Creating Minds

An Anatomy of Creativity as Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, G


By Howard E. Gardner

Formats and Prices




$17.99 CAD



  1. ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
  2. Trade Paperback $24.99 $31.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 6, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

This peerless classic guide to the creative self uses portraits of seven extraordinary individuals to reveal the patterns that drive the creative process — to demonstrate how circumstance also plays an indispensable role in creative success.

Howard Gardner changed the way the world thinks about intelligence. In his classic work Frames of Mind, he undermined the common notion that intelligence is a single capacity that every human being possesses to a greater or lesser extent. With Creating Minds, Gardner gives us a path breaking view of creativity, along with riveting portraits of seven figures who each reinvented an area of human endeavor.

Using as a point of departure his concept of seven “intelligences,” ranging from musical intelligence to the intelligence involved in understanding oneself, Gardner examines seven extraordinary individuals — Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Martha Graham, and Mahatma Gandhi — each an outstanding exemplar of one kind of intelligence. Understanding the nature of their disparate creative breakthroughs not only sheds light on their achievements but also helps to elucidate the “modern era” — the times that formed these creators and which they in turn helped to define. While focusing on the moment of each creator’s most significant breakthrough, Gardner discovers patterns crucial to our understanding of the creative process.

Creative people feature unusual combinations of intelligence and personality, and Gardner delineates the indispensable role of the circumstances in which an individual’s creativity can thrive — and how extraordinary creativity almost always carries with it extraordinary human costs.


Praise for Howard Gardner's Creating Minds
"A humanistic spirit pervades [Creating Minds]. . . . Gardner isn't trying to reduce creativity to maze-running. . . . He is tentative rather than dogmatic, attuned to exceptions and complexities as well as commonalities."
The Houston Chronicle
"Gardner may well have uncovered some fundamental aspects of the creative personality and of the process of creativity. His discussion will inevitably open up more of this fascinating territory."
New Scientist
"[Gardner's] books are lucid, cross-disciplinary examinations of heady topics: Creating Minds . . . and Leading Minds . . . are rarities, being academic studies that are as readable as they are compelling."
The Boston Globe
"Mention Howard Gardner's name to a growing cadre of educators and the response verges on the reverence teenagers lavish on a rock star. . . . [Creating Minds] is sure to get attention not only for Gardner's typology of intelligence but also because of his guru-like status."
"One of the notable characteristics of creativity that Howard Gardner emphasizes in this new study is the special amalgam of the childlike and the adult: Creative personalities, he argues, often display features such as innocence and freshness, as well as selfishness and retaliation. . . . Their demanding personalities and devotion to their own creative breakthroughs (which tend, Gardner argues, to take place at 10-year intervals) also make creative people very hard to live with. But the creative process depends upon the support of caring individuals."
Washington Post
"Few things inspire more wonder than the power of genius. . . . Gardner derives his view of genius from his earlier, groundbreaking research on the specialized nature of intelligence. . . . From this perspective, he questions whether creative minds of the caliber of Freud's or Einstein's will ever come to dominate the 21st century. These earlier geniuses made their mark by challenging the well-established thinking of the day. But today, Gardner says, there is really no such thing as establishment thought."
US News and World Report
"[Gardner's] enthusiasm and long experience show. Creating Minds is a stimulating work that fulfills the author's wish to write a book of the sort he himself likes to read: 'a jargon-free one with only the most essential visual aids'. . . . Gardner's writing style is remarkable in other regards too. He is a fluent writer, at great ease with the English language—and so confident of his ideas that he is not afraid to express them clearly. . . . Everyone who is interested in understanding and fostering creativity—and maybe that should be all of us—should read this rich, enthusiastic book to learn more about creativity, about seven fascinating creative minds—and maybe about the creative potential of ourselves and those in our care."
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
"Rejecting the idea that creativity can be measured on a single linear scale, [Gardner] argues instead that many forces are at work to drive the creative individual, including such unexpected motivations as competition, ego, vanity and fear of death. This is a nice thought for those of us who feel that if pushed enough we could all write the next great symphony."
The Dallas Morning News
"[This] groundbreaking work on brain functioning by Harvard researcher Howard Gardner has shed further light on the vitality and centrality of imagination and its close intellectual relatives."
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
"[A] boldly ambitious study. . . . Each of the seven creative geniuses whom Gardner incisively limns transcended interpretive frames or conventions that became entrenched during the 19th century; each forged a new 'system of meaning'; and each, in Gardner's view, struck a 'Faustian bargain,' sacrificing a rounded personal life for the sake of an all-consuming mission. . . . This highly stimulating synthesis illuminates the creation of the modern age."
Publishers Weekly
"A delightful look at creativity . . . rich, readable, and thought-provoking."
"Gardner has uncovered other intelligences we had failed to notice because we had no tools sensitive enough to measure them."
Business World
"It takes chutzpah to come up with a scheme for analyzing creativity—especially in subjects already exhaustively examined. But for psychologist and MacArthur fellow Gardner (Harvard Graduate School of Education), it amounts to a natural progression from his earlier dissections of intelligence."
Kirkus Reviews
"Illuminating and entertaining, Creating Minds provides an unforgettable synthesis of the ideas that have shaped contemporary culture. . . . As the guide in this tour of the theater of the mind, Gardner is at his best: insightful, civilized, and precise. I can't think of a more stimulating book about creativity."
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity
"Creating Minds is both informative and a wonderful read."
—Robert Ornstein, author of Roots of the Self

