The Mind of the Artist Book Summary - The Mind of the Artist Book explained in key points
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The Mind of the Artist summary

William Todd Schultz

Personality and the Drive to Create

4.1 (18 ratings)
15 mins

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The Mind of the Artist offers a deep dive into the fascinating world of creativity, exploring the minds and motivations of famous artists. It provides unique insights into what drives their art and uncovers the secrets behind their masterpieces.

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    The Mind of the Artist
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    The traits of the artist

    When you think of an artist, what comes to mind? There are, of course, many different directions you can go. After all, artists are a diverse bunch. If you consider Frida Kahlo, Kurt Cobain, Beyoncé, Vladimir Nabakov, and Amy Winehouse, you might wonder what they have in common? Well, let’s find out.

    Let’s start with two more contrasting figures: the painter Jackson Pollock and the jazz musician Miles Davis. What would cause Pollock to one day stop painting surreal, Jungian-inspired abstractions and transform into the action painter known as “Jack the Dripper?” Similarly, what would cause Miles Davis to fully embrace a mistake from one of his bandmates – a wrong chord – and turn it into a whirlwind of groundbreaking creative exploration? Well, it comes down to personality.

    Creativity is driven by personality. In particular, there are five personality traits to shape how artistically inclined someone is, depending on how strongly that person expresses that trait. You could even say that personality is the scaffolding upon which creative tendencies are built. 

    The five core personality traits at play here are: 

    Conscientiousness, or how orderly, dependable, dutiful, deliberate, and self-disciplined someone is.

    Agreeableness, which relates to being modest, trusting, altruistic, and conflict averse.

    Neuroticism, or how anxious, angry, hostile, self-conscious, depressed, and impulsive someone is.

    Extraversion, which is the tendency to be happy, enthusiastic, assertive, and positive.

    And finally, there’s openness. This is how adventurous, curious, emotional, and fantasy-prone someone is.

    When it comes to being creative, openness is the holy grail. Those who rate high in openness tend to be more aesthetically-minded. They appreciate art and notice the beauty in the things around them. They’re also attracted to things that are shocking and awe-inspiring. And since they get bored easily, they’re always on the lookout for what’s new and exciting. But most of all, what they do is create – they invent, discover, expand, and redefine.

    While some of these personality traits can be inherited, they aren’t fixed. This means they can be adjusted and adapted over time. What is certain though, is that traits can lead to habits, which can be both productive and challenging. For instance, if someone is highly neurotic, they might turn to coping mechanisms like drinking to alleviate anxiety, and this will ultimately affect their creative process.

    Let’s take Truman Capote as a quick example. Capote had high levels of openness. But he also had considerably high levels of narcissism and low levels of agreeableness, which strained his relationships and caused him to burn bridges throughout his life. His personality motivated his art, but also caused him no end of personal problems.

    In the next section, we’ll explore more of these personality traits and see how they can help us peer into the complexities of the creative mind.

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    What is The Mind of the Artist about?

    The Mind of the Artist (2021) is the culmination of ten years of research into the common traits and preconceived notions surrounding the artistic mind. It explores the typical personality traits that can be found in artists of all mediums, including writers, musicians, painters, and photographers. These findings challenge many stereotypes surrounding creators, including the so-called “tortured artist.”

    Who should read The Mind of the Artist?

    • Anyone interested in psychology
    • Artists and creative people
    • People curious about the myth of the “troubled genius”

    About the Author

    William Todd Schultz is an American author, teacher, and personality psychologist who has published several books profiling famous artists and their creative drives, including Torment Saint about the musician Elliott Smith. The Mind of the Artist won him the Erikson Prize for Mental Health Media.

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