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The Creative Experience

Edited by:  Stanley Rosner Ph.D and Lawrence Edwin Abt, Ph.D.,

Grossman Publishers, New York, N.Y., 1970

Comment by Publishers Weekly

What emerges from this stimulating collection of interviews with 23 distinguished scientists and artists is the idea that the ‘creative experience’ is rooted in certain human drives shared by intelligent and motivated men no matter what their discipline or field.  The editors, both psychologists, interviewed many creative figures.”   

“Each was asked how he came to be creative, what his motivations and drives were, what aspects of his family life and educational background were most beneficial, etc.  Each replied in his own way, and the result is a collection of free-flowing interviews, taken verbatim from edited tape, that do indeed throw a good deal of light on the creative process.  Even more important to the general reader, the interviews provide a thoroughly enjoyable look into the personal lives and idiosyncrasies of a fascinating group of people.  Highly recommended”

What makes The Creative Experience unique is its editors’ refusal to limit themselves to the arts.  Coming to grips with creativity is a difficult matter, easier, perhaps, for those accustomed to thinking of themselves as creative people.  Psychologists Lawrence E. Abt and Stanley Rosner met with twenty-three people, each distinguished in such different fields as fashion design astronomy and poetry.  They recorded what are not so much interviews as clear and often brilliant conversations, in which these outstanding men and women recall their experiences prior to and during their creative pursuits.  They discuss the significant influences on their work – their backgrounds, training, and drives, their private goals and professional disciplines.  Skillfully guided by Abt and Rosner, they approach and often grasp one of the great, perpetually intriguing questions of human nature – why and how do men create? 

William Faulkner once told an interviewer that he would rob his mother for the sake of his art – “the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”  While the contributors to this volume seem not to have been so ruthless, they do, as they grope and reminisce and discuss, tell us a great deal about the creative experience, and about themselves.  The editors, at the end of the book, ferret out similarities and differences in the contributors’ approaches to creativity.  Moreover, they have compiled the most complete and extensive guide to the literature of creativity yet to appear, making The Creative Experience with its remarkable interviews, analysis, and reference materials – a major contribution to a fascinating study.  


The Scientists       

Archaeology and Anthropology Froelich G. Rainey         
Astronomy and Physics Harlow Shapley
Biology and Genetics H. Bentley Glass
Behavioral Sciences David Krech
Linguistics Noam Chomsk y
Mathematics Morris Kline
Medical Sciences Wilder Penfield
Molecular Chemistry Paul Saltman 
Social Sciences Arthur Koestler

The Artists        

Architecture   Ulrich Franzen
Choreography and the Dance Merce Cunnigham
Cinema  Sidney Lumet
Crafts Oppi A. J. Untracht
Fiction Isaac Beshevis Singer
Fashion Design Bonnie Cashin
Industrial Design George Nelson
Music Aaron Copland
Painting Raphael Soyer
Philosophy Sidney Hook
Photography Edward Steichen
Poetry Sheldon Rodman
Sculpture Robert Engman
Theatre Neil Simon


There is an ever-widening interest and curiosity about the creative process among persons in all walks of life, and, accordingly, there is an ever-increasing amount of research and publication on aspects of the subject.  Virtually everyone is fascinated about the possibilities of developing talent in himself and others.  Among the questions being asked are whether there is a disposition toward originality and whether there are relationships between kinds of education and the development and cultivation of creativity. 

Traditionally, there have been two general approaches to the study of creativity, the sociological and psychological.  Ogburn and Thomas, for example, have presented information on the simultaneity of invention; Kroeber on the significance of cultural growth patterns; and others, like Barnett, have placed emphasis on cultural value systems as these relate to creative results.  Usually, psychologists have looked at personality factors, such as intelligence, motivation, attitudes, and the like, as being perhaps crucially related to the creative instinct and the development of its expression. 

Both approaches to the study of the creative process have yielded a substantial body of information that has contributed to greater understanding of what creativity is and what conditions, social and psychological, are both necessary and sufficient for its occurrence and fullest expression. 

As psychologists, the editors of this volume are naturally most inclined toward inquiry regarding the psychological factors involved in creative development, and this book is an expression of that interest.  

However, our orientation is substantially sociological as well, because we believe the individual can be studied and understood best within the context of his environment, considered in the widest sense. 

Works exploring creativity, even those most highly regarded at present, tend to lay stress either upon the creative product or outcome, such as Tuska, or on the creative process itself, such as Ghiselin.  We believe that the present work is virtually the only one that places emphasis on the creative experience itself as a basis for approaching an understanding of creativity. 

In exploring this new dimension of creativity, the editors have sought out the creative experiences of twenty-three persons in the arts and sciences who are recognized by their peers, and often by the informed public at large, for their creative contributions in their respective areas … 

… Wherever possible, we conducted our interview in the person’s present working environment, and the interview proceeded at a speed dictated largely by the interviewee himself.  Each interview was taped and upon transcription given to the participating individual for corrections, deletions, and additions.  Our concern was always that each interview reflect as fully as possible, both in substance and style, what each person wanted to communicate about his creative experiences and the aspects of life which seemed to have a bearing upon his creative process.

As we review our material, we are strongly persuaded that this is only a beginning to the exploration and appreciation of the various factors, both subjective and objective, that compose the creative experiences of persons in the arts and sciences.

Abridged Summary

… Self-expression is one of the significant motives behind creating. The German poet Heine wrote, “By creating I could recover: by creating I became healthy.”  Repeatedly, during our interviews the theme emerges of finding release in creative work.  Cashin states that, “Perhaps the creative person uses problems in a constructive way.”  Engman refers to his desire to put in concrete form the answer to the question, “Who am I?”  Others speak of their work as being the best of themselves.  Work is also viewed as an escape from boredom and despondency and as a soporific. All these statements point clearly to the fact that to these individuals, their work is essential to their psychic economy.  They feel that they lead a fuller life through their work, and that work keeps life in balance.  Some say that it is easier to express themselves through their art or science than to relate to the world outside.  The writers (Singer, Simon, Rodman) admitted readily that fiction is generally autobiographical in one way or another.  In that sense, the expression of the self is seen most directly. 

The desire to prove that one is making a significant contribution to the world, that one’s work is meaningful, is important to creative people.  Our contributors spoke in one way or another of longstanding feelings and fantasies of greatness, Walter Mitty fantasies, so to speak. They were able to speak of these with tongue in cheek, at the same time believing in them.  The desire to leave a significant mark on the art or science worlds is revealed in such statements as, “If I don’t write it, no one else will,” and the “Only I can write that particular story.”  ….


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