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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

Since its inception, the psychology of creativity has been concerned primarily with the study of individual creators. In contrast, this research is dedicated to an exploration of (a) who has a significant impact on a creative professional's activity and (b) what the contribution is that others make to creative outcomes. The research included interviews with 60 professionals working in science and creative industries in France. The following categories of others emerged: family and friends, peers and students, clients and funders, critics and gatekeepers, and the general public – and they were related to themes depicting the interaction between these different others and the creator. Findings reveal both similarities and differences across the five domains in terms of the specific contribution of others to the creative process. Social interactions play a key formative, regulatory, motivational and informational role in relation to creative work. From ‘internalized’ to ‘distant’, other people are an integral part of the equation of creativity calling for a de-centring of the creative self and its re-centring in a social space of actions and interactions.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

Starting from the Renaissance and its emphasis on ‘great creators’ (Banaji, Burn & Buckingham, 2006), continuing with the late eighteenth and nineteenth century ‘elevation of the individual self’ (Weiner, 2000, p. 78), culminating in today's focus on creativity and cognition, creativity has consistently been ‘located’ inside individuals and their particular attributes (mental, neurological, genetic, etc.; see Glăveanu, 2010). And yet, ‘social and environmental factors seem to play a crucial role in creative performance’ (Amabile, 1996, p. 6; also Miettinen, 2006), particularly in organizational settings, but we are still struggling to understand this role and, moreover, to theorize it. The present article aims to address this gap and provide information related to: (a) who contributes to the creative expression of individual creators; (b) how this contribution is made, and (c) why others are an integral part of the creative process.

From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

Alongside a mainstream interest in creativity as an individual phenomenon, there has been a growing concern, largely since the 1980s, for the social aspects of creative production. Most notably, entire collections started to be dedicated to the topic of social creativity (see, for instance, Montuori & Purser, 1999) and a ‘social psychology of creativity’ formulated as such (Amabile, 1996). Despite the latter being an expanding branch, little work has been done to systematize its findings and actually integrate the multiple ways in which other people contribute to creativity (for a review, see Glăveanu, 2011) as well as the kinds of others involved by creative activity in various professional settings. What is attempted below is a brief synthesis of the different instances of ‘otherness’ required by creative acts. These instances, based on a review of relevant literature, are less focused on which particular others play a part in creative acts (e.g., friends, collaborators, etc.), but consider the nature of their relationship with creators (being part of their familiar environment, immediate or distant, connected through institutional arrangements or simply internalized by the creator). An attempt to map such differences (without aiming to exhaust all possibilities) is useful for locating our findings, something we will consider later in the final discussion.

The Familiar Other

An important social element in the life of any creator is represented by the people who surround him or her from early childhood onwards. This ‘familiar’ other, made up of family members but not exclusively, caught the interest of scholars, especially those preoccupied with psychobiography. Freud offers a well-known example in this regard (see the Leonardo da Vinci case study; Freud, 1989) through his fundamental assumption that childhood experiences, usually shaped by interactions with significant others, leave their mark on later creative production. This ethos was taken forward by subsequent studies focused on parental influences on creativity (see, for example, Deborah, 1993) without necessarily adopting a psychoanalytic perspective. Indeed, other explanations for why familiar others are indispensable for the genesis of creativity are possible, and we can be reminded here of Vygotsky's (1978) influential concept of zone of proximal development.

The Immediate Other

In a sense all familiar others are also ‘immediate’, considering the strong connections between them and creators usually spanning a long period of time. However, family members, for example, might play a great role relative to the formation of the creative self but have little impact on creative work directly. It is close collaborators who are necessarily present while the creative product is being shaped. The interest for this kind of direct social interaction is embodied today in two growing fields of study: group creativity and collaborative creativity. The former, mostly experimental in nature, recently developed a series of cognitive models in an effort to unpack the features of group interactions (see De Dreu, Nijstad & Van Knippenberg, 2008). Collaborative creativity research tended on the whole to adopt a socio-cultural paradigm (John-Steiner, 2000), emphasizing the long-term nature of collaborative encounters.

The Institutional Other

Whereas the previous two types of otherness considered mostly one-to-one interaction or collaboration in dyads and small groups, there is another, macro-social aspect to creativity that is addressed primarily by systemic models. Scholars like Csikszentmihalyi (1988) and Gruber (2005) are usually associated with the study of creators in relation to formally established groups represented by the network of experts or ‘gatekeepers’ of a certain domain. Csikszentmihalyi emphasized in his person–field–domain framework the fact that creativity can never be the act of a single individual but requires the existence of cultural domains and their ‘guardians’, e.g. museum curators, art critics, reviewers, etc. Gruber's evolving systems perspective contributes to this view by considering the relation between creators and experts in their transformation over time. As such, the institutional other, although not directly involved in acts of creation, makes them possible by legitimizing their existence and validating their final outcomes.

