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Supplemental Essay: Creativity


This supplemental essay contains quotes and expanded explanations as background for the material in the main essay. You can skip this supplemental essay if you're not interested in the details.

In the main essay I said that other psychologists describe creativity as a union of two opposing themes: the unconscious/feminine/fantasy interacting with consciousness/masculine/reality.


In "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning," Sigmund Freud said that art reconciles fantasy and reality: "An artist is originally a man who tums away from reality because he cannot come to terms with the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction which it at first demands, and who allows his erotic and ambitious wishes full play in the life of phantasy. He finds a way back to reality, however, from this world of phantasy by making use of special gifts to mould his phantasies into truths of a new kind, which are valued by men as precious reflections of reality."[1]


In his book Motivation and Personality Abraham Maslow said that there are two stages to creativity: An initial creative urge, which he characterizes as the Dionysian or "feminine" stage, and then the rigorous polishing of the final product, which he calls the Apollonian or "masculine" stage. "[T]he great work needs not only the flash, the inspiration, the peak experience, it also needs hard work, long training, unrelenting criticism, perfectionistic standards." Maslow says that after the flash of inspiration comes the hard work of preparing the inspiration for a larger audience: "If I may say it so, the secondary processes now take over from the primary, the Apollonian from the Dionysian, the 'masculine' from the 'feminine.' The voluntary regression into our depths is now terminated, the necessary passivity and receptivity of inspiration or of peak experience must now give way to activity, control, and hard work."[2]


In The Origins and History of Consciousness Erich Neumann says, "Every culture-hero has achieved a synthesis between consciousness and the creative unconscious. He has found within himself the fruitful center, the point of renewal and rebirth which, in the New Year fertility festival, is identified with the creative divinity, and upon which the continued existence of the world depends."[3]


In Psychological Types Jung says that creativity originates with weak functions and elements (memories, etc.) residing in the subconscious. The normal level of libido (mental energy) attached to them is relatively low compared to that of the conscious functions and elements, and conscious functions override and mute unconscious functions. But occasionally excess libido accrues to an unconscious element, and it rises to consciousness as a lucky hunch or illumination or symbol or fantasy.[4]


To sum up, he says "Thus, besides the [conscious] will, which is entirely dependent on its content, man has a further auxiliary in the unconscious, that maternal womb of creative fantasy, which is able at any time to fashion symbols in the natural process of elementary psychic activity, symbols that can serve to determine the mediating will. I say 'can' advisedly, because the symbol does not of its own accord step into the breach, but remains in the unconscious just so long as the energic value of the conscious contents exceeds that of the unconscious symbol. Under normal conditions this is always the case; but under abnormal conditions a reversal of value sets in, whereby the unconscious acquires a higher value than the conscious. The symbol then arises to the surface without, however, being taken up by the will and the executive conscious functions, since these, on account of the reversal of value, have now become subliminal. The unconscious, on the other hand, has become supraliminal, and an abnormal state, a psychic disturbance, has supervened."[5]


Erich Neumann agrees with Jung's description of the creative process and elaborates upon it: "The fascination of an unconscious content lies in its power to attract the conscious libido, the first symptom of which is a riveting of attention upon that content. If the attraction grows stronger, the libido is sucked away from consciousness, and this may express itself in a lowering of consciousness, fatigue, depression, etc." At this point three things can happen:

  1. Illness: If the unconscious content continues to be repressed and kept out of the sight of the conscious ego then the ego suffers from the loss of libido (mental energy), and the unconscious content becomes a disturbing factor: "In an illness the activation of the unconscious content by an afflux of libido manifests itself in the form of disturbances, symptoms, and so forth."

  2. Creativity: In the creative individual, the unconscious content charged with libido works its way upward, "spontaneously combines with consciousness and expresses itself in creativity. [...] Manifestations of the unconscious in the form of images, ideas, thoughts, etc. are experienced by the ego as pleasurable. The joy of the creative process springs from the suffusion of consciousness with the libido of the hitherto unconsciously activated content."

  3. Conscious realization: The ego notices a disturbance in the unconscious and reaches downward, perhaps via a means like free association, meditation, or self-inventory, to connect with the unconscious disturbance: "The act of conscious realization consists in the ego deliberately leading the mind and the free libido at its disposal towards the focus of fascination. The libido activating the unconscious system as its emotional component, and the libido of the recognizing and realizing ego system, flow together in the act of recognition into a single stream. This confluence is perceived by the ego as pleasurable, and this is so in any genuine realization, in any new recognition or discovery, and again whenever a complex is broken down or an unconscious content assimilated." Neumann says that the unconscious content can appear "as an image, a dream, fantasy, an idea, a 'hunch’ or a projection." And when unconscious contents are assimilated, it is "felt subjectively, as excitement, vivacity, and a joy that sometimes borders on intoxication; and, objectively, as a heightening of interest, a broadened and intensified capacity for work, mental alertness, etc."[6]


The mechanism for "creativity" and "conscious realization" is the same: A bridge is built between consciousness and unconscious, permitting a synthesis of the two: "The pleasure and enrichment of libido resulting from conscious realization and creativity are symptomatic of a synthesis in which the polarity of the two systems, conscious and unconscious, is temporarily suspended."[7] But Neumann describes creativity as a process of unconscious contents bursting into the conscious mind unbidden, as though the artist were possessed by those contents; whereas "conscious realization" is more deliberate, a process of ruminating and striking upon a solution or novel approach.

Link: Return to Sensing (S)

~Posted April 4, 2024


[1] Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to the Self (Free Press, 1988), p. 68; excerpted from Sigmund Freud, "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning", Standard Edition, XII, p. 224.

[2] Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, rev. Frager and Fadiman (Pearson Education, Inc., 1987), pp. 207-208.

[3] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XLII (Princeton University Press, 1954, First Princeton Classics edition, 2014), p. 212.

[4] C.G. Jung, Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 6), trans. H.G. Baynes, rev. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XX (Princeton University Press, 1971, First Princeton/Bollingen Paperback printing, 1976), p. 112.

[5] Ibid., pp. 113-114.

[6] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XLII (Princeton University Press, 1954, First Princeton Classics edition, 2014), pp. 342-343, text and footnote.

[7] Ibid., p. 343 footnote.

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