Developing Multiple Talents – The Pleasures of Creative Polymathy

Danica McKellarMany, if not most, creative people are multitalented and explore a variety of interests in different forms of creative expression.

Among the purposes of the Talent Development Resources series of sites is celebrating multitalented creative people, and exploring how they realize those many talents.

In his post “That’s DR. Winnie to you: A New Child Star Stereotype” (on his Psychology Today blog), creativity researcher James C. Kaufman, Ph.D. writes about a number of people well-known as child stars, now grown, who have explored talents outside of acting.

He writes: “One of the research topics in creativity that has always fascinated me has been creative polymathy – the ability to be creative in more than one domain…”

“There are, of course, the child stars who are still actors (such as Christian Bale, Jason Bateman, Neil Patrick Harris, and Anna Paquin) or end up behind the cameras (such as Fred Savage, Peter Billingsley, and Ke Huy Quan) but what I find interesting are the other ones…

Danica McKellar (‘Winnie’ on The Wonder Years) earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in mathematics, currently writes books promoting math, and has an Erdos number of 4 (it’s like the Kevin Bacon game for mathematicians.”

The photo of her is from my posts
Danica McKellar on being girly and tech savvy
Danica McKellar on the power and beauty of math

Kaufman notes other examples: “Missy Gold (‘Katie’ on Benson) received her Ph.D. and is now a clinical psychologist in Portland, Maine (under a different name). [See his post for more.]

In her article Picking their next role: Joe College or hot young star?, Amy Kaufman (Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2011) mentions Emma Watson, Blake Lively, Brad Pitt, Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Shia LaBeouf and others who make decisions about developing their talents outside of acting.

Another example being actor Mayim Bialik, who earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in Neuroscience.

On “The Big Bang Theory” tv series, she plays Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist and “not-girlfriend” of physicist Sheldon Cooper.

Bialik commented that “having an understanding of both mental illness and neurosis has been tremendously helpful to me in my acting career.”

From my post: Actors and creative polymathy: Mayim Bialik, James Franco and others.

How does polymathy work?

In his post “How Renaissance People Think – The thinking style of polymaths” – cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman asks, “Do you think like a polymath? Here’s a quick test: Are you more of a rational or experiential/intuitive thinker?

“If you cringed as you read the question and thought to yourself ‘I love constantly shifting between both modes of thought’, then you’re on the polymath path.”

He says psychologist Seymour Epstein told him that “people who are high in both thinking style are Renaissance people. They have the brains of scientists and the sensibilities of poets. In other words they have the positive features of both thinking styles and do not have their negative features because they are kept under control by the other thinking style.”

See more of his comments, a video, and information about his book “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” in my article: Scott Barry Kaufman On Shifting Awareness To Be More Creative.

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Creative people are complex and multitalented. Along with the benefits of many abilities and passions, there are challenges in realizing so many interests.

Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, “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.”

In the video, Emma Watson says, “I want to be a Renaissance woman. I want to paint, and I want to write, and I want to act, and I want to just do everything.”

Viggo Mortensen once commented: “Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating.”

In my video, Barbara Sher comments about multitalented, multipassionate people: “One problem I run into with a lot of Scanners is perfectionism.”

See related article for more quotes and resources: Interested In So Many Things: Creative and Multitalented.


My podcast interview: James C. Kaufman, PhD on creativity research

The Too Many Aptitudes Problem, by Hank Pfeffer

Scanner Personality / Renaissance Soul articles

Multipotentiality: multiple talents, multiple challenges

Multitalented Creative People article

Read quotes by and about more multitalented creators like Jessica Lange, Gordon Parks, Julia Cameron, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Mayim Bialik, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch and others in article: Multitalented Creative People – an excerpt from my main book:

Developing Multiple Talents : The personal side of creative expression”
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Article: Renaissance People Don’t Want to Choose Only One Career – Many multitalented people are accomplished and active – even exceptional – in more than one area of creative expression. We read about some of them as celebrated writers, entrepreneurs, scientists, movie directors, actors, painters and other creators. But many more multitalented people are not well-known, or even able, for many reasons, to express their talents.

Multipotentiality Resources – Articles | books | sites | programs

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