The vital role of adaptive grandiosity in artistic creativity

Wolson, P.

Psychoanalytic Review 82(4): 577-597


ISSN/ISBN: 0033-2836
PMID: 8545509
Document Number: 7921
What renders grandiosity adaptive in artistic creativity is the motivational power it provides for creative work when the artist confronts death in the form of experiences of separation from the maternal introject. Adaptive grandiosity is manifested in artists' enormous beliefs in their own capacities and in their tremendous abilities to persevere and master their media. When this aspect of grandiosity is operating, whether consciously or unconsciously, artists feel that nothing can stop them; no frustration can get in their way. And when this occurs, they can deny the hopelessness inherent in their artistic limitations and separation experiences in confronting the blank canvas and its equivalent. This constitutes a denial of the danger of separation, rather than a denial of the separation itself, which would be maladaptive. For grandiosity to be adaptive, it must be inextricably linked to secondary process functioning and good reality testing with respect to the creative process, and this gives the artist the courage to confront nonbeing rather than avoid it. This is in contrast to omnipotence, which is in the service of magical control and fusion and denies separation and nonbeing. The aim of the grandiosity therefore defines its form. If the artist's grandiosity is identified with the ability to work hard, productively and to create a masterpiece, it becomes useful. But to the extent that it is invested in regressive, primary process operations, which require omnipotent magical solutions to problems and result in poor judgment, it impairs performance.

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The vital role of adaptive grandiosity in artistic creativity