Writing and the Creative Life: Three types of creators

My son Will is a recent graduate of a five-year dual degree program at Tufts University and the New England Conservatory. He received two Bachelor’s degrees with three majors: Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Music Theory and Music Composition. Obviously a smart young man. So when he expresses his ideas about the world, I listen.

[Update: Will is now in his second year of a doctoral program in music composition at the University of Chicago.]

Recently he shared with me a theory he has developed. The basic idea is that there are three types of creators:

1. Perfecter — An artist who takes a current style and maximizes its potential, elevating it to the best it can be (e.g. Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Spielberg, James Cameron, Stephen King, Pixar, etc.)

2. Innovator — An artist who breaks the mold, consistently trying new things or pioneering a new style (e.g. Beethoven, Schoenberg, Kubrick, Picasso, Joyce, Dalí, etc.)

3. Synthesizer — An artist who draws from disparate sources, makes unexpected connections, and creates something both familiar and new (e.g. Ligeti, Stravinsky, David Lynch, Tarantino, Murakami, etc.)

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Comparing Steven Spielberg to Stanley Kubrick to Quentin Tarantino. Or Bach to Schoenberg to Stravinsky. Each is considerably different and certainly there are numerous contributing factors as to why that is the case. But this theory is intriguing because it suggests that their differences are influenced in part by the very nature of their creative instincts — specifically what inspired them and what their goals were.

If I am a perfecter, I see what has come before and discern value and beauty there, therefore my goal is to elevate that form to its highest expression.

If I am a synthesizer, I see what has come before and discern connections no one else does, which inspires me to pull them together in unusual ways.

If I’m an innovator, I see what has come before and feel restricted by conventional norms and patterns, so much so that my goal is to blaze new ways of creative expression.

Another fascinating aspect of this theory is that creators can evolve over a lifetime. For example, one may start out trying to perfect a current form of expression, then decide to stretch by incorporating unusual conceits into that conventional form, then eventually punch through the membrane of what is opening the door to what can become.

Obviously these categories have limitations common to any descriptive term, but it occurs to me they can have a benefit for writers by asking this question: What type of creator are you?

And this question: What type of creator may I feel the pull to become?

Perfecter. Synthesizer. Innovator.

Which type of creator are you?

Not surprising that Will came up with this theory as it may describe something of his own metamorphosis as a composer. You may listen to several compositions by Will by going here. In particular, I suggest you listen to “Bright Shadows,” a 6-minute award-winning piece Will wrote performed by the NEC Symphony.

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

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[Originally posted January 9, 2014]

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