I’m Geena Matuson,
arts technologist, educator,
author and speaker.

A multimedia storyteller, I use print, digital, web, video and social to tell cohesive stories that prioritize relationships.

Creativity is a spectrum: everyone is creative to varying degrees

Creativity is a spectrum: everyone is creative to varying degrees

I carried my previous conversation with Ryan to another friend, stating “all entrepreneurs are creative, and all ‘creatives’ have the propensity to be entrepreneurs.”

Image by Geena Matuson (@geenamatuson). Original photograph provided by Death to the Stock Photo.

Image by Geena Matuson (@geenamatuson). Original photograph provided by Death to the Stock Photo.

Patrick Prioletti is a graduate student studying Applied Data Science at The Syracuse University School of Information Studies (or, “The iSchool”). He was brought into the Blackstone LaunchPad to help with data analysis, and is helping me implement the functionality of email integration on the LaunchPad's new website. We spoke about the Myers-Briggs "personality inventory," a questionnaire based on Jungian psychology, and he told me how flawed it is. We segued from one topic to the next, and I shared this realization about creatives. In contrast to Ryan, Patrick's father is one of the biggest real estate developers in the city.

“So what you're saying is that creativity is a spectrum, and there are two ends of that spectrum,” Patrick offered. I agreed, and told him that was a fantastic way of seeing things. By using the word “spectrum,” you acknowledge a single system in which a variety of individual ideas overlap and form a continuous sequence.

“If we're thinking about it that way,” Patrick continued, “then there aren't two classes of people. There isn't just a manager, and there isn't just a creative type. You can be both, and you just have to learn the reciprocal skill of what you have. You can be on either end of the spectrum, or in the middle, or anywhere along the way — and you can be one person that encompasses two extremes.”

Everyone is inherently creative to varying degrees. As Dr. Nancy Andreasson notes in her Vanderbilt University Medical Center lecture “The Creative Brain, The Neuroscience of Genius,” even the act of speaking by forming words is an expression of creativity. Words are just a mode of communication, which is a form of creative expression we use in order to and satisfy our needs. Dr. Andreasson is a neuroscientist whose first book, “The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius” (2006) comprises 20 years of research into creativity and its link to chaos and mental disorders.

Because society places different expectations on different labels and skillsets, education linked to these labels also differ. Patrick touched on a bigger point: each "type" of person has been afforded different tools and developed different skills.

Creativity is a spectrum. Creating a spectrum of creativity whose endpoints are labeled with two “types” of people, artists often described as “extreme feeling” while entrepreneurs described as “extreme thinking,” allows for these two extremes plus any processing in between.

Our innate need to create in order to express our feelings is hindered first by society, which has conditioned us to depend on thought to determine action; and second by ourselves, because we haven't developed our individual forms for creative expression. These thoughts, however, are fed to us as opposed to formed by us.

We are told “production” is “creation” — but this couldn't be more wrong.

Production is the act of producing a commercially-viable end product for our society. The emphasis is placed on an end product; production is a means to an end. Creation is the act of of creation; emphasis is placed on the action, not on the end product. Creating is innate — involuntary, a part of us and different to each individual.

People who create commercially-viable “products” with their developed form of creative expression, whether painting, singing and so on, are often labeled “artist.” Identifying a person by their external product causes the person to lose their sense of self and personal value, promoting product for others as opposed to creative expression for self and interpersonal connection.

I carried this back to Ryan. We spoke about the fact that those labeled as “entrepreneur” are viewed as socially acceptable, while “artists” are often looked at with disdain; they appear to create for the sake of creation as opposed to end product. They appear to offer lesser ability to make money and therefore return this money to society. As our society defines success by our ability to produce for society, artists are not seen as successful by society's standards. Society invests little in artists because the return on investment appears minimal — but that’s only because so few people outside the “arts” space are talking about it in everyday conversation.

