As we reach an era when actual brain studies can be performed, and where we can draw conclusions about what makes a person the way they are – or perhaps, who they are – it is noteworthy that creativity, genius, or highly-creative individuals have been portrayed as prone for being tormented, having issues and generally being closer to mental disorder. This dates back to ancient times, where the poet, the philosopher, artist and politician were always seen as more prone for melancholia, as Aristotle notes. The pattern of insanity it seems is very similar to that of the creative genius. But what makes one creative? And is true creativity linked to mental disorders as a natural confluence of the two?
Of course a creative person’s abilities can be explained in two ways, on one hand an education, a nurturing that will lead that person to becoming more creative and on the other hand, actual natural differences in the brain.
In the 19th century, for instance, when actual studies of the brain were not yet possible, this question was answered more or less efficiently by trying to find traits of a creative person and associating them with creativity. In the book The Man of Genius by Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician, the traits that he found to be associated with creative genius were left handedness, stammering, a precocious development, as well as psychosis and neurosis.
Of course, these findings were more or less precise, though they were shared by creative minds such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, men of letters such as Jonathan Swift and also Lord Byron and more. So, the ancient link between a man of genius and mental problems continued to stand on its feet.
Now, some might argue that creativity and the actual brain make-up of that creative person won’t actually reveal anything of substance about that person. If, indeed genius is pre-determined, genetically, then it’s almost unimportant how those creative abilities emerge, how they substantiate.
However, the real important question is – can one become more creative, and ultimately, can one manage to stay away from mental issues while at the same being highly creative and productive?
One of the early studies, that began to be more structured, in an era where empirical studies were still not the norm, was Lewis M. Terman’s – Genetic Studies of Genius, a study that later set him up to be the first IQ test developer. In 1916, Terman managed to create a test that would showcase one’s IO, a test that also was based on works of French psychologist Alfred Binet. This was one of the first studies to actually lead to a practical result, as IQ testing differentiated individuals with greater intelligence.
However, as it has been shown later on, a great IQ would not make a person more creative; indeed, what we tend to take for granted today, that a creative genius is not a category of the high IQ population, was beginning to surface…
Intelligence is thus not the cornerstone of creativity; an individual with a high, though not very high IQ, say a 120 IQ person has enough intelligence to be a creative genius. So, quantifying intelligence can only reveal so much about one’s creativity. A way to find out that from a number of intelligent people is more prone to being creative is to consider two types of thinking: convergent and divergent thinking.
Convergent thinking is more prone to solving problems that have only one solution, while divergent thinking is best for creativity, showcasing those intellects that can think of more uses for an object, in other words, and working from the one to the many. Certainly there is creativity in both stances, but, convergent thinking is mostly found in sciences, while the later in arts and in areas where one is trying to create something by manipulating already existent shapes and forms into new ways.
In any case, we have reached an era where the secrets of those creative minds can be explored and quantified, which can lead to a better understanding of why do creative geniuses tend to veer towards patterns of mental issues, and maybe we’ll reach an era in the future where techniques can be created to improve creativity and to improve one’s minds organically, from the exterior inwards.