Pre-eminent psychologist Mihaly Cziszentmihalyi writes about the ten paradoxes of creative people. Here’s an abbreviated version:
1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. … One manifestation of energy is sexuality. Creative people are paradoxical in this respect also.
They seem to have quite a strong dose of eros, or generalized libidinal energy, which some express directly into sexuality. At the same time, a certain spartan celibacy is also a part of their makeup; continence tends to accompany superior achievement.
Without eros, it would be difficult to take life on with vigor; without restraint, the energy could easily dissipate.
2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. … Another way of expressing this dialectic is the contrasting poles of wisdom and childishness.
As Howard Gardner remarked in his study of the major creative geniuses of this century, a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, can go hand in hand with deepest insights. Mozart comes immediately to mind.
3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. …
Jacob Rabinow, an electrical engineer, uses an interesting mental technique to slow himself down when work on an invention requires more endurance than intuition:
“When I have a job that takes a lot of effort, slowly, I pretend I’m in jail. If I’m in jail, time is of no consequence. In other words, if it takes a week to cut this, it’ll take a week. What else have I got to do? I’m going to be here for twenty years.
See? This is a kind of mental trick. Otherwise you say, ‘My God, it’s not working,’ and then you make mistakes. My way, you say time is of absolutely no consequence.”
4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.
5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. …
In current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits … Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.
6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.
7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.
8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative. …
The artist Eva Zeisel, who says that the folk tradition in which she works is “her home,” nevertheless produces ceramics that were recognized by the Museum of Modern Art as masterpieces of contemporary design.
9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. …
Deep interest and involvement in obscure subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule.
Divergent thinking is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person may feel isolated and misunderstood.
From Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, published by HarperCollins, 1996.