Creativity is Essential: The Ideas of D.W. Winnicott

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Creativity is not an activity restricted to artists, writers, or a “creative class”: it is rather the “colouring of the whole attitude to external reality.” 

Creativity is not dispensable. Creative “apperception more than anything else … makes the individual feel that life is worth living.” The creative approach to life is contrasted with that of compliance. Compliance recognizes “the world and its details … as something to be fitted in with or demanding adaptation. Compliance carries with it a sense of futility for the individual and is associated with the idea that nothing matters…”

One often needs to experience a small measure of creativity in order to realize just how uncreatively one has lived: “…many individuals have experienced just enough of creative living to recognize that for most of their time they are living uncreatively, as if caught up in the creativity of someone else, or of a machine.”

It is probably wrong to think of creativity as something that can be destroyed utterly. Even in the most extreme cases of compliance and the establishment of a false personality, “hidden away somewhere there exists a secret life that is satisfactory because of its being creative or original to that human being.” The unsatisfactory nature of such a life resides in its being hidden, as it not enriched through living experience. In its most extreme case, all that is personal and original and creative is hidden, and such an individual “would not really mind whether he or she were alive or dead…Suicide is of small importance when such a state of affairs is powerfully organized in an individual, and even the individual himself or herself has no awareness of what might have been or what has been lost or missing.”

The creative impulse is not only something that is necessary for the artist to produce a work of art, it is “something that is present when anyone…looks at a healthy way at anything or does anything deliberately…”

As a Psychoanalyst who worked with both children and adults, Winnicott sought not to explain the creative impulse, but to study the reasons why “creative living can be lost and why the individual’s feeing that life is real or meaningful can disappear.”

Whether or not the individual can live creatively is “directly related to the quality or quantity of environmental provision at the beginning or in the early phases of each baby’s living experience.”  Both child and adult play – or learn to play – in treatment. “The reason why playing is essential is that it is in playing that the patient is being creative.”

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