Changing the World: A Framework for the Study of Creativity

By David Henry Feldman; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi et al. | Go to book overview
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more outstanding choreographer than Martha Graham; and yet relatively few studies have been carried out of the less illustrious of each pairing. In a sense each of the individuals that I studied became an icon of the domain during the modern era; that decision was made as much by the field, for its own purposes, as by the "objective" factors of the creators' achievement.

Although case studies have their limitations, I believe that the present ensemble of cases in particular helps to illustrate two possibly important phenomena of a more general nature. First of all, I believe that creative individuals of each era make some kind of a raid upon their childhood, preserving certain aspects of their own earlier life in a way that advances their own work and makes sense to their peers. In the case of the creators of the modern era, each of them seems to me to have made contact with the years of early childhood--the preschool years. Whether it is Einstein peering at the erratic behavior of the needle of a compass, Stravinsky experimenting with the rhythms that had struck him when he was barely capable of speaking, or Freud looking at the dreams and wishes of early childhood, the creators of the modern era seem drawn to the same basic, elemental, simple forms that attract the mind of the child before it has been too influenced by the conventions of his society.

Second, and finally, in considering creative work, it is important to be sensitive to two contrasting trends: a tendency to question every assumption and to attempt to strike out on one's own as much as possible, and a countervailing tendency to exhaust a domain, to probe more systematically, deeply, and comprehensively than anyone has probed before. One can distinguish cultures and eras that are determinedly iconoclastic, such as the high Renaissance; and one can counterbalance these instances with the work produced during the medieval era or with the traditions that are so valued in China. From my vantage point, the changes that took place in Europe around the turn of the century represent an extreme in the challenging of given assumptions about life, work, progress, value; even compared to the succeeding postmodern era, that heroic and epoch-making time continues to stand out. In that sense, at least, it may signal some of the outer limits of which human beings are capable during the very few years that each of us has been allotted.


NOTES

This paper summarizes some of the major themes of a recently completed book, entitled Creating Minds. ( New York: Basic Books, 1993). Portions of the paper were discussed at the Workshop of the Achievement Project, Ashford, Kent, England, January 13-15, 1992. I am grateful to Margaret Boden, Penelope Gouk, and the others in attendance at the conference for their helpful feedback.

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