Characteristics of Highly Creative People: Collecting Multiple Lives and Points of Reference (Part 7)

For ten days I’m writing about what it really takes to be Highly Creative and whether greater opportunities make for greater Creativity. Yesterday I wrote Knowing Life and Seeing Death.

Creation requires multiple points of reference-multiple lives and viewpoints, all in the mind of one Creator.

Creativity scholar, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi says,

If I had to express in one word what makes [creative persons'] personalities different from others, it would be complexity…

They contain contradictory extremes–instead of being an “individual”, each of them is a “multitude”.

A few years ago, Time Magazine published an unranked list of 100 Best Novels published in the English language between 1923 (the launching year for the magazine) and 2005.  I scanned this list and looked at the early lives of a couple of writers whose books made the list– Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita) and Ian McEwan (Atonement) These acclaimed novelists inhabited multiple worlds, even as children.

Vladimir Nabokov’s family fled the Russian Revolution in 1917 to seek refuge in Germany. They later moved to England and eventually to the United States.  While in Germany, Nabokov became a chess master and created a series of chess moves and solutions he published in German. He studied literature at Cambridge. He also studied entomology at Harvard University and worked in the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. But the most interesting of Nabokov’s accomplishments is that although he wrote his first nine novels in Russian, he decided to change languages–to English, while writing his tenth novel.  Lolita, his most famous novel, was his third novel written in English.
Ian McEwen– although born in England, spent much of his childhood in Singapore, Germany and North Africa (including Libya), where his father, a Scottish army officer, was posted.  He learned multiple languages and made friends with children throughout the world.
But fleeing from fascists, speaking five languages before your first date or befriending all the children of the world are not the only ways to live multiple lives.
Nabokov said,

It’s a pity one can’t imagine what one can’t compare to anything. Genius is an African who dreams up snow.

For someone who has never seen or felt snow to dream it up, he must experience– if only in minuscule portions, multiple elements of what makes snow.

Toni Morrison, also a novelist, and also on the Time list for her book Beloved, did not travel the world as a child. Her working class, Depression-Era family could barely scratch together enough cash to buy warm clothes in the winter.  Part of Morrison’s childhood was spent in the South under the worst circumstances of racism– extreme poverty and no hope for a better future. When she was ten, her father moved the family to a small town in Ohio, where racism had less agency.

Morrison imagined her other worlds.  On cold, Ohio winter evenings, Morrison’s family sat around the dinner table listening to and telling each other tales of spirits and magic. They foretold the future and sang African-American songs rich with allegories of life in unseen worlds.  And while her high school friends and classmates gossiped and flirted with her other, Morrison immersed herself in Nineteenth-century English life and pre-Revolutionary Russian existential angst by reading the world’s best literature.

Morrison merged her lived world and imagined elements from other worlds to write her Nobel prize-winning novel.

Highly Creative writers are not alone in containing multiple worlds and lives within their own.  Csikzentmihalyi says,

Like the color white that includes all the hues in the spectrum, [creative people] tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves.
A complex personality does not imply neutrality, or the average. It is not some position at the midpoint between to poles…Rather it involves the ability to move from one extreme to the other as the occasion requires.
Harvard evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson grew up Southern Baptist.  Uniting his experience in two worlds he knows inside out–the evangelical Christian South and the more skeptical world of Science, Wilson wrote The Creation, meant to unite all lovers of Nature, regardless of philosophical stance.
Julia Morgan, architect of some of California’s most beautiful buildings, including Hearst Castle, grew up in San Francisco in the early 20th century and studied as the only woman at UC Berkeley in the civil engineering department. She also traveled around Europe and became the first woman to graduate  from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  Morgan incorporated her many experiences into her now famous work.

Regardless of domain, Highly Creative people possess multiple points of reference-gained through true experience or as close to true experience as possible, to Create.

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One response

  1. Pingback: Characteristics of Highly Creative People: Spending More Time at the Office « Creating Brains

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