Daily Archives: March 17, 2011

Rollo May’s “The Nature of Creativity,” Part 2

Existentialist psychologist Rollo May discusses the creative process in his work, The Nature of Creativity. Previously, I covered May’s definition of creativity and if you haven’t seen that post, you can find it here.  —  “Let us now inquire into the nature of the creative process, and seek our answers by trying to describe as accurately as possible what actually happens in individuals at the moment of the creative act,” writes May. “I shall speak mostly about artists because I know them, have worked with them, and, to some extent, am one myself. This does not mean that I underestimate creativity in other activities.” May said that the first thing you notice in a creative act is that it is “an encounter.”
 Artists encounter a scene they intend to paint, for instance; they become absorbed in it.
 The encounter for abstract painters might be “an idea,
 an inner vision.” The materials, paint, canvas, etc., “become a secondary part” of the encounter. “They are the language of it, the media.” The encounter, May explains, can involve will power, but the main point isn’t the “presence or absence of voluntary effort, but the degree of absorption, the degree of intensity.” May further explains that there must be “a specific quality of engagement.” He goes on to talk about the distinction between “pseudo,
 escapist creativity” and genuine creativity. The former lacks encounter, he said. A patient of his exemplified this: The man was very talented and would become inspired to write, but “would stop there, writing down nothing at all.” May said the “vital link of experience…was missing” and, therefore, “the encounter was lacking.” He continued, saying that with escapist creativity, not only is there no encounter, there is “no engagement with reality.” In addition, he said, “the concept of encounter also enables us to make clearer the 
important distinction between talent and creativity.” Talent may be inherited and might or might not be used. “But creativity
 can be seen only in the act.”  Further, he claims that purists, instead of referring to creative people, would refer, instead, to a “creative act.” With Pablo Picasso, there was great talent and “great encounter” which resulted in “great creativity.” Of F. Scott Fitzgerald, May said he had great talent, but “
truncated creativity.” A very creative person might seem to have little talent, he said, citing the novelist Thomas Wolfe. “But he was so creative because he threw himself so
 completely into his material and the challenge of saying it—he was great 
because of the intensity of his encounter.”

(Next, the “Intensity of the Encounter.”)

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