Identity and Being Creative

How does identity impact our lives as creative people, and our creative work?

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman comments: “Creative expression equals self-expression… So anything we can do to firm up our identity, figure out who we are, separate from others, and what it is we really want to express – that influences our information processing of everything in the world.”

Hear more clips in the article: The Creativity Conference with David Burkus.

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Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high-ee) declares, “If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude.

“Like the color white that includes all colors, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves. Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos – and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”

From article: The Complex Personality of Creative People.

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Ed Sheeran

“I have weird tattoos and weird hair — I’m a weird person. And I don’t think I’ve lost that yet.”

Musician Ed Sheeran [Los Angeles Times June 24, 2014]

Don’t most of us who are unusually sensitive, intelligent or creative, have a self concept that includes being “weird” or an outsider to some extent?

Aren’t we more at home with other ‘freaks’ and feel like we don’t belong to mainstream society the same way most people seem to do?

We may feel “wrong” at some times in our lives because of that, but we can also embrace an identity of being different.

Tom WaitsRelated article: Being Eccentric and Creative

“I hope I’m becoming more eccentric. More room in the brain.” Musician Tom Waits

Being eccentric – choosing not to be more safely mundane – can help our enhance creative thinking and courage.

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Acting and Cosplay

Many actors seem to thrive on “becoming” other people through their characters. But some have talked about acting as a way to be someone other than themselves, or not even having much of a self.

Actor Jennifer Jason Leigh has claimed, “As a person, I don’t really register that much.”

And the late Peter Sellers once said, “If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am.”

From post: Creative expression and identity.

Actors often talk about the importance of clothing for creating a character, but they aren’t the only ones who enjoy shifting their identity by wearing costumes.

Elisa MelendezCosplay, short for “costume play,” is defined in Wikipedia as “a hobby in which participants wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character or idea that is usually identified with a unique name. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture centered on role play… Favorite sources include manga, anime, comic books, video games, and films.”

In her article on the passionate pursuit, which attracts many people to conventions, and is the topic of at least one TV series, writer Elisa Melendez responds to a newspaper article that, she says, “portrays the cosplay community as ‘confused’ and ‘weird,’ all while looking down its nose at those who might enjoy the creative pursuit.”

She notes “anyone from your dentist to that adjunct professor/freelance writer over there (cough) can be a potential cosplayer. I spoke with one Miami-area cosplayer, Jonathan Stryker, who is a marketing personal assistant for an author, videographer, and photographer but manages to find time for his favorite hobby…

“For Jonathan, cosplay is ‘the ultimate art form. It combines make-up, sewing, painting, sculpting, crafting, designing, acting, etc.'”

She points out his costume [shown in the article below] “took about $1000 bucks and countless hours.” She describes her photo above: “This writer’s Game of Thrones-inspired get-up, on the other hand, took a just a couple of days. I bought the dress, and made everything else–only half that hair is actually mine.”

From Cosplay Is Creative, Not Crazy: An Open Letter to the New York Post By Elisa Melendez, Miami New Times, Aug. 7 2013.

On her site, she identifies herself as a “Lifelong gaming enthusiast, channeled into sociology Ph.D. work studying gender and rock music video games…” among other pursuits.

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Felicia Day - TheGuildActor, writer, producer Felicia Day is another example of a multitalented creator with an interest in gaming and cosplay.

A National Merit Scholar and accomplished violinist, among other talents, she admits, “I have a little obsessive-compulsive personality. You can tell because I played online games for eight hours a day.”

She is a star and the producer of an original web series “The Guild,” loosely based on her life as a gamer.

From article: Felicia Day on developing multiple talents.

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One central aspect of self concept is gender, and sexual orientation.

Ellen PageIn a speech for the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference benefiting LGBT youth in February 2014, actor Ellen Page came out as gay.

Her powerfully moving comments from the video include these:

“I’m tired of hiding…

“This world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to each other; if we took just five minutes to recognize each other’s beauty instead of attacking each other for our differences.”

In an interview, she refers to “binary gender systems” – which also applies to other ways we put other people (and ourselves) into easy to process, but distorting, categories.

Page said coming out consumed her thoughts for years

“For so long I just sort of thought, ‘You just can’t. I love being an actor, it’s a huge part of my life, so I’m going to keep that private.’ And, ‘Oh, I have to keep it private because my job is about creating an illusion’ and kind of all those bullshit excuses,” she says. “Because I don’t see heterosexual actresses going to great lengths to hide their heterosexuality.”

As part of being closeted, she felt “Very sad, isolated, a lot of anxiety. No more.”

“I knew I would be happier,” she says about coming out. “But I wouldn’t have anticipated just how f—ing happy I am and how every tiny little aspect of my life feels better.”

From article: ‘X-Men’s’ Ellen Page on Life After Coming Out, the Bryan Singer Case and Her Battle With Depression by Seth Abramovitch, The Hollywood Reporter magazine 5/7/2014.

