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Adolescence and Creativity

Creative capacity begins in adolescence with configuring developmental tasks

Although young children are often spontaneous, free, and seemingly creative they do not produce truly new and valuable products. By definition, therefore, they are not creative. Meaningful creativity begins in adolescence with the development of abstract thinking capacity together with the creative janusian, homospatial, and sep-con articulation processes. These processes derive first in adolescence from the effective shaping and adaptive fixation of modes of experiencing and dealing with adolescent psychological developmental tasks, crucial experiences in greater or lesser degree leading to mature adulthood. Some of this shaping may involve early turbulence because, for all adolescents, there is a tendency to overshoot goals.

Rebelliousness and the janusian process [actively conceiving and using multiple opposites or antitheses simultaneously]:

Source: Albert Rothenberg/Roman god Janus

The adolescent task feature of rebelliousness is an intrinsic part of attempts at independence from parents. Sometimes this is quite painful both for adolescents themselves and the parents who are the objects of their defiance. The strong component of opposition in rebelliousness, including opposition at some point to social as well as parental dictates, is unlike the short and superficial oppositional phases of 2-3 year olds in early childhood; it continues throughout adolescence until modified and worked through. Overall, it contributes as a developmental task through maturation to individuation or stable identity. For creatively motivated adolescents, opposition has divergent innovative effects and it is preserved as a basis for cognitive opposite dispositions that are incorporated within the janusian process. Everyone must remember that rebellion-tinged risk-taking is a frequent feature of teen age years and risk-taking of some degree also becomes characteristic of adult creativity.

Ambivalence and the shifting between opposite emotions and perspectives may also fuel unconventional thought and action and be experienced as intellectually broadening. Unrealistic adolescent ambivalent wishes to “have one’s cake and eat it too” are overcome by experience but they leave an imprint for janusian process cognitive and rational use of simultaneous opposites. My findings in extensive word association experiments were that creatively oriented Yale students, young adults just past adolescence, had a strong tendency to rapid opposite verbal response.

Spatial configuration and awareness and the homospatial process [actively conceiving and using two or more discrete entities in the same space or spatial location, a conception leading to the articulation of new integrations]

Albert Rothenberg/Homospatial Image
Source: Albert Rothenberg/Homospatial Image


Source: Albert Rothenberg/Roman god Janus

Adolescence is marked by bodily changes for both females and males. As we know, females develop breasts and start to menstruate while males are more aware of increase in girth and height relative to other males as well as females. Both genders develop increased capacity and interest in sexuality. Learning to adjust to the increased range and variety of sensations and the bodily occupation of space is a developmental task that leads to a range of outcomes from gratification to deprivation in adulthood. There are characteristic interests in sexual intermingling and sensation, romantic poetry with extended spatial metaphors, the bodily change and intriguing distortions of horror films, and explorations into futuristic and extraterrestrial space as well as the exaggerated sensations of a wide range of dance movement and music. Body and sensation pre-occupations as well as spatial alterations form a basis during adolescence for flexible orientations to space, and the use of mental superimpositions and interpositions of the homospatial process.

Individuation and the sep-con articulation process [actively conceiving and using concomitant separation and connection]:

Albert Rothenberg/sep-con articulation
Source: Albert Rothenberg/sep-con articulation

Achievement of individuation and psychological identity, a major developmental task of adolescence, requires acquisition of enduring connections together with separations from other people. Adaptive relationship with others, whether they are peers, lovers, parents, other authorities, or acquaintances, requires clear cut functional separation in the form of privacy and self-determination together with individual choice and values. At the same time, there is a need for connectedness involving co-operation, friendship, and productive association. This individuation is critical for psychological health and is an adaptive basis for both emotional and cognitive functioning. All or part of the process is necessary for effective divergence as well as courage within all types of creative processes. Whether consciously recognized or not, the structure of concomitant connection and functional separation becomes internalized and may begin to be used in the sep-con articulation process to produce creative integrations.

Commonly, both creative writers and literary critics assert that, unless persons are writing poetry in their forties, they are not poets. Nevertheless, adolescents do produce effective poetry and creative writing that may or may not continue throughout life. Other types of creativity that begin in adolescence are manifested in visual artistic pursuits, musical performance and composition, aspects of abstract and formal thinking capacities, and technical pursuits and exploration. These all develop rapidly during this period. Creative writing especially is often focused on personal feelings, ideas, and experiences and dramatizes a constantly changing and developing inner sense of self and identity. Formal features of poetry seem to provide a framework for experiencing a sense of order and organization. Experiencing success in any type of creative activity serves in adolescence both to facilitate a creative identity together with precursor cognitive factors.

Creative identity, the sense of oneself as a creative person, tends to start in adolescence and continue throughout life. This identity serves as a direct motivating factor for the acquisition of necessary skills and the pursuit of creative endeavors. Make no mistake, parental forcing of children to be creative certainly is not effective. Successful creation requires healthy psychological processes and the flower of healthy adolescent development.

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