The Distant Other

With institutionalized social relations we moved already from the intimacy of familiar and immediate connections to the broader sphere of society and culture. The notion of a distant other continues this dimension and points to the fact that otherness is not only represented by identifiable family members, collaborators or institutions, but also constitutes the background element: collective others defining a certain Ortgeist and Zeitgeist. In this regard, Simonton's use of historometry illustrates current efforts to investigate how broader environmental variables impact the activity of celebrated creators. For Simonton, creative expression and its historical variations can be ‘attributed to changes in cultural, social, political, and economic circumstances’ (Simonton, 2003, p. 306). His detailed analyses demonstrated, for instance, an effect of political fragmentation and instability on entire generations (see Simonton, 1975), revealing the fact that distant, macro-social others need to be present in an ‘expanded’ equation of creativity.

The Internalized Other

Finally, we need to come full circle in our gradual movement from closer to more distant others and consider a fruitful line of research that argues for the existence of others within the creative self. This idea has been developed primarily by socio-cultural scholars who work on dialogicality and related issues. Indeed, for Marková, dialogicality is an essential attribute of the human mind: its capacity ‘to conceive, create and communicate about social realities in terms of the Alter’ (Marková, 2003, p. xiii). In other words, our thinking processes are shaped by the positions of others (the ‘alter’), positions we internalize and integrate in the way we talk and act on a daily basis. In terms of creativity, this basically means that creators are always in dialogue with a series of others, even while working in complete solitude. For authors like Barrett (1999), creativity thus becomes a social-dialogical process.

The Present Research

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

The study reported here employed thematic interviews with French professionals from the following domains: art, design, science, scriptwriting and music composition.1 Multiple domains were chosen in order to allow not only a domain-specific analysis (Baer, 1998), but also to achieve a comparative perspective. Moreover, relatively little is yet known about self–other relations in each of these five fields of creative production, and usually different authors focus on different social aspects for each professional setting.

For instance, much has been written about artistic expression and the networks of collaboration that support it (see Becker, 2008); in this regard, Freeman (1993) offered a comprehensive account of the various social dimensions of art from cultural images to the relation between artists and the market. In the case of designers, perhaps the most prominent type of social relation is that between creators, clients and users, the latter two establishing visible constraints on creative work (Löfqvist, 2010). Even in science, a domain traditionally associated with the image of lone geniuses, current literature tries to correct an individualistic bias and points to the collective efforts required by all great discoveries (see Collins, 2007). Scriptwriting, on the other hand, has been considered more consistently as a social type of practice (Conor, 2010), a practice born out of conversations with a series of others (Redvall, 2009). Finally, music composition is an equally socially embedded type of activity, especially in its improvisational forms; among them, jazz improvised performances have received considerable attention in recent decades (Sawyer, 2003).

In relation to all these domains, the present study, exploratory in nature, aims to answer the following questions: (a) who are the others contributing to creative work?; (b) what exactly is the nature of this contribution?; and (c) how can the role of others be explained and conceptualized? The first two objectives will be addressed in the results section whereas the third, more general (and ambitious) goal, will constitute the focus of the final discussion.

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

Participants

The sample for the present study consisted of 60 professional creators, living and working in France, 12 from each of the five domains: art, design, science, scriptwriting and music.2 These domains belong to the general field of Creative Industries because they are concerned with the generation and use of knowledge and information; although not formally part of the Creative Industries group (Department of Culture, Media and Sport, 2006), science also has an important part to play in the process of generating new knowledge. The main criterion for selection was expertise, most creators in the sample having between 10 and 20 years of professional experience. The actual selection of creators that corresponded to these criteria was convenience based. Over two-thirds of the participants were male; however, the distribution between sexes depended on domain and is indicated in Table 1. Age also varied, most respondents being between 40 and 50 years of age.

Table 1. Gender and Age of the Participants
 ArtDesignScienceScriptwritingMusicTotal
  1. * Missing values for age: 3 for design, 4 for science, 5 for music.

Male7S1161042
Female5416218
Mean age*4741424953 
SD age*9.0212.069.316.818.97 
Total121212121260

All participants had received higher education, usually in the domain of their current profession. Artists in the sample included painters and sculptors, a few of them working also with film and photography. Designers covered a greater range, from the production of decorative objects, interior design and furniture to visual communication, designing logos and packaging. Finally, scientists came from diverse scientific fields and the subset used for the analysis comprised six physicists (and astrophysicists), three mathematicians (theoretical and applied), two information and technology specialists and one chemist.

Material

The method used for data collection was semi-structured interviews using a similar topic guide across domains. Usually interviews lasted between one and two hours and covered a series of areas starting from a general presentation of the participant, a detailed description of his/her work, and ending with reflections on the creative process and the place of the creator in society. The analysis presented in this article focuses on those sections of the interviews that made reference to other people and how they contribute to the creative process. It was considered that semi-structured interviews represent an ideal method for data collection in this case as they can provide actual information but also, most importantly, the creator's own perspective on what is essential for his/her work and own reflections about the role played by others in creative expression (for the benefits of using this method, see Kvale, 1996; Gaskell, 2000). In the end, all interviews were transcribed verbatim for data analysis.

