits listed below would be intended to apply to the highest levels of creative humans and, while they all may seem to be wonderful, upon further examination it can be understood why these traits can also be perceived as exceptionally negative.
Highly creative individuals may:
1. Display a great deal of curiosity about many things; are constantly asking questions about anything and everything; may have broad interests in many unrelated areas. May devise collections based on unusual things and interests.
2. Generate a large number of ideas or solutions to problems and questions; often offer unusual (“way out”), unique, clever responses.
3. Are often uninhibited in expressions of opinion; are sometimes radical and spirited in disagreement; are unusually tenacious or persistent — fixating on an idea or project.
4. Are willing to take risks, are often people who are described as a “high risk taker, or adventurous, or speculative.”
5. Display a good deal of intellectual playfulness; may frequently be caught fantasizing, daydreaming or imagining. Often wonder out loud and might be heard saying, “I wonder what would happen if. . .”; or “What if we change . . ..” Can manipulate ideas by easily changing, elaborating, adapting, improving, or modifying the original idea or the ideas of others.” Are often
concerned with improving the conceptual frameworks of institutions, objects, and systems.
6. Display keen senses of humor and see comicality in situations that may not appear to be humorous to others. Sometimes what they find funny, comic, or amusing may appear bizarre, inappropriate, or irreverent to others.
7. Are unusually aware of his or her impulses and are often more open to the irrational within him or herself. May freely display opposite gender characteristics — may be androgynous (freer expression of feminine interests in boys, or as males they are considered ultra sensitive, or greater than usual amount of independence, assertiveness, or aggressiveness for females).
8. Exhibit heightened emotional sensitivity. May be very sensitive to beauty, and visibly moved by aesthetic experiences.
9. Are frequently perceived as nonconforming; can often accept the disorder of chaotic environments or situations; are frequently not interested in details, are described as individualistic; or do not fear being classified as “different.”
10. Criticize constructively, and are unwilling to accept authoritarian pronouncements without overly critical self-examination.
***Adopted and adapted from the scale for Rating Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students by Renzulli and Hartman
While a casual glance through that list has me all over it I can also pick out the me portions and give you reasons why these things have impacted my life in negative ways. It is hard to grow up anti-authority, and a free thinker, and with an irreverent and inappropriate sense of humor, after all, these are similar traits handed down to the sociopathic serial killer. But traits like unusual and creative ways out of problems has benefited me in my work as a Network Administrator. An ability to exist in chaotic situations has benefited me in work and living situations many times. Curiosity has been one of the cornerstones of my existence as I firmly believe we never stop learning, nor should we ever stop. Self examination goes with these things as one must be able to examine oneself and ones beliefs in order to be able to decide to accept new ones.
I suppose, like anything, the good goes with the bad. I would not be writing this blog were I not opinionated enough, and secure enough, to throw ideas out to the wind, but the sensitive part of the equation can make things difficult. If one is going to write or paint or play music, one must find a way to have thick skin. There will be no way to avoid detractors. Someone will tell you that your art is not good enough, your music not played well enough, and your opinions useless. Your first reaction will be to plug your eyes and ears to the criticism but this is not the best reaction. Criticism holds within it an opportunity to learn and grow.
Even your most base, childish, critic, has something for you to hear. If not directly, then indirectly. It is important, not to them, but to yourself, that you listen to what people say, how they say it, why they said it, and where it is they are coming from. These things can help you improve your creativity and the thickness of your skin. And yes, it is hard to work on something that comes from you, that includes you as a person, and have that thing be spat upon by someone. It becomes personal. It is not as if you handed them a mass produced product and they said it is not up to factory standards. You handed them your heart and soul and they deemed it less than useful. This hurts, no matter who you are, but recognize they have fresh eyes. They are seeing it for the first time while you have seen it for hours, days, weeks, even more.
I have a painting I did, a long time back. The painting is of a dragon attacking a man, part of my OH SHIT series, where many creatures attack many men who I imagine are then saying OH SHIT. Anyway, someone made a casual comment about the head of the dragon when they saw the painting. Mentioned it was shaped like a car. Ever since that moment I have never been able to see that dragon without seeing ZZ-Top’s car in its head. People seem to like this painting anyway as the majority either do not see this or do not mention it.
I suppose though that this is about the difference of the creative mind as compared with the average person. That sounds pompous but by average person I merely mean people that do not have interest or propensity in practicing art. I know that I have rarely felt a part of the people around me. When I was growing in school and playing with friends we had some similar likes but more often I was the odd one. I recognized it and learned to hide it some. I didn’t talk about artwork or music or writing. I had a paper read in class once by a teacher once that thought what I wrote was good. I was embarrassed enough that I stopped writing pieces like that. I would intentionally turn in work I knew would not garner attention once I knew what did.
In art school I was forced through critiques. You place your work on a wall and everyone rips it apart for a time. I got used to it. I knew people in those classes that dreaded those moments though. Would stay up nights before class ridden with anxiety over what someone might find fault with. I understood because I was always that way about music. I can play guitar but am not especially gifted at it. I can’t sing well at all. I enjoy them though and have continued to do them.I have, reluctantly at times, grown to be able to play and sing in front of humans to some degree but this is still not nearly as easy for me. Mostly I think because I am less confident in my skills. In my mind there are many, many people out there better so what could I do that would matter.
The truth is though that your expression matters. If you have an urge to write then write. If you have an irge to draw or paint then do so, and likewise with music. Whatever you feel is crawling around inside that body and mind of yours that needs release, RELEASE IT! Maybe it will not be the next Mona Lisa or eruption but it will be yours. It will improve with time and practice. It will improve as you find your voice.
Is the creative mind different? Yeah, it is, I am living proof. Society needs to find ways to embrace the struggle and not just the success though. There are plenty of actors that are not Brad Pitt. Plenty of guitar players that are not Stevie Ray Vaughn. There are a lot of painters that are not Van Gogh. In part this is because of the way in which we define success as a society, and in part it is because of the personal way everyone experiences art. We define success as monetary gain. We experience art very differently. I love Sam Kinison and Dave Attell, but others like the guy with the puppets whose name escapes me. I like Transformers and Dead Poets Society while others like The Piano and Schindlers List. None of us are wrong.
Those that are wrong are the ones in the world of business and to a large degree those in comfortable and safe society in general. They often see the creative mind as anarchy. They see it as rebellious and dangerous. The creative mind is frightening to the status quo. The creative mind however can be a powerful ally. Companies that collect and foster this mindset often prosper. While other talents like an engineer or a talented sales person are easy to define and locate though the creative mind can be more elusive. It can also be more difficult to harness for someone else’s purpose as they creative mind likes to strike out on its own. For this reason it is often best to leave them be and see what it is they come up with rather than to strictly enforce rules and goals.
In the end the creative mind is no more different to the average humans than the average humans mind is different to the creative mind. As a creative human I know I see other people as slogging through tedious tasks and interactions and wonder why they get up in the morning. It is merely my failure to understand that another’s life and mind can be different from mine, unfamiliar to mine, and still be wonderful and fulfilling to them. I think it is also time that society in general give the creative mind the benefit of the doubt. Yes, we can be impulsive, and rebellious, and sensitive, and just plain odd. None of those things makes us odd, or wrong, just different. Embrace the creative people among you for more than the art they produce. You might like it.