Academic journal article Generations

Creativity and Coping in Later Life

Academic journal article Generations

Creativity and Coping in Later Life

Article excerpt

Pathways to managing pain.

I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me-so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught. -Georgia O'Keeffe

Creativity is one of the most interesting and unusual aspects of human development. It is what allows us, as Georgia O'Keeffe noted, to "strip away" what we have been taught. Creative abilities are evident in early childhood but often gradually disappear. When fostered, however, this propensity can become a vital bridge in personal exploration and development. The benefits of expanding this type of intelligence often create lifelong patterns of novel thinking and skill mastery. (Csikzentmihalyi, 1996). Georgia O'Keeffe is one of a number of well-known professional visual artists who continued their creative pursuits well into their later years. Hollowing is an overview of research about creativity and its neurological impact, including the ways in which creativity improves mental acuity and provides pathways to pain management in times of physical challenge.


Highly creative people can be said to have heightened reactions to their surroundings. For visual artists, the immersion in universal themes of nature, beauty, light, and darkness enhances a sense of connectedness and increases a sense of identity and belonging. The desire to transform these perceptions into representational work is demonstrated in many masterpieces of art.

For visual artists, the process of creative thinking and development is usually a solitary one, where the artist prefers to work on ideas while alone, allowing time for examination and discernment. This self-imposed quarantine limits distraction and gives the individual ample time to incubate ideas, take risks, and test solutions.

Creative individuation means being able to think in novel and unusual ways, nurturing ideas through imagination and visualization, then putting them into practice. This process is inherently unorthodox. Artists are not conventional thinkers; rather, they challenge conventional thinking. They run from routine; they take risks. But even though this process appears unorthodox, creative behavior is both goal-oriented (conscious and deliberate rather than automatic and accidental) and adaptive. Artists are engaged people with little free time. They use their time to work out ideas and focus on the results.

Creative thinkers sustain high standards of work ethic and are frequently seen as overachievers, persevering in their work until the opus is completed. Older people who are creative report that their productivity is high, with little focus on physical complaints. The concentration that is required for higher-order thinking lessens preoccupation with somatic problems. As a group, creative elders report positive mental and emotional experiences more often than negative ones. Creative elders share an optimism that is particularly valuable in adapting to adversity and coping with physical pain. They are more likely to report a shared attitude of "putting your best foot forward" that discourages somatic complaints.


Ellen Winner (1996), the author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, states that many gifted children have difficulty making friends because they tend to be unconventional. They observe the world in unique ways. They are often isolated, teased, and tend to be more introverted. Winner says that the more profound the gift, the more isolated they are.

Gifted children also tend to process experiences at different visual and cognitive speeds. Winner's research shows that child prodigies often need little sleep and demand a high level of stimulation. Nothing can stop their creative process. Early giftedness can manifest itself in more than one area, making these children exceptional in many ways. …

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