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May, R. (1964). Creativity and Encounter. Am. J. Psychoanal., 24(1):39-43.

(1964). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 24(1):39-43

Creativity and Encounter

Rollo May, Ph.D.

In this Paper I shall not use our usual psychological language. I am not inclined to apologize for this since I believe that most of our approaches to creativity in psychology have been strikingly inadequate. Essentially we have come up with what the artists and poets smile at and say, “Interesting, yes. But it has next to nothing to do with what is actually going on within me in the creative act.” There have been notable exceptions to this tendency, of course: the works of MacKinnon, Frank Barron, Crutchfield and Harold Anderson, for example, and the insistence of Allport, Rogers, and Maslow that creativity be studied not merely as an aspect of neurosis or reductively, but in its own right as a positive aspect of personality. But, in general, we have come up with truisms or irrelevancies.

It is not that I believe that the ideas which I will put forth cannot be phrased in psychological language; I think they can, and also can to some extent be tested and understood by empirical methods. However, I believe our pressing problem at this stage is that we have not grasped the nature of creativity as such.

I wish, therefore, to propose a theory, and make some remarks about it arising largely out of my contacts and discussions with artists and poets themselves. The theory is: Creativity occurs in an act of encounter, and is to be understood with this encounter as its center.

Cezanne sees a tree. He sees it in a way no one else has ever seen it. He experiences, as he no doubt would say, a “being grasped” by the tree.

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