The Quest for Mind (1973)
Arts and Human Development (1973)
The Shattered Mind (1975)
Developmental Psychology (1978)
Artful Scribbles (1980)
Art, Mind, and Brain (1982)
Frames of Mind (1983)
The Mind's New Science (1985)
To Open Minds (1989)
The Unschooled Mind (1991)
Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (1993)
Leading Minds (with Emma Laskin) (1995)
Extraordinary Minds (1997)
The Disciplined Mind (1999)
Intelligence Reframed (1999)
Good Work (with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon) (2001)
Changing Minds (2004)
Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons (2006)
The Development and Education of the Mind (2006)
Five Minds for the Future (2007)
Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed (2011)

For Andrew

THOUGH PARENTS SHOULD NOT have a favorite child, authors ought to be permitted to have a favorite book. I've written well over twenty books, but in many ways Creating Minds is my favorite. Preparation of the book was a labor of love. I reveled as I dove into the rich repositories of information about the seven master creators whom I was describing: examining primary sources, reading biographies and notebooks of Sigmund Freud, watching the films of dancer Martha Graham shot in the 1930s and 1940s, poring over the drafts of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, listening again and again to Igor Stravinsky's pathbreaking compositions, looking at sketches for Pablo Picasso's boldest canvases, attempting to piece together the many fragments of autobiography left by Mahatma Gandhi, and puzzling over Albert Einstein's most important scientific papers. It was like being enrolled in seven elective college or graduate school courses.
As a studious youngster growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s, I loved to read. What captured my interest most were biographies and histories, drawn from many lands, but focused particularly on Western Europe, from which my family came, and the United States, our new home. I had scarcely heard of psychology when I entered college, and so it was natural for me to declare myself a history major. But only when I encountered the psychohistorical and psychobiographical writings of Erik Erikson did I find an intellectual home. And so I shifted my studies to the social sciences and found myself increasingly drawn to the psychology of human development.
A conflict within me between an interest in the emotional side of human experience and a curiosity about its more cognitive dimensions was resolved—at least temporarily—in favor of cognition when I began to read the works of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget at the close of my college career. I read Piaget intensively during a postgraduate year in England. During that time of leisure, I also became far better acquainted with the ideas and art forms of the modern era: the music of Igor Stravinsky; the paintings of the cubists; the writings of T. S. Eliot; and the astonishing outpouring of scientific, artistic, and political creativity that had taken place in the principal European countries in the first decades of the twentieth century. Although I decided to pursue graduate studies in developmental psychology, I had already become keenly fascinated with the society that had produced such sparkling works while at the same time plunging into two devastating world wars and then engaging in a dogged cold war.
Interest in history and biography took a back seat for a while as I mastered the methods and techniques of experimental developmental psychology. I am grateful for this systematic training. However, soon after my graduate studies began, I felt keenly the lack of interest among my teachers and peers in the puzzles of artistic creation. My own background had included intensive work in music; I had spent innumerable evenings during my postgraduate year exploring the arts of the modern era; and yet I searched in vain for any reference to these facets of life in my professors' lectures and in the assigned readings. I was therefore primed when I learned of a new research enterprise at Harvard called Project Zero, which was focusing specifically on the nature of artistic knowledge and education.
Under the aegis of Project Zero, I have for more than forty years studied human development in normal and gifted children, as well as the breakdown of human capacities and gifts under conditions of brain damage. The project's animating interest has been the nature of human symbolization, with particular reference to those forms of symbolizing that are key to the arts. Put more concretely, my colleagues and I have probed how youngsters become musicians or poets or painters, why most of them do not, and how these and other artistic capacities develop or atrophy or are nurtured within our own and others' cultures.
By a curious twist, the words art and creativity have become closely linked in our society. It is for this reason, I suppose, that during the recent decades I was generally considered to be studying "creativity." There is no necessary association: People can be creative in any sphere of life, and the arts can be the scene of bathos or boredom, as well as of beauty, beatitude, or bedlam. Nonetheless, because of the quirk, I was regularly invited to conferences on creativity; regularly interviewed by journalists interested in creativity; and, in general, assimilated inappropriately to membership in the "creativity research mafia." I did not mind this slight case of mistaken identity, to be sure, given my lifelong interests in the achievements of certain extraordinary human beings.
