Research dispels this urban myth: The creative life is a tortured one

It can be daunting to want to live a creatively compelling life

You hear all the stories of addiction and depression and poverty associated with creative individuals. And then there’s the pure bitch hardness of it. Right?

Turns out this is pure Hollywood. 

Or pure us. Since the culture only feeds back to us what we want. We buy into the myth of agonized souls because those are the books we want to read, those are the movies we want to see. 

How much more thrilling to read of Van Gogh’s turbulent life and suicide — he cut off his ear for a prostitute for god’s sake -— than the decades of domestic tranquility of Matisse. Both were innovators. Both left marks so blazing they can be seen a hundred years hence.

I understand this. Personally I want a life of blissful creation. For entertainment I often prefer to take in stories of upheaval and crisis . . . for the cathartic drama.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — yeah, say that five times at any speed you want — the esteemed author of the Flow theory — spent several years engaged in an in-depth study of highly creative thinkers from various fields.

What he discovered may surprise you.

This statement early in Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity leapt out:

Contrary to the popular image of creative persons, the interviews present a picture of creativity and creative individuals that is upbeat and positive.

This from a man helming a team who’d spend years with his subjects, intensively interviewing them. 

What else might be said about creative people?

But after several years of intensive listening and reading, I have come to the conclusion that the reigning stereotype of the tortured genius is to a large extent a myth created by Romantic ideology . . .

When I read that I cheered. 

In my many years with creatives of all kinds I’ve known that to be true — to the point where it would irk me when I came too often across the cliche version of the erratic, disjointed, sullen artist in film or literature.

The creative ones I’ve known — in the arts, in design, in business — tend to be forward-pushing people. 

They have a bias for idea execution. 

They have a propensity to dive in and see where their ideas might take them. 

Yes, there are anguished ones — but they more often tend to be among those who don’t do than those who do. So maybe, maybe, it’s the doing that releases the good stuff.

This is part of the What creators do series, where I look to people who are creating something meaningful in the world  and pass along the inspiration to you.

Click here for the occasional thing from The World Is Freaky Beautiful.

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