15 Mar Why Do Creative People Seem Odd?
The writer and creativity theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi not only created the concept of creative ‘flow’ but has observed creative people for many decades. From these observations he writes,
I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.
It is the presence of contradictions and extremes that sometimes gives creative people an appearance of being odd. Not only do creative people often live beyond the boundaries of social norms, but combined with what seems to others to be illogical thinking can seem very odd indeed. Csikszentmihalyi identifies nine often contradictory traits he has identified in creative people. They are:
♦ The ability to be both very active and very quiet. While being creative, the level of concentration keeps the creative person very quiet, but when out of flow, they may be very busy.
♦ The appearance of both naivety and maturity of thought at much the same time. While finding multiple ideas and looking at them from different angles, the trains of thought will range across the spectrum. This is also the facet of creativity that is most often measured and developed.
♦ The simultaneous appearance of responsibility and irresponsibility, which is often seen as being playful and being very productive. Creative people can move back and forth between these two positions very easily – and very rapidly!
♦ The ability to be both intensely practical, but readily follow hunches and imaginative ideas. It is so often the leap from reality into the imagination that brings about creative ideas, so moving back and forth is a regular occurrence.
♦ Showing signs of both introversion and extroversion within minutes. While the process of creating often requires withdrawing into yourself and needing a degree of isolation, creative people also like the exchange of ideas and stimulation of discussion.
♦ An odd mixture of humility at what has been created, and simultaneously, pride in the accomplishment.
♦ The mixture of both conservative and rebellious beliefs. “It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.”
♦ The ability to be both objective about the work and passionate about it. Even if the creative person loves the process of creating something, they can also hate the end result.
♦ The frequent presence of both joy and suffering. The need to be judged and assessed too often brings suffering (real or imagined) and yet the joy of creating means creative people will keep creating.
While no one displays all these traits all the time, they do seem to be much more prevalent in creative people. It makes me wonder if the reason groups of artists tend to live in close proximity so there are others around who will understand these odd behaviors? For so many of us creative types, creating isn’t a job or a hobby, it is a passion that cannot be quashed or ignored, so it is always reassuring to find other like-minded creative people who know that passion. Maybe creative people seem odd to more left-brained, linear thinkers, but then they seem odd to us too!