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The term "creativity" is not used by Sigmund Freud but the concept is Freudian if we understand it to mean the creative imagination embodied in fantasies or daydreams. These may or may not receive further elaboration and be transformed into a work of art, regardless of its specific nature. However, it is primarily Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott who are responsible for establishing the concept as an active attitude of the ego with respect to its objects.

As early as the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), Freud realized that the world of fantasy (Anna O's private theater) can take the place of the real world, and this includes the researcher captivated by his subject. In discussing humor (1905c), Freud also emphasized the freedom of the intellect in the face of highly constrained situations. Literary creation (1908e [1907]) appeared to Freud as an extension of children's daydreams, situations in which the fantasy is affirmed in the face of the empire of reality, without, however, leading the subject to misinterpret it as happens in delusional states. It is precisely this ability, whose origin remains mysterious, to turn fantasies into a reality inscribed in a work of art and therefore something that can be shared with others, that constitutes creativity, regardless of the field of endeavor. Freud was especially interested in literary (Dostoyevsky, Hoffmann, Jensen) and artistic creation (Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo).

Melanie Klein (1929) had a very different outlook on creativity, which she saw as an impulse experienced by the infant to repair the object that had been initially split into good and bad and attacked during the paranoid phase. The creative function is therefore initially curative but goes hand in hand with the representation of a unified object. In this sense the creative function constitutes a reconstitution of the ego and the object, which having been simultaneously destroyed, subsist in an empty or mutilated state.

Donald Winnicott (1971) gave the fullest extension to the concept of creativity by emphasizing its function as an attitude in the face of outside reality and not necessarily successful or recognized creative work. He contrasted creativity and submission to the outside world but, unlike Freud, emphasized the fact that fantasy life could diverge from the creative attitude. Fantasizing is not living but can, on the contrary, as Freud noted with respect to hysterics, isolate the individual from life; it will never serve as an object of communication.

For Winnicott, while creativity is related to dreaming and living, it is not really a part of our fantasy life. The experience of self can only be achieved through that physical and mental creative activity whose model is game playing. Creativity is not the creative capacity but something universal, inherent in the very fact of living. In the case where the individual submits to outside reality to the point of losing himself in it (false self), his creativity disappears and remains hidden without however being destroyed. It is in this way deprived of contact with the experience of life. "The creative impulse," Winnicott writes, "is present as much in the moment-by-moment living of a backward child who is enjoying breathing as it is in the inspiration of an architect who suddenly knows what it is that he wishes to construct" (1982, p. 69).

The concept of creativity is much closer to the question of activity than to the production of a work of art. This aspect is only sketched out by Freud but was theorized by Winnicott for whom the concept is associated with considerations of the ego and non-ego and the transitional space that serves as an "outlet" for primary narcissism.

See Also


  1. ——. (1908e [1907]). Creative writers and day-dreaming. SE, 9: 143-153.
  2. Klein, Melanie. (1975). Infantile anxiety situations reflected in a work of art and in the creative impulse. In The Writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 1). London: Hogarth. (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10, (1929) 436-443.)
  3. Winnicott, Donald. (1982). Playing and reality. London: Routledge.