Although I had written a good deal about creativity, particularly in the arts, I had not initially thought about doing a comparative biographical study of this type. The impetus came following the publication in 1983 of the book for which I am best known: Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (3rd ed., 2011). In that book, drawing on examples from both ordinary and extraordinary individuals, I described seven relatively autonomous forms of human intelligence. Once I had pluralized intelligence, many people asked me whether I also believed that there were several kinds of creativity. Though I had intuitions about this question, it occurred to me that it would be fascinating to study creative individuals who, by hypothesis, stood out in the various intelligences and to see what I might discover about the nature of their several creativities.
And so, having made that initial decision, I then had the challenge of selecting individuals of undeniable creativity who seemed to stand out in terms of a particular intelligence. I flirted with the idea of selecting subjects from the full span of human history but rejected that tack. So that my subjects would be at least roughly comparable, I elected to pick individuals who had lived in the latter part of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century. The one other criterion, important for many biographers, was that I had at least a fundamental sympathy with the subjects. I did not want to devote myself to the study of the juvenilia of a writer, or the childhood sketches of a painter, whose mature work I did not like.
Though the details of the subjects' lives were fascinating in themselves, I saw this work as fundamentally social scientific rather than humanistic. That is, I was looking for concepts and generalizations that might illuminate the study of creativity more broadly. As I detail in Chapter 2, I wanted to begin to build a bridge between the detailed psychological studies of individual creators, by scholars such as Howard Gruber, and the quantitative, historiometric studies of scores of creators, by scholars such as Dean Keith Simonton. And so the chief substantive chapters, dedicated to my seven masters, are bookended by more general reflections about how to study creative processes and what findings have emerged from this study.
Toward the conclusion of the book, I interrogated myself about several issues: Did I select the right persons and the proper domains, did I have the right measures of creativity, would my conclusions have obtained with reference to other persons and to other historical eras? The republication of this book, twenty years after it was initially drafted, gives me the opportunity to revisit these and other questions that have occurred to me in the interim.
I have had few second thoughts about the eras or the individuals studied. A century ago, Europe and, to a lesser extent, Russia and America hosted individuals of remarkable creativity. I might have studied James Joyce or Marcel Proust rather than T. S. Eliot, and I had similar choices in the other performance domains, but the list has held up well. Closer to our own era, I might have studied a film director such as Ingmar Bergman or a scholar such as Noam Chomsky, but I don't think that the conclusions would have been substantially altered.
But there are other issues where conclusions might have been different. In my original sample, individuals had been born on the periphery of cultural centers and had moved to such places as London or Vienna. Had I studied the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein instead, I would have detected an opposite pattern. Coming from a powerful and wealthy family, Wittgenstein was born and grew up at the center of culture in Vienna: no need for him to move to a major metropolis to encounter other young people of enormous potential! But Wittgenstein found Vienna to be oppressive: He moved first to Cambridge, England, then to Norway, and finally to the United States. Perhaps genius needs to gain distance from wherever it first resided.
My sample also may have led to the unwarranted conclusion that creators are necessarily difficult persons, particularly in their later years. I would have difficulty making this argument with reference to Charles Darwin who, by all reports, was a humane family member and a generous scholar. But in addition to living in an earlier era, Darwin was distinguished in other ways. Like Wittgenstein, he came from wealth and never had to work for a living. Like Wittgenstein, Darwin was born in the center of things—in England—and achieved distance through his famous five-year trip around the world on the Beagle. Perhaps most important, Darwin had or feigned illness throughout his adult life; first his wife Emma protected him from unwarranted intrusions, and then his colleague Thomas Henry Huxley (nicknamed "Darwin's bulldog") barnstormed Britain, defending Darwin's controversial claims. Perhaps Darwin had the protection that genius needs and did not have to erect barriers on his own.