Data Collection

All participants were fully informed about the project and agreed to participate in the research. Anonymity was guaranteed and respondents are referred to below using code names (reflecting domain and order number). Interviews took place in 2010 either at their usual workplace or another location of their choosing; different research teams coordinated data collection in the five domains. No financial compensation was given for participation.

Data Analysis

All interviews were subjected to thematic analysis (Boyatzis, 1998; Attride-Stirling, 2001) by the first author. Initially the scripts of all the interviews were read and any mentioning of a social other (e.g., friend, colleague, the public, etc.) was highlighted. These instances were then grouped into five main categories: family and friends (the familial universe), peers and students (colleagues, including students in the case of university work), clients and funders (people who offer financial support and monitor the project), critics and gatekeepers (people who evaluate the creation and have a say in its distribution), and members of the general public (generally users and other people who are in contact with the final product). The sentences that referred to these categories of people were then selected and coded in terms of type of interaction. This resulted in a number of general themes defined and illustrated in the Appendix. These themes reflect actions directed by others towards the creator or joint activities. They were derived in a data-driven fashion by reading the relevant sentences and abstracting the main type of action using Atlas.ti. Quotations included under the same category were then read together to check whether themes could be merged or ‘split’ into different sub-themes. After establishing the final list of themes and their definition, a second researcher coded the whole art group (the first sample to be analysed) and agreement was found in over 90 per cent of the cases (discrepancies were them discussed in light of definitions and theoretical considerations). The themes, once coded, were finally associated to one of the five categories of others mentioned above and this allowed building the visual depiction of thematic networks presented in the next section.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

Family and Friends

In interviews with creators from all five domains, there were passages referring to family and friends and the kinds of interactions they have with the participants. In most cases creators mentioned showing their work to family and/or friends and even discussing it with them (especially scientists, designers, but also artists). A visual depiction of the thematic networks resulting for this category of others is presented in Figure 1. It can be noticed how some respondents, in particular designers and music composers, also rely on close friends for general feedback, checking if they ‘like’ the work. Often the creative product is shown not only when finished but while work is still in progress, which emphasizes the importance of getting another opinion or ‘view’ from significant others. Interestingly, one scriptwriter mentioned as well how showing work in progress can sometimes help ‘un-block’ (L7), and it is rare that one would ask a colleague or peer for this kind of support (L4); trusted friends are most likely to give a ‘honest opinion’ (L1, L5). Sometimes great ideas come from these interactions and the closeness of family relations fosters the trust necessary to present one's work and ask for another perspective.

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Figure 1. Themes Related to the Category ‘Family and Friends’

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One of the best illustrations concerning the role of close friends and family is found in the interview with artist A1. She discussed at length the great contribution her partner brings to her work through sharing ideas and ‘inspiring’ new developments. A1 said she ‘detests the solitude of the atelier’ and, after she has an initial ‘vision’ of the work to come, it is her partner who ‘questions’ this vision, helps clarify ideas and give them a certain ‘shape’. In the end, final artworks are the result of their ‘combined sensibilities’ and this is mostly because A1 and her partner have ‘common existential interests’, ‘the same creative values’. ‘And we decided to share these values in a creative domain. It is a little as if our creations are our children finally, because people share the same values in order to create a couple or have children’ (A1). Interestingly, these shared interests do not preclude friction. Indeed, A1 mentioned there is ‘a dimension of rebellion’ in her work and disagreement with her partner and close others plays a great role in formulating ideas, there is value in the ‘violence of the confrontation’. Similarly S4, a mathematician, commented on how close connections helped him build a ‘taste for mathematics’, the driving force behind his current activity. In the end, family and friends seem to be positioned between internalized and immediate others as their influence extends in time well beyond concrete moments of interaction and collaboration.

Peers and Students

Relations with peers (and, to a smaller extent, students) are widely discussed by creators from all domains, in particular scientists, scriptwriters and music composers. In most instances, creators acknowledged the fact that their work is an outcome of collaboration with peers and colleagues. Figure 2 lists some of the ways in which the latter impact on creative work from offering ideas, discussing current projects and sharing knowledge to testing concepts and dividing tasks. Often the beginning of a project is marked by an encounter (A4) and some creators clearly state they hate working alone (L4) because one cannot know or do everything (M6). For example, scriptwriting is fundamentally a team effort and ‘a scenario is not personal, it is shared work’ (L5). As such the typical way of creating involves constant interactions with co-writers (as well as the director and producer), a type of activity compared by some with a game of ping-pong (L2), a form of ‘back and forth’ (L10). In the end, this makes everything co-produced: ‘we don't know anymore who wrote what’ (L8). A similar dynamic is established among some of the musicians. Working with peers is stimulating (M3), although oftentimes marked by harsh criticism (M7). In their case, colleagues are not only fellow composers but also singers, members of the band or orchestra who will eventually play the piece, etc. Their feedback and contribution is often crucial because music essentially needs ‘coordination between writing and playing’ (M6), as well as ‘testing’ new ideas with instrumentalists (M7).

