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The Process of Creativity

By Ana Drobot

What is creativity? What goes on during this process? Psychoanalysis gives us certain explanations on how this process is possible, and also on its benefits for both its author and public. Freud admitted to not being able to - fully, in my opinion- account for the artist's gift using the psychoanalytic method.

The creative process is, according to Freud, an alternative to neurosis, that is a defence mechanism protecting against neurosis, leading thus to the production of a socially acceptable source of entertainment and pleasure for the public. For the artist has the ability of turning his fantasies into artistic creations instead of into symptoms.

The unconscious plays a major role in the act of creation. That is, the act of creation is made possible by the libido, the energy of the id, and by a defence mechanism considered to be the most beneficial - sublimation. By turning the sexual desire into a cultural manifestation with the help of the ego, sublimation makes the thoughts of the unconscious more acceptable to the conscious and it also allows for something productive, and pleasant, for the others as well.

Art makes use of defence mechanisms such as condensation and displacement - terms also used for work on the dream process, due to the role of the unconscious in both creative and dream processes.

Art itself can be regarded as a defence mechanism. The artistic creation may be, for the artist, wish fulfillment or fantasy gratification of desires denied by the reality principle or prohibited by moral codes. Art is thus a means of giving expression to, and dealing with, various psychic pressures. The artist can work his fantasy - a substitute for satisfaction - by means of sublimation, into a socially acceptable form, art, that the others can enjoy. He works out the personal in his daydreams, fantasies into something he can share with the public.

Art is seen as a path linking fantasy and reality, the artist being able to regain contact with reality. Freud compares the artists' fantasies with children's fantasies: play involves control - keeping in touch with reality - as much as fantasy. Similarly to a child's play, the artist's fantasy moulds the external world to his desire, creating a world of fantasy where he can fulfill his unconscious wishes.

Some believe that creativity is intertwined with repression and pain. Freud did claim that the artists use their work to project in the outside world unfulfilled fantasies. However, in his view, a good poem is sublimation, and not a repression. Moreover, there is this ability of the artist to create and not become ill with neurosis.

And yet, to what extent does the creative process come out only from the unconscious material which might otherwise result in neurosis? And in a similar line of thought, to what extent can we recognize imaginative, original works from 're-fashioning of ready-made and familiar material' having as a source the unconscious?

Any artistic creation is a compromise between the unconscious and conscious intent of its author. According to Freud, the artist can choose and make changes in the unconscious material. This and the way the artist transforms his egotistic fantasies into something acceptable for public appreciation could be regarded as parts of the artist's gift. The fantasies of a man of artistic talent give us pleasure, while those of an ordinary day-dreamer could leave us indifferent, or bore or disgust us; or, while we might find that the fantasies of an ordinary day-dreamer have something in common to ours, his 'work' would not have the same value as a true, gifted artist's, and the day-dreamer will not be interested in sharing his 'work' and reworking it for the public.

However, how the artist accomplishes this effect of pleasure is, according to Freud, his 'innermost secret'. Same as the artist's gift and his work's value - as these cannot be explained by means of psychoanalytic study, as Freud put it. I'd say not completely explained, as he did try to give an account for it, but talent is not something that can be fully grasped by means of an explanation coming from any other domain. A work's value is judged by using formal, surface criteria; whereas psychoanalysis reveals what happens in the inner world of the artist and the public, and how it affects them both. Moreover, were talent explainable, we could all learn how to acquire this as a skill, which is not quite possible.


S. Freud: A Short Account of Psychoanalysis (1924)
S. Freud: Civilization and its Discontents (1930)
S. Freud: Creative Writers and Daydreaming (1908)
S. Freud: Delusion and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva (1907)
S. Freud: Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1910)
S. Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)


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