My point here is not to argue about each of my initial conclusions but rather to illuminate the nature of the bridge that I was trying to build, from case studies to broad generalizations. One must begin with patterns observed in the original sample. When an apparent exception arises—such as the absence of a move from the periphery to the center of culture—one needs to see whether the basic point can be rescued by a broader reformulation—gaining distance from one's customary locale. And one has to be open to the possibility that the generalization was an accident, based on the particular sample chosen or the specific time period focused upon. Examples such as that of Darwin force one to rethink earlier conclusions.
As it happens, just a few years after finishing Creating Minds, I had the opportunity to carry out a further study. Editor and agent John Brockman asked me if I wanted to write a short book with the topic wide open. At the time, I had become friendly with D. Carleton Gajdusek, an outstanding Nobel laureate in biology and a fascinating, larger-than-life personality. In thinking about Carleton's remarkable career, I planned to conceptualize my portrait around four different roles that he had assumed: The Master (who has climbed to the top of an already existing field), the Maker (who devises a new area of study or practice), the Influencer (who changes the behaviors of others), and the Introspector (who thinks deeply about him- or herself).
As I was nearing the end of my research, and preparing to write this short book, Gajdusek was arrested and subsequently convicted of pedophilia. (After serving a short sentence, he left the United States and died of natural causes a decade later.) Faced with the question of whether to write a book about a convicted felon, I decided that I could not do so. Instead, I chose to write brief accounts of four individuals, each of whom exemplified one of the four Gajdusek-inspired roles.
Two of the roles were well filled by personalities from this book: Freud (a Maker) was an individual who had founded psychoanalysis—a new field of study and practice; Gandhi (an Influencer) was an individual who had influenced the thoughts and behaviors of many thousands, perhaps millions, of his fellow human beings.
The book, called Extraordinary Minds, gave me an opportunity to test the scheme of the present book in two ways. For the Master, I decided to write about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, certainly a master of classical music and a person who had lived more than a century before my seven subjects. Even that relatively short period of time revealed many differences between the Europe at the crest of the Enlightenment and the same pursuits at the crest of the modern era. Far more so than those who came later, Mozart was the practitioner of a craft, who wrote basically on commission, and who had to worry throughout his life about basics of health and money.
For the Introspector, I chose to write about Virginia Woolf. Her achievements as a writer of fiction and of essays spoke for themselves. But I also had felt—and had been criticized for—the dearth of women in my original sample. The inclusion of Woolf proved equally instructive. Though she came from an illustrious family and lived amid a highly literate and intellectual family, she did not have any formal education. As she famously observed, it was difficult to become a writer unless one had three hundred guineas (slightly more than 300 pounds) and a room of one's own. Also, as is well known, Woolf suffered from severe mental illness and eventually committed suicide. The inclusion of Woolf forced me to consider the very different challenges facing a talented woman, a century ago, and the devastating effects of depression in an era when treatments were woefully inadequate.
Researching and writing Extraordinary Minds helped me to consider two other issues. The first was the lessons that the rest of us can learn from individuals who are highly creative. I culled three: (1) Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently). (2) Creative individuals leverage their strengths. They determine their strongest area and build their achievements around these potent intelligences. They do not worry about what they do not do as well; they can always get help from others and perhaps barter their areas of strength with those who have complementary skills. (3) Creative individuals frame their experiences. Such people are highly ambitious, and they do not always succeed, by any means. But when they fail, they do not waste much time lamenting; blaming; or, at the extreme, quitting. Instead, regarding the failure as a learning experience, they try to build upon its lessons in their future endeavors. Framing is most succinctly captured in aphorism by French economist and visionary Jean Monnet: "I regard every defeat as an opportunity."
The other issue, touched upon in Creating Minds, concerns the role of pathology in creative genius. Of course, the imputed relationship between the wound and the bow has long been a staple of studies of those who achieve. And in Creating Minds I noted that my creators each had had periods of mental fragility and that they ranged from a distanced relationship to other persons (Einstein) to an inclination toward frank sadism (Picasso). While the two new persons did not directly challenge my earlier conclusions, my immersion in the life of Gajdusek catalyzed much reflection on the relationship between his great gifts and his predilection for pushing the envelope, both in terms of his scientific work and his relations to others, in this case, particularly young boys.