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Figure 2. Themes Related to the Category ‘Peers and Students’

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As the findings indicate, perhaps for no other domain are interactions with peers and students emphasized more than science. Colleagues are the ones with whom creators discuss (S4), and they have a crucial role in both getting and formulating ideas (S6, S8, S9). Indeed, they orient one's work and, more essentially, conversations with peers are usually the starting point for new projects because ‘what attracts colleagues attracts one as well’ (S3). In this regard, S1 mentioned: ‘When I became faculty, and started having my own projects, over 95 per cent of the time I spent discussing with others in a friendly, general manner, with colleagues who had similar interests meeting over a coffee. … And so, most of the projects develop this way, thanks to completely informal discussions with colleagues’. Work itself thus ‘advances through meetings’ (S4), through going and presenting at conferences and seminars (S7). Just like in the case of scriptwriters, the final product of scientific work is necessarily co-authored and it is hard to say ultimately ‘who had the initial idea for something’ (S7). In the end, a career in science is built by the chance of meeting certain people (S5), working in teams (S12) and complementing each other's areas of expertise (S11). Because of the usually close nature of these collaborations, peers (and students) can potentially be situated between familiar and immediate types of others.

Clients and Funders

A key ‘ingredient’ of any professional creative activity is represented not only by exchanges with peers but also the contributions made by clients and funders. These are essential in all domains but the ones who commented on these relations most were designers, scriptwriters and composers (respondents who regularly work with clients directly). Funders are more important for scientists and artists, especially those connected to the academic environment. As Figure 3 depicts, clients and funders play a series of roles in relation to creative production, most commonly giving instructions and feedback, proposing and clarifying ideas and setting deadlines. They also frequently decide when the project is ‘done’. Clients impose a series of constraints, and respondents need to conform to these because, in the words of one designer, ‘we also need to eat’ and earn a living (D1). But often constraints actually make the work easier (M6) and a collaborative effort is needed to understand what clients want, while bringing in something ‘personal’ (D3, M7, L6). It is regularly the case that the creator has to work ‘in reaction to propositions’ (M7).

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Figure 3. Themes Related to the Category ‘Clients and Funders’

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This ‘tension’ between constraints and creative freedom is stressed mostly by designers (e.g., D1, D2, D8, D9) who need to conform to the wishes of the client and this requires a lot of back and forth exchanges (D1, D8) especially at the start when the client gives a detailed account of what he or she wants. Designers, however, combine these guidelines with their own ideas and usually clients decide the content, whereas designers work on the form (D1). There is always room for creativity in the end because ‘even when we respond to a request … there are millions of possible answers and so unavoidably inspiration and creativity play a part in one moment or another’ (D4). Scriptwriters experience similar work relations. In this case, the client is usually the film director and producer and writers have to understand the resulting script and movie ‘is not theirs’ alone (L5). In the words of one of the participants, ‘in this job there is no other way than to take the comments given to you [by the director] into account’ (L10). Dialogue at the start to establish a ‘common ground’ is essential and writing itself is marked by constant interchanges (L1, L8, L9). In the end, one needs to reflect on criticism (L12) and the director ultimately decides when the work is ready to go (L1, L4; similar for design, D1, D7). It is important to understand therefore that, for many respondents, clients and funders are not only instances of institutionalized self–other relations, but also denote immediate and, at times, ‘intimate, devouring’ creative collaborations (L10).

Critics and Gatekeepers

Going further inside the domain of institutionalized relations, we find a creator's connection to critics and experts (‘gatekeepers’ of the domain) – people who are more ‘distant’ and often less identifiable than clients and funders. These relations were noted by participants from all five groups, mostly by scientists, followed by artists, scriptwriters and composers and finally by designers. It is interesting that, for designers, clients they work with directly seem to play a more significant role. Figure 4 outlines the ways in which criticism and evaluation from other professionals are received and responded to by our participants. To begin, there is a clear need for recognition on the part of creators. This need makes them sensitive to the opinion of experts and evaluations are capable of stirring emotions (both positive and negative), sometimes leading to a blocking effect (L7). Most of all, participants acknowledged that one is expected to promote one's work, and external appraisal can serve as means of gaining ‘capital’, both financial and symbolic, and establishing a name for oneself. Some do not appreciate this ‘marketing’ game very much and one of the artists lamented, for instance, the fact that the world of art is one of ‘connections, a real mafia’ (A4).

