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Shainess, N. (1989). The Roots of Creativity. Am. J. Psychoanal., 49(2):127-138.

(1989). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49(2):127-138

The Roots of Creativity

Natalie Shainess, M.D.

In considering the determinants of creativity, it is helpful to differentiate between productivity and creativity. The writer G.K. Chesterton made a wonderful distinction, using a word—love—which is not much heard today. He said: “The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that the thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but the thing created is loved before it exists” (quoted in Clipper, 1974). This suggests that there is something going on in the creative person that exists long before the creation appears—hence my interest in the roots of creativity. While a construction or production may be the result of intense effort, or the desire to achieve something, or may be done simply to impress others, it is not the result of an ongoing process in the person, and it does not produce something really new, however small, which is the true mark of creativity.

Many have been interested in considering what contributes to the development of creativity, and surely the psychoanalyst Phyllis Greenacre (1957) was one of the first. In considering the childhood of the artist, she described at least four characteristics:

1.   Greater sensitivity to sensory stimuli;

2.   Unusual capacity for awareness of relations between various stimuli;

3.   Predisposition to an empathy of wider range and deeper vibration than usual

4.   Intactness of sufficient sensori-motor equipment to allow the building up of projective motor discharge for expressive function. This last seems a rather complicated way of saying that the child must have the biologic equipment to carry out intention.

Greenacre félt that there is an unusual capacity for awareness of subtle similarities and differences; an earlier and greater reactivity to form and rhythm— and thus a greater potential for organizing ideas—perhaps a greater sense of the “gestalt” of things.

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