On the Romantic myth of the creative `genius’

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Romantic poet and self-confessed “perfumed ponce”

So – there are essentially two major views of creativity: the Rational view, namely that – creativity is the product of a system (see: the systems model of creativity), and can be taught to individuals.

And then, there is: the (opposing, unproven) Romantic view, that: creativity cannot be taught, and is a mystical, supernatural gift. (As yet, no evidence exists for this view.)

You know who else has no understanding of what creativity is, and how it works?

Postmodernists…! (But – PoMo is Dead as Disco). Probably, they don’t understand (or – are ignorant of) creativity because they are anti-consilient, and, because they mistakenly think that “Science is just another discourse”.

But Creativity researcher Margaret Boden (rightly) finds that ‘romanticism provides no understanding of creativity’ (Boden, 2004, p. 15).

So, yeah.

Kerrigan (2011) also rightly finds that:

“Romanticism commonly fails to distinguish between a creative art product and an individual’s creative process. It also fails to perceive creativity as a rationally accessible phenomena instead perpetuating the myth that creativity is a trait that is only found in individual artists.”

(Kerrigan 2011, p. 8)

Further to this, Kerrigan (2011) also notes:

Work also exists which debunks the romantic and mystical approaches to creativity (Boden, 1990, 2004; Sternberg, 1988, 1994; Wolff, 1981; Zolberg, 1990).

(Kerrigan 2011, p8)

You have to understand, the Romantic view of creativity began with `artists’ – like Coleridge, who understood that their income depended on patronage, and the likelihood of continued patronage was increased if the number of competitors for that patronage (economic capital, in Pierre Bourdieu’s terms) were reduced.

Likewise, McIntyre in Creativity and Cultural Production (McIntyre 2012) finds that:

For the nineteenth-century Romantics in particular, who did not want to be shackled to the de-humanising and apparently deterministic world they saw in the increasingly industrialised world around them, the desire for self-determination had given way to self-expression and self-discovery, leaving the individual at the heart of the creative process.

The question then arose for them as to what makes one individual different from the other in terms of creative capability. What, in essence, marked artists off as special?

Since many Romantics distanced themselves from a society they perceived to be utilitarian and philistine, it was this very distancing and ensuing isolation

‘that served to fuel ideas of split personality and opposing selves, an allusion to popular notions of artistic creativity as intrinsically linked to pain, suffering and madness’ (Petrie 1991, p. 3):

The notion of creativity driven by feelings and intuition was maintained in later forms of Romanticism, drawing on the lives and works of earlier artists who came to represent stereotypes of artistic genius.

“Commemorated in work by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Rossetti, the English poet Thomas Chatterton became a symbol of the suffering of misunderstood genius after his suicide in 1770; a related stereotype of highly sensitive and passionate genius was influenced by Goethe’s ([1774] 1990) fictional hero Werther who relied on pure feeling but was also driven to suicide; although disdainful of many of the central tenets of Romanticism, Byron embodied another aspect of the stereotypical Romantic genius, that of the social deviant permitted to live and act outside the realm of accepted social behaviour because of his artistic contributions.” (Paton 2008, p. 24)

From the Romantic point of view, ‘it is the artist who creates, who expresses himself, who creates values. The artist does not discover, calculate, deduce, as the scientist (or philosopher) does. In creating, the artist invents his goal and then realises his own path toward that goal’ (Watson 2005, p. 609).

For the Romantic artist, as Margaret Boden suggests, ‘intuitive talent is innate, a gift that can be squandered but cannot be acquired – or taught’ (2004, p. 15).

(McIntyre 2012: 15-16)

It is also the view of this author (Velikovsky) that the Rational view of creativity is a more accurate reflection of nature/reality.

That is to say: Creativity can be taught.

For more detail, see these fun posts:

On Creativity:

  1. StoryAlity #6 – What is Creativity and How Does It Work?
  2. StoryAlity #6B – Flow Theory, Creativity and Happiness
  3. StoryAlity #7 – On “the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  4. StoryAlity #8 – More on the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  5. StoryAlity #9 – How To Be More Creative
  6. StoryAlity #9B – Creativity in Science (and – The Arts, and Film)
  7. StoryAlity #10 – About The Creative Personality
  8. StoryAlity #11 – Wallas and the Creative Process
  9. StoryAlity #12 – Combining Practice Theory – and the Systems Model of Creativity
  10. StoryAlity #13- Creativity and Solved Domain Problems
  11. StoryAlity #14 – On some Romantic myths of Creativity
  12. StoryAlity #14B – Creativity – the missing link between “The Two Cultures”
  13. StoryAlity #14C – Two Crucial American Psychological Association speeches: J P Guilford (1950) and D T Campbell (1975).

And see also:

  1. StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

And see:

On Memetics and Cultural Evolution:

  1. StoryAlity #130Why Some Things Are Popular (Velikovsky 2014)
  2. StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle
  3. StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

If interested in the scientific (i.e. reliable) research on genius, see:

The Wiley Handbook of Genius (2014)


It also has this neat diagram of the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 2014) in it:

General model of creativity (in the Wiley Handbook of Creativity, ed: DK Simonton 2014)

General model of creativity (in the Wiley Handbook of Creativity, ed: DK Simonton 2014)

For more on all that see: Creativity. What it is and How it works.

And, for more detail see, also this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

…Comments, welcome.


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Boden, M. (2004) The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms (2nd ed.), London: Routledge.

Kerrigan, S (2011), ‘Creative Documentary Practice: Internalising the Systems Model of Creativity through documentary video and online practice’, PhD thesis, The University of Newcastle

McIntyre, Phillip (2012), Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues for Media Practice (Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan) vii, 233 p.

Paton, E (2008), ‘Creativity and the Dynamic System of Australian Fiction Writing’ PhD Thesis, University of Canberra.


25 thoughts on “StoryAlity #14: On Romantic myths of Creativity

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