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Figure 4. Themes Related to the Category ‘Critics and Gatekeepers’

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The situation is not much different for science, where success is regularly measured in terms of awards and funding. S1 mentioned in this regard the fact that scientific work requires others to be interested in it, the ‘real reward’ one gets and a criterion for success (S1). Moreover, the greater scientific community plays a part not only in evaluating projects but also in guiding a scientist's efforts (S4, S5, S7). In the end, scientific work is always scrutinized and judged (S5, S8) and ‘the look of others is very important’ (S8). There are of course other dimensions as well to critical appraisal and scriptwriters, for instance, discussed the joy or suffering brought by external evaluation (L1). Recognition is very good but it can also bring a lot of envy, especially in the film industry (L6). Interestingly, several scriptwriters (and artists) mentioned the fact that, at the end of the day, ‘movies are not made to be liked by critics’ (L6). However, participants from this group also expressed the need to be valued more by both critics and larger audiences, and for their contribution to be recognized: ‘It is a great challenge of this profession, a real lack, as any scriptwriter would tell you. It is a question of place: we all need a place in the process of making a film’ (L10). It is members of the larger audience creators want to address in this regard, and this particular aspect is developed in the following section.

The General Public

The last category of others is represented by the general public. As mentioned from the beginning, creators from all domains acknowledged the fact that creative products are made for others to see and appreciate (A2), use and enjoy (D6). Ultimately, there is ‘a bit of narcissism’ (M1) in creating and presenting one's work. The need for social recognition, introduced above, extends to lay audiences. There is no surprise that this topic was discussed by participants from all five groups, as shown in Figure 5. The general public's evaluation can represent a source of feedback, stir emotions and offer creators some form of capital, again recalling the role played by critics and gatekeepers. However, unlike the former, members of the audience provide a different type of recognition because they are supposed to receive and actually ‘use’ the creative work, especially in design, music and cinema.

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Figure 5. Themes Related to the Category ‘General Public’

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It is important to note as well a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the general public, depending on the domain. Designers, for instance, openly admit their ‘need for approval’ (D6). Artists and music composers, while considering this type of feedback ‘very important’ (A2), are more likely to say they ‘don't make works to seduce other people’ (A7) or ‘please them’ (M8). However, appreciation by others is part of being a successful musician (M3, M9), being recognized as an artist (A9) and it ultimately makes one feel good and motivated to continue (A7). In the words of one participant, ‘I think it is difficult to make a piece that is not listened to. And for me this would be painful. But I think this is not just me, I mean when we make such a product, we want it to be understood’ (M10). This dimension is particularly important for those categories of creators frustrated by what they see as a lack of social recognition. This is the case for designers (D7) and, to a greater extent, scriptwriters. L10 talks in this regard about a feeling of ‘humiliation’, of not finding one's place in the process of making a movie, ‘a position that would be fair and acknowledged by all’. In the end, members of the general public appear to stand between distant and internalized others because of their capacity to establish systems of recognition based on criteria internalized by the creators themselves.

Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

The findings above reflect the multiple ways in which professional creators interact with others in order to produce their work. One of the main benefits of conducting this research rests with the fact that recognized creators from science and creative industries were interviewed and their answers analysed using the same conceptual framework. This allows a comparative approach, relatively rare in the literature (with some exceptions; see Gardner, 1993; John-Steiner, 2000). Table 2 tries to capture similarities and differences between groups by summarizing, in the five domains, the number of themes for each of the five categories of others identified in this study. The greater the number of themes, the more diversified the role that particular type of other played for the creative process and, presumably, the more significant the contribution to creativity in that specific professional domain. When reading the table what needs to be taken into account is the qualitative nature of the research and the fact that number of themes is used here to indicate certain tendencies and not to show what type of social relations are more ‘important’; they are rather a marker of significance, one that needs to be corroborated by further research.

Table 2. Number of Themes Associated with Each Category of Others in the Five DomainsThumbnail image of

Table 2 also tentatively tries to integrate information about the instances of others identified as part of the theoretical review (see the first section), with the five different types of others emerging from the data. Based on the present findings, we can potentially situate Family and Friends between internalized and familiar others, Peers and Students between familiar and immediate others, Clients and Funders between immediate and institutional others, Critics and Gatekeepers between institutional and distant others, and the General Public between distant and internalized others. These associations are preliminary in nature and their aim is to make us reflect on the relationship between self and other and not to suggest that certain others (e.g., friends) represent exclusively and in all circumstances a certain type of relationship with the creator (e.g., familiar and internalized, etc.).