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Rashida Jones has noted, “I am very light-skinned and I don’t look like I have a black parent… I’d show up to a casting and the casting director would be visibly relieved and would tell me: `You don’t really look that black at all’…

“I used to take it personally but not any more. I used to leave auditions furious, thinking, `How dare you tell me I’m not black? How dare you try to tell me what colour I am? Now I think, “So what!”  [The Voice, 31-Aug-2004]

[A pianist and singer as well as actor, she earned a BA in religion and philosophy at Harvard, and is the daughter of Peggy Lipton and Quincy Jones.]

She advises: “Be friendly to everybody; protect yourself; people sometimes want a piece of you for no good reason; and always do things out of love not fear.” (imdb)

Lady GaGa said she “felt like freak” in high school, and creates music for her fans who want a “freak to hang out with.”

She admits it took her a long time to be okay with how she is, and get beyond needing to fit in, or be like everyone else – “but not really” wanting to be…

“Sometimes you don’t feel like a winner, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a winner.”

From video: Lady Gaga Interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

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James Franco had a role in the tv series “Freaks and Geeks” (1999) and said it echoed his own experience.

“I was a little freak, a little geek. High school was a big party the first couple of years, but that gets old, so I broke away and just was a loner. I did a lot of painting, and I was a member of a local art league.”

[From post James Franco on being a loner.]

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Ethnic identity

Painter Laura Molina says on her website, “I feel the need to assert my identity in the most militant way possible…

“As an educated, native-born, English-speaking, fifth generation Mexican-American and a feminist, there is almost no reflection of me in the movies or television, which is almost as bad as being stereotyped.”

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Vin Diesel said when he was young, he was upset by the physical differences among his family members. He felt like a misfit.

“I was like a stray cat. I needed to get my identity in place. I needed to feel complete.”

“As a kid, when I played a character, for a brief moment the parameters of my identity were clear,” he said.

“I could climb into a character and be absolutely certain about who I was. …

“Acting doesn’t make me happy. It’s not designed to. Acting is my job. It’s what I need to do to feel complete. It’s the reason I know who I am.”  [Parade Magazine, Feb 26, 2006]

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More social pressures

But it isn’t just a matter of self-concept; there are social pressures that can make defining our identity difficult or at least complicated.

How we identify ourselves, and let other people define us, can have a deep impact on our self-concept, self-esteem and our creative expression.

Actor Tilda Swinton says she is often referred to as ‘Sir’ in elevators and other places.

“I think it has to do with being this tall and not wearing much lipstick. I think people just can’t imagine I’d be a woman if I look like this.” …

“I’m basically interested in identity, and I still find fascinating the question, “How do we identify ourselves, and how do we settle into other people’s expectations for our identity?” [ bio]

Creativity coach Dave Storer, one of the contributors to the book “Inspiring Creativity” writes that “most people in our culture will not let you easily claim a creator’s identity. They will push against you and demand ‘proof’ of your creative talent.”

He counsels to keep working at your chosen project anyway, and over time you will become comfortable with your identity, because it “comes from the doing of it.”

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Related :

Gods and prodigies, freaks and geeks: building identity
Wunderkind, genius, prodigy. Freak, geek, nerd. How we label exceptional people and ourselves affects our identity and what we think about the reality and value of our talents, and the possibilities of expressing them in the world.

Self concept / self esteem articles

Actors on building identity

Building identity – Rashida Jones on the creative value of her mixed ethnicity

Identity quotes etc

Hélène Muddiman on building identity – inside the “Skin” of a composer



Originally posted 2014-06-28 18:35:38.


  1. […] Identity and Being Creative  – Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman comments: “Creative expression equals self-expression… So anything we can do to firm up our identity, figure out who we are, separate from others, and what it is we really want to express – that influences our information processing of everything in the world.” […]

  2. […] Identity and Being Creative. – Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman comments: “Creative expression equals self-expression… So anything we can do to firm up our identity, figure out who we are, separate from others, and what it is we really want to express – that influences our information processing of everything in the world.” […]

  3. I’m reading the second book of a trilogy which is, in many ways, about being out of place and being unable to fit in. In this case (the book is “I Promised You Daisies” by Robert A. Benjamin) it’s a super smart person, whose giftedness was not acknowledged, who never feels like he fits in, and the difficult life that results. The book invites you to share, as the people above do, the experience of being different.

    • Thanks – this sounds like a very meaningful book. On the author’s site (link below – “being different”), he writes “it never occurred to me that I might be anything but a perfectly ordinary boy growing up… It did not occur to me that I could read things, imagine things, converse about things, make things that were beyond the reach of those other children. Can’t everybody do that?”

      Link to Amazon for “I Promised You Daisies” by Robert A. Benjamin.

What do you think about these topics?