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Sanville, J. (1987). Creativity and the Constructing of the Self. Psychoanal. Rev., 74(2):263-279.

(1987). Psychoanalytic Review, 74(2):263-279

Creativity and the Constructing of the Self

Jean Sanville, Ph.D.

Phyllis Greenacre (1958), in surmising why she had not earlier done research into the subject of creativity, said that she may have been “intimidated by a latent interest which might become too engrossing” (p. 505). In sharing her own conflict about creativity as a subject of study, she hinted at both the attraction to and the fear of certain experiences integral to the creative dimension of human life: the capacity to allow oneself, at least for certain periods, to be “swallowed up” in something or someone bigger than oneself. Creativity is so close to play and playfulness; both of these activities involve some kind of regression and can easily be experienced as contrary to a work ethic. A researcher feels the recurrent conflict between the “I want to …” and the “I have to …” as must the child who is ordered to leave off playing and attend to obligatory activities.

The aesthetic, says British art critic Peter Fuller (1980), “is a category which struggles to affirm human potentialities which the dominant version of society (with all its ideological excreta) seems to suppress” (p. 193). I would suggest that creativity seems to be evoked precisely to reconcile basic individual wishes with the social and cultural surround. It is involved in the ubiquitous attempt to find socially acceptable ways to express basic drives and impulses, in that which we call sublimation.

At issue here is the central question whether creativity is, as Greenacre (1957) is inclined to believe, “a gift of the Gods … already laid down at birth” (p. 489), that is, the special capacity of a chosen few. She defines creativity as “the capacity for an activity of making something new, original or inventive, no matter in what field” (1959, p. 556).

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