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Myths of Creativity and Creators – How They Hold Us Back

“I just thought making movies was something done by geniuses, and I was very clear that I wasn’t one of those.” Jane Campion

When “The Artist’s Way” author and creativity coach Julia Cameron has asked people to list ten traits they think artists have, their responses have included: “Artists are broke,” “Artists are crazy,” “Artists are drug-addicted” and “Artists are drunk.”

Other myths and ideas about being an artist:

“Artists must be poor and sacrifice their well-being for their art.”

“Artists should accept the solitary life and find solutions on their own.”

“You can’t be a mother and a successful artist.”

“Artists are right-brained and aren’t very good at left-brain stuff like running a business.”

As creative people, even after achieving some recognition for our talents, we can experience self-critical thoughts and insecurity, such as impostor feelings – sometimes based on these kinds of myths we have picked up about creative “genius” or artists.

Director, writer and producer Jane Campion, praised for “The Piano” and other films, once commented, “I never have had the confidence to approach film making straight on. I just thought it was something done by geniuses, and I was very clear that I wasn’t one of those.”

From my article Being Creative and Self-critical.

Waiting for a muse

Are you waiting for a muse? Are you telling yourself you are not creative?

Those are two of the limitations creativity author Michael Michalko addresses in his article The Seven Deadly Sins that Prevent Creative Thinking.

He says, “We believe many of the myths about creativity that have been promulgated over the years. We’re told creativity is rare, mysterious, magical and comes from a universal unconsciousness, a sudden spark of ‘Aha!’ or the divine.

“We believe we cannot learn how to be creative. We believe creative types are depressed, crazy, unbalanced, special, different, abnormal, blessed, and trouble makers. Normal educated people cannot be creative and should not embarrass themselves by trying.”

From my post How to Stop Your Creative Thinking.

Natalie Portman once admitted, “Sometimes I get scared that I’m not a creative person, because it seems creative people are really flaky…” (Esquire, Aug 2004)

Destructive consequences of creative genius ideas

Margaret A. Boden, Research Professor of Cognitive Science at Sussex University, notes how we think of ourselves is crucial for creative risk-taking.

“A person needs a healthy self-respect to pursue novel ideas, and to make mistakes, despite criticism from others.

“Self-doubt there may be, but it cannot always win the day. Breaking generally-accepted rules, or even stretching them, takes confidence. Continuing to do so, in the face of scepticism and scorn, takes even more.”

But, she adds, “The romantic myth of ‘creative genius’ rarely helps. Often, it is insidiously destructive. It can buttress the self-confidence of those individuals who believe themselves to be among the chosen few (perhaps it helped Beethoven to face his many troubles).

“But it undermines the self-regard of those who do not. Someone who believes that creativity is a rare or special power cannot sensibly hope that perseverance, or education, will enable them to join the creative elite. Either one is already a member, or one never will be.”

From her book The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms.

Another book of hers: Creativity and Art: Three Roads to Surprise.

This self concept-related form of creative mythology is also addressed by Jonah Lehrer in his article How To Be Creative:

“Creativity can seem like magic. We look at people like Steve Jobs and Bob Dylan, and we conclude that they must possess supernatural powers denied to mere mortals like us, gifts that allow them to imagine what has never existed before.

“They’re ‘creative types.’ We’re not.”

He continues, “But creativity is not magic, and there’s no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels.

“It’s a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems.”

His new book covers a lot more about developing creativity and innovation: Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Also see my post Jonah Lehrer on the Science of Creativity & Innovation.

Thinking of, studying, emulating creative role models can be motivating for many people. But comparing our creative work – and more importantly, ourselves – with accomplished creators we admire can also lead to inhibiting self-criticism.

Years ago when I was ‘dabbling’ in photography, as fun and interesting and satisfying as it was, at times I tended to perfectionistically compare what I was creating with people like Irving Penn and Jerry Uelsmann, and think there was “no chance” I could reach that level of mastery.

Too healthy to be creative

In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron, PhD writes about some of the stereotypes of creative people, including the entrenched myth of the crazy artist:

“It is part of the myth or archetype of the artist that any psychological help will destroy creativity by making the artist too normal.”

She continues, “But a highly sensitive artist in particular had better think deeply about the mythology surrounding the artist. The troubled, intense artist is one of the most romantic figures in our culture, now that saints, outlaws and explorers are on the wane. I recall a creative-writing teacher once listing nearly every famous author on the blackboard and asking us what they had in common.

“The answer was attempted suicide. I’m not sure the class saw it as a tragedy so much as a romantic aspect of their chosen career. But as a psychologist as well as an artist, I saw a deadly serious situation.”

From my post You want to be an artist? Are you crazy?

A few more posts on this topic:

Artists are Crazy; Mothers Can’t Be Artists, and Other Myths

Scrapping The Starving Artist Mythology

Creative inspiration – R. Keith Sawyer on myths of creativity

Myths Of Creativity in Business

David Burkus on Myths of Creativity


Myths of Creativity and Creators – How They Hold Us Back

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2015). Myths of Creativity and Creators – How They Hold Us Back. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Jan 2015
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