In essence, Table 2 indicates that slightly more themes related to Family and Friends were found in interviews with artists and designers; scientists and scriptwriters gave more elaborate accounts concerning Peers and Students; designers referred in more detail to Clients and Funders (followed by scriptwriters and composers); scientists discussed Critics and Gatekeepers (and so did artists and scriptwriters); and the General Public was commented on ‘equally’ by almost all creators. This table indicates that, unlike the professional domains within the Creative Industries, scientists discuss more extensively both the role of their peers and gatekeepers of their domain, showing the importance of the system of peer review for their creativity and its validation. Within the Creative Industries, designers, but also scriptwriters and composers, deal with clients and funders more significantly than artists. Interestingly, these tendencies resonate to a large extent with findings from studies using other methodologies. The art world (Becker, 2008) is shaped to a significant degree by critics, gatekeepers and the lay public. The connection between designers and their clients has been scrutinized especially in relation to web design, where authors like Chevalier and Ivory (2003) linked expertise and constraints set by clients with designers' cognitive functioning. The literature on scientific creativity and, in particular, scientists' relations with peers and critics, is quite extensive and illustrated by studies of great creators (Gardner, 1993; Gruber, 2005), and scientific networks (Collins, 2007). Scriptwriters are equally marked by collaborations with peers and producers, and Redvall, for example, insisted in her work on ‘the importance of a detailed account of a highly collaborative way of working that challenges the traditional, more compartmentalized view of the filmmaking process’ (Redvall, 2009, p. 35). Finally, music composers relate frequently in their activity to peers, clients and the general public, although literature on this topic is scarce.

If the discussion above focused on who and how others contribute to the creative process, as friends and collaborators, clients, critics or general audiences, there is still the important question of why their role is significant. This is the third and last question of the study, one tentatively answered here based on an integration and final interpretation of the results. What the data seem to suggest is four main types of contributions others make to the creativity of an established creator, independent of domain: formative, regulatory, motivational and informational. Before proceeding to a discussion of each, in turn, it is important to note that these roles are not mutually exclusive and successful creative collaborations, for instance – often at the root of notable achievements in science and creative industries – probably engage all of these functions in an optimal form of interplay.

To start, other people, in particular what we referred to here as family, friends and peers, have a formative role by contributing greatly to the development of the creator and his/her creative attitudes and aptitudes. This is the most basic function social relations play with reference to creativity and it has been repeatedly noted by participants from different domains: ‘ultimately, one doesn't learn anything alone, completely alone’ (S10), ‘composition is not taught, it is learned in encounters’ (M11), etc. This resonates with the Vygotskian approach outlined in the introduction, claiming the importance of social interaction for the formation and development of psychological processes. Indeed, creative achievement is inconceivable outside of an environment that fosters the gradual formation of abilities and accumulation of knowledge and, through deliberate practice, of expertise (Ericsson, 1998). This environment is composed of other people, the ones who support the creator, including by establishing apprenticeships (Rogoff, 2003). As knowledge is fundamentally social by means of its construction and transmission (Jovchelovitch, 2007), the source of all creation – largely based on the transformation of existing knowledge – can be found in social interactions and here is where the formative role played by others becomes obvious. It is important to note that these formative influences are internalized in time and support creative production years after their assimilation (see also the theory of dialogicality).

In addition, others also have a regulatory function based on setting up constraints and guiding creative expression. This role is primarily associated with clients, funders and critics, even peers. Indeed, for scientists, peers and funders can orient creative work (S2), give it a new direction (S10) and guide one's creativity by focusing it on what interests other colleagues as well (S3). Clients, on the other hand, are not always easy to handle but an ‘intelligent request’ can make a designer work better on any project (D7). In music too, having a good client brief can make things a lot easier because composition ‘becomes more structured’ (M6). This is also acknowledged by authors like Kaschub (1997, p. 27), who made the following observations: ‘inexperienced musicians may simply be overwhelmed when asked to compose without guidelines or rules’. However, this is not only the case for musicians or ‘inexperienced’ creators. Constraints and rules are broadly recognized to constitute the basis for creative production (Rickards, 1993) and when they do not come from the ‘outside’, they are self-imposed (see Stokes, 2007). By setting initial guidelines, others are capable of directing the creative process and, while reducing the number of possibilities, increase creativity inside the ‘space’ of the project.

What becomes transparent from the above is the fact that social influences are not external to the creator but shape the dynamics of creativity from ‘within’. This is further illustrated by the motivating role other people play in relation to creative work. The presence of others and interaction with them, from family to members of the general public, has the capacity to energize creators and give them a sense of purpose. The need for social recognition was strongly felt by participants from all the five domains. In the words of one of the musicians, ‘when you feel appreciated you have a desire to continue’ (M8). The issue of motivation has been widely studied in the psychology of creativity by scholars like Amabile (1996), who formulated the ‘intrinsic motivation principle’ and considered intrinsic motives to foster creative expression in contrast to extrinsic ones. Is the need for recognition an extrinsic type of motivation? Presumably so; however, we argue that social motivation can and does interact with, even stimulate, task-oriented motivation. This is also illustrated by recent group creativity models such as the ‘Motivated Information Processing in Groups Model’ (De Dreu et al., 2011) postulating that creativity is higher when group members combine epistemic and pro-social motivation. Important to note, others exert a motivational role not only by means of encouraging collaboration and offering recognition, but also through competition. Indeed, scientists were the first to acknowledge the importance of creating within a very competitive environment (marked by ‘fierce competition’, S8). Reflecting again a motivational law, one of the scriptwriters mentioned in this regard that ‘too much praise and too much criticism can be equally blocking’ (L7).