The arts industry in the U.S. brings over $750 billion per year to the economy, more than agriculture, transportation, tourism or steel. This industry employs 4.9 million people across the country. Artists develop communities — and are often, subsequently, used as tools for gentrification, the very crux of our burgeoning real estate market as "an accelerating trend throughout the country,” as stated by Tommy Wolf for Real Estate Back Ops.

For example, New York City's Lower East Side in the 1980s saw an influx of artist squatters, moving into abandoned buildings to which the city had cut power and limited resources to its primary tenants at the time: minorities. The community of artist squatters grew and, over time, rebuilt the area. In 2003, a deal was made between the city, a non-profit, and the people who had lived in this area for decades. Now, compliant artist squatters own the buildings in which they had once “squatted.”

In a segue about real estate, I mentioned the idea that artists are “creative pioneers.” I believed I bridged the gap between being an artist and an entrepreneur — one in the same. Ryan was rubbed the wrong way, however, by the idea that I considered artists to be “pioneers.” He spoke about minorities, those who also move into rundown and underfunded cities. Small business owners and others who build culture and communities are often forced out of revived cities they can no longer afford. He said, this is why people create, and "it's usually individuals who were inspired to create because of some trauma."

“And that's the thing,” I said, “the creatives I know have experienced trauma individual to them, and they have this need to work through that trauma; the act of external creation to combat internal destruction.” I paused, “I think a lot of art comes out of trauma.”

“I think that's very much where it comes from,” Ryan agreed. “When I think about the empowerment of creatives, I start to think about the individuals who are limited by external structures preventing them from accessing that power — and I tend to lean more towards my population,” Ryan said. So, he's black, in case that wasn’t clear.

“Of course,” I said. “I'm not a minority population,” I gestured to myself, a woman so white that I was once a stand-in for a lighting test and displayed as a blown-out, solid mass on the monitor. “But, as a creative person, myself, there has been a lot of exclusion. I can't identify with your struggle—”

“No, but you identify with struggle that's comparable,” Ryan noted.

I looked off as I thought through my response, “It's not that we've had the same experiences, but that we have the same feelings about what we've experienced.”

“Ha, that's part of my TEDx Talk,” he smiled. I smiled, and then apologized for somehow not yet finding time to watch his 12-minute TEDx talk on YouTube. “It's the shared experience of trauma, period,” Ryan continued. “It's unfair of me to look at you and say ‘because you didn't grow up in the projects, you didn't go through trauma,’ which is how I felt for a long time — until I went to prep school and saw people with money also experience trauma in a different way.”

Ryan almost went to a high school for the arts because he played jazz saxophone for like a decade. I made a Clinton joke, and we talked about bossa nova.

“Stick with your opinions,” Ryan continued, “because what you're trying to do in this process is address the segmentation of creatives. You were saying, from an industry level, how business forces creatives into a structure and pits us all against each other. You can now approach it from a cultural standpoint; what does the separation of creatives look like not just from a business but cultural level? Your inspiration might come from Spanish rock music,” he points to my computer; we had just listened to the 1976 song Perdonado (Niño Condenado) by Argentine band Invisible, and he kept complaining about time signatures, “and I might get my inspiration from — I don't wanna be generic or whatever, but — a ‘Jay Z’ or something. But our topics are very similar. I shouldn't be apprehensive about speaking to you, but I would have been had it not been for my last two years as an entrepreneur.”

He paused, thoughtful, “So then does 'entrepreneur' transcend cultural boundaries?”

“I think so,” I said.

I tied this idea of trauma and creation back to Dr. Andreasson's research on creativity. We all have a driving need to create as a form of expression. We are all inherently creative to varying degrees based on the tools we've been provided, and how we've developed these tools. Much, if not all, art comes out of trauma.

Does this mean trauma is a developmental tool for creation?

I thought about this, and then took the idea to my Monday morning call with another creative friend, Ben Red; while our experiences are different, our feelings are the same.

I’m writing a book on creativity and entrepreneurship, personal value, and happiness. Follow my journey by subscribing to my newsletter and reading past posts.

Trauma as a tool for creativity

Trauma as a tool for creativity

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Aligning tension points: creativity and entrepreneurship; value versus validation