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Rosen, V.H. (1964). Some Effects of Artistic Talent on Character Style. Psychoanal Q., 33:1-24.

(1964). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 33:1-24

Some Effects of Artistic Talent on Character Style

Victor H. Rosen, M.D.


The following statement may help to solidify some of the loosely coupled ideas that have gone before: a ubiquitous characteristic of artistically talented individuals, which may be more or less shared by others who are lacking in specific gifts, is a resistance to certain kinds of group judgments. This is largely in the area of values, particularly æsthetic values, where questions of illusion and the standardization of subjective choice and preference produce a special tension between the cognitive experience derived from cultural pressures and the perceptual experience of the individual. In resolving these problems, there is a spectrum of cognitive styles forming a continuum from the artist, who prefers to see polyvalent illusory possibilities in the phenomena that are at variance with conventional interpretations, to the literal-minded, practical 'realist'. The artist insists upon seeing conventional standards as the illusion of the majority. This characteristic also contributes to the quality of exceptionalism

found in so many talented individuals. Though appearing to be based on principle, this may well be a rationalization that conceals its obligatory aspects. The stand against influence of conventional illusions often needs to be sustained by resistance to seeking or registering factual details of the environment.

I suggest that some roots of the obligatory behavior lie in initial constitutional differences which originate in particular kinds of sensitivity to perceptual stimuli. This propensity may develop further during early childhood when separation from the mother and attachments to playthings are paramount problems. Playthings tend to assume a particular importance for highly gifted children, and their value as illusion-sustaining external objects increases the likelihood that transitional objects will become infantile fetishes. This unusual attachment to certain playthings in turn influences many aspects of the parentchild relationship. It may also foster particularly early and sturdy defenses against parental influence in value judgments and, ultimately, similar resistance to cultural conformity. In its turn, this feature of the artistic predisposition becomes an asset for the implementation of creative talent as well as an element in the artist's object relations and internal conflicts. In its final outcome, such a chain of developmental events contributes both to the talented individual's success as an original artist and to his social liabilities as an exception.

More detailed observations of the relationship of children to their playthings in the transitional-object stage might be revealing, particularly if such studies were correlated with estimates of precocious perceptual development and capacities for controlled illusion. Predictive testing of such studies against future creative achievements of the individual, while posing a formidable research task, might reward us richly by increasing our understanding of this important aspect of psychic functioning.

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