Finally, others also play an informational role in relation to creative production. This is arguably one of the most significant contributions made to the actual generation of a creative outcome, and it has been studied widely by scholars focused on both group and collaborative creativity (see the notion of immediate others). What is the kind of support implied here? To begin, ‘seeing how others look at things helps one perceive them as well’ (A5) and provides a kind of ‘third eye’ (A8) indispensable for gaining a new perspective on the product being created. These observations made by artists are highly significant. They point to what Bakhtin (1984) called a ‘surplus of vision’ others have, helping creators understand themselves and their work. Respondents explained the mechanism by which this ‘surplus’ becomes incorporated and facilitates their activity. One of the designers mentioned the fact that others ‘allow you to distance yourself a bit from your work and reflect on it’ (D3); similarly a scriptwriter said ‘I wrote all these scenarios with someone else. I need someone else to open perspectives for me, to prevent me from turning around in my own madness’ (L3). This is indicative of the possible traps of working in complete solitude: one can easily become ‘obsessed’ with one's initial ideas, thus eliminating possibilities for divergent thinking. The detachment provided by interaction with others (A11) and the reflection their feedback stimulates (M10) are therefore essential aspects of the creative process; in this regard, the types of ‘information’ others provide range from knowledge of the project to knowledge of the self. Position exchange theory (see Gillespie, 2012) has the potential to provide new avenues for creativity theory by stressing the fact that inter-subjective exchanges allow the individual actor to adopt a perspective outside of the immediate situation and thus lift him/herself from it, from a position dictated exclusively by one's own involvement and relation to the world. In the words of one scientist (S12), the other can sometimes act like a ‘mirror’, but it is one that shows you not only what you already see and know – it reveals your own position and perspective as one among many.

Concluding Remarks

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

The present article proposed an integrated framework for considering the social aspects of creativity and ‘tested’ it using interviews with creators from science and creative industries. This framework hopes to bring not only conceptual clarity but also stimulate further investigations into types of others and their role for creative work. Moreover, the four main ‘explanations’ for why others make creativity possible can be more widely used to conceptualize collective creative action thus building a more comprehensive social psychology of creativity. It would be useful, in future research, to identify the function other people play in relation to the different stages of the creative process. This has been attempted based on interview material (Glăveanu et al., 2013), but should ideally result from a longitudinal observation of creative work. Moreover, future studies can also focus more on different sciences as the present research included mostly creators from artistic/creative industry fields. In the end, all these efforts aim to ‘de-centre’ creativity from the space of the self and ‘re-centre’ it into a space of self–other relations. In Piaget's (2007) terms, the process of decentration marks precisely this transition from an egocentric view of the world to one in which the subject becomes capable, through social interaction, of understanding other perspectives. It is timely for the psychology of creativity as a whole to engage in a similar process, key for both theorizing and cultivating creative acts.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies

This research was financed by a grant from the French national Research agency (ANR CREAPRO). The two authors would like to thank the members of the research team for this project: Nathalie Bonnardel, Marion Botella, Pierre-Marc de Biaisi, Myriam Desainte-Catherine, Asta Georgsdottir, Katell Guillou, Gyorgy Kurtag, Christophe Mouchiroud, Martin Storme, Alicja Wojtczuk and Franck Zenasni.

Notes
  1. 1

    In this article code names are used to identify respondents in order to respect anonymity: D stands for designer, A for artist, S for scientist, M for musician and L for scriptwriter (the literary domain).

  2. 2

    This data is part of a larger dataset from a funded project coordinated by the second author and aiming to uncover the stages and processes of creativity in different domains (see Glăveanu et al., 2013).

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  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies
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Appendix: The Coding Frame