I continue to ponder whether the link between monumental achievement on the one hand and a tendency to behave according to one's own rules on the other is a cardinal feature of creative genius. At present, I am reluctant to state such a strong conclusion. There are certainly individuals such as Darwin or composer Johannes Brahms or writer Thomas Mann who did not stand out in terms of their defiance of convention. And yet, I feel confident in declaring that the character trait of thinking outside the box with reference to one's own work life often, if not inevitably, spills over into other sectors of life.
My focus on the modern era was quite explicit: In fact, my working title for this book was "The Creators of the Modern Era"—a pun that appealed more to me than to my publishers! Not only did my seven creators reflect the era in which they were brought up, but as would be the case with any remarkable septet, they helped to create the art, the science, and even the politics (Einstein and the atomic bomb, Gandhi and the disappearance of colonization) of the middle of the twentieth century. But even twenty years ago, I was aware that this era was at an end, and that we had embarked on an era that was postmodern: both in the literal sense, of succeeding the modern era, and in the rhetorical sense, an era exhibiting its own epistemology and aesthetics.
A tad presciently, I include in Creating Minds a short discussion of how creativity might differ in the era that succeeded modernism.
Briefly, the postmodern era is a time when any claim of ultimate truth or morality is shunned, where genres are blurred and readily mixed, and when seriousness is challenged and irony is favored. And had I been more prescient, I would have anticipated the dominance of the digital media: global communication, the collapse of time and space, instant access to knowledge and to personal messages, and powerful interpersonal networks.
Even the short span of some decades is significant enough to raise the question of whether creativity, circa 2010, differs qualitatively from creativity in 1910. (Woolf famously quipped, "On or about December 1910, human character changed.") I believe that in a number of ways, the kind of solitary individual, the lonely creativity of earlier eras, is far rarer.
To begin with, anything that becomes known in one part of the world is readily available throughout the world. And so, whether we are talking about a new genre of painting or a new line of scientific work, all interested persons can have access to it right away, and their subsequent activities may thus be affected.
Second, the potential for, and in some cases the necessity for, collaboration is patent. One hundred years ago, science was largely an individual matter; fifty years ago, science was carried out by small teams, or even pairs, most famously by the two men who deciphered the genetic code, James Watson and Francis Crick. Nowadays, we are in the era of Big Science, where dozens or even hundreds of scholars collaborate on a single project. An experiment at the Hadron collider can involve three thousand scientists! And while far less prevalent, more of artistic work is collaborative—across genres and disciplines, and even with teams of creators. Consider this testimony from Carla Peterson: "Rather than creating a unique movement language à la Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham . . . [choreographers today] are focusing on conceptual issues, drawing on collaborators, appropriating, sampling, referencing, and di-aloging with other artists' works, notions of authorship, dissolving of genres, the rethinking of dance's relationship with movement, and with audiences are all in play" (quoted in Gardner 2011, p. 73). And with the instant availability of work in one's own genre, the prospect of borrowing or even stealing works of others is prevalent.
At least in developed countries, the relationship between "pure creativity" and the actual or potential marketability of works has also been altered. At the time of this writing, and despite the financial meltdown that began in 2008, a far larger proportion of work, particularly in the sciences, is paid for by commercial entities and is oriented toward potential marketability. Both in the physical and the natural sciences, the relation between "pure" science on the one hand and technology on the other has become increasingly blurred. And in the famous examples of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and other creators of the digital revolution, we see traditional conceptual creativity wedded to skill in the realms of technology and commerce.


On Sale
Dec 6, 2011
Page Count
480 pages
Basic Books

Howard E. Gardner

About the Author

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero. The author of more than twenty books and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and twenty-one honorary degrees, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author