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies
ThemeDefinitionExample
Get inspiredOthers represent a source of inspiration for the creatorSometimes the start of a project is the encounter with another artist; work in general is influenced by the work of others (artist)
Show workThe creator shows work (in progress or finished) to othersIt is important to have one or two trusted friends who read your work and give an honest opinion about it (scriptwriter)
Discuss workThe creator discusses work (in progress or finished) with othersThe partner is the first to discuss a new idea with and the final project reflects the ‘sensibilities’ of both people (artist)
Checking if likedThe creator checks if others like the work (in progress or finished)One has to show the work to friends and see what people generally like (designer)
Propose ideasOthers propose ideas the creator can incorporate in his/her workThe client gives the content but the designer works on the form and there are many back and forth exchanges (designer)
Clarify ideasOthers help the creator clarify his/her ideasIt is important to explain your work because that allows you to distance yourself a bit from it and clarify your thoughts (designer)
Test ideasOthers can help the creator test his/her ideasWanting to hear the music played by instrumentalists, to ‘test’ it before considering it done, making final corrections (composer)
Give feedbackOthers offer feedback to the creatorIt is good to reflect on and understand criticism; at times you get very few comments back from the producer (scriptwriter)
Get instructionsOthers give the creator instructions about how to proceedThe client establishes the guidelines; at the beginning a very specific account from the client is needed (designer)
Friction can help clarify ideasThe tension with others can help the creator clarify his/her ideasFriction is necessary; confrontation with others can help clarify things; the violence of the confrontation is important (artist)
Help unblockOthers can help the creator unblock (in situations where he or she feels ‘blocked’)Friends can help you un-block and it is rare to go and ask a colleague for ideas (scriptwriter)
Share knowledgeOthers share their knowledge and expertise with the creatorYou gain considerable time by discussing with others and sharing their knowledge (scientist)
Exchange ideasCreator and others exchange ideas important for the creative workA lot of interactions and dialogue at the start with the director and then working alone but with constant interchanges (scriptwriter)
Divide workThe creator divides work with others in different stages of the processSometimes doing the continuity of dialogue together or splitting scenes and working separately (scriptwriter)
Set deadlinesOthers set deadline for the creatorFinally the client also sets deadlines and he is to decide when the project is finished (designer)
Need to collaborateThe creator refers to his/her need to collaborate, to work with othersNot liking to write alone, loving collaboration and working with the same people (scriptwriter)
Need to please fundersThe creator discusses his/her need to please fundersIn science you need to respect deadlines and be accountable for your work (scientist)
Some projects have no clientThe creator mentions work that was not ordered by a client and what is specific about itMost art is produced for oneself, from a need to express, and doesn't come from an external demand (artist)
Hard to please clientsThe creator refers to the difficulties in pleasing clientsAt times it is hard to please clients; the director might like it but not the sub-director (composer)
Helped to develop a taste for the subjectOthers help the creator develop a taste for his/her professional domainThe family environment helped develop an inquisitive nature and the aspiration to learn more about the world (scientist)
Need recognitionThe creator refers to his/her need for social recognitionBeing of an extreme permeability; an absolute need for recognition which is the starting point of artistic work (artist)
Promoting workThe creator is engaged in promoting work to othersThere is a bit of marketing in promoting your work, you need to have others interested in it, especially funders (scientist)
Work not made for criticsThe creator considers he/she is not creating to please the criticsThe relation with critics can bring joy or suffering but it does not generally affect how the work is formulated (scriptwriter)
Work not made to ‘seduce’The creator considers he/she is not supposed to ‘seduce’ others through the workI don't want to make works to seduce other people (artist)
Outcomes made for othersThe creator considers that creative outcomes are made for others (to see, use, appreciate, etc.)In the end, the objects are not made for self, but for others to see and enjoy (designer)
Work for others but not to ‘seduce’ themThe creator considers that creative outcomes are made for others but not with the purpose of ‘seducing’ themNeed others to confirm that the work is good, give the criteria for success, but at the same time the creation is not made to please them (composer)
Stir emotionsContact with others stirs emotions in the creatorThe recognition of others gives pleasure, it is important (artist)
Critics being blockingThe creator experiences critics as blockingToo much praise and too much critique can be equally blocking (scriptwriter)
A world of relationsThe creator refers to his/her domain as a work of relations and networkingThe world of art is a world of networks and relations, of knowing others, it is a kind of mafia (artist)
Envy and competitionThe creator refers to his/her domain as marked by envy and competitionThere is a lot of envy in the film industry and the only friends are close collaborators (scriptwriter)
Gain capitalThe creator refers to gaining capital (material and/or symbolic) through the workHow one is perceived in the scientific community is important and can lead to material gains (scientist)

Biographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. From Self to Other(s) in the Psychology of Creativity
  5. The Present Research
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion: How and Why Others Matter in Creativity
  9. Concluding Remarks
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
  12. Appendix: The Coding Frame
  13. Biographies
  • Vlad Petre Glăveanu (vlad@hum.aau.dk) is Associate Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark. He gained his PhD from the London School of Economics with a thesis that elaborates a cultural psychology of creativity applied to the context of folk art. He has written articles on different aspects of creativity (creativity and culture, creativity development, creativity in groups, etc.) in various journals, including Review of General Psychology, Creativity Research Journal, Journal of Creative Behavior, Thinking Skills & Creativity, Culture & Psychology, New Ideas in Psychology and Theory & Psychology). He is also editor of an open access peer-reviewed journal, Europe's Journal of Psychology (EJOP).

  • Todd Lubart (Todd.Lubart@parisdescartes.fr) is Professor at the University Paris Descartes where he directs the activity of the Laboratoire Adaptations Travail Individu (LATI). His work on creativity is extensive and includes publications, articles, books and book chapters covering various aspects of the phenomenon: creative process, individual differences, role of cognition and emotion, environmental and cultural factors, etc. His co-authored books include Defying the Crowd: Cultivating Creativity in a Culture of Conformity (1995, with R. Sternberg), Psychologie de la créativité (2003, with C. Mouchiroud, S. Tordjman and F. Zenasni) and the co-edited volume Models of Intelligence: International Perspectives (2003, with R. Sternberg and J. Lautrey).