May 04, 2017


What’s Your Creative Type? Harness the Power of Your Artistic Personality. By Meta Wagner. Seal Press. $15.99.

     There are, it turns out, only five possible ways to be a creative person. At least, so says Meta Wagner, who never tells readers which of the five she considers herself to be. Figuring it out may be a small pleasure of What’s Your Creative Type? A few small pleasures would be welcome, because this is just another who-are-you-really self-help book designed to pigeonhole readers, or have them pigeonhole themselves, for the purpose of – well, what, exactly? Wagner is a bit circumspect about this. Her chapters on the five (and only five) creative types tell each reader how to “nurture your tendencies” in some ways but also “tame your tendencies” in others, and how to name and conquer fears, boost creativity, and so on. In other words, she suggests that there are formulas to follow to be more creative – just pick whatever creative type you are and follow the right formula, and there you go!

     It may be argued that creative people are precisely those most likely to resist being typecast, but the point of Wagner’s book is that such niceties do not matter: there are specific ways of being creative, she argues, and knowing yours will allow you to maximize creativity in a way that will remain true to your particular approach to personal expression. This is a rather unusual notion for a self-help book; readers may find it interesting even if they deem it wrongheaded.

     Wagner takes pains not to suggest that any type of creative person is better or worse than any other, and uses real-world examples of people of each type to explain her approach. Nevertheless, some opinions may be gleaned by readers from the descriptions of the “types” and the individuals chosen to represent them. “The A-lister” is an ego-driven, vain, look-at-me kind of person, someone who creates to be admired and celebrated and rich and famous. Wagner chooses Pablo Picasso as an example (Salvador Dali, who did not even create a lot of what he “created,” might have been an even clearer choice among artists); but she also mentions George Orwell as an A-lister because he names “sheer egoism” as the first of four reasons he writes. Could there possibly be irony there? Could the other three reasons perhaps be more important, singly or collectively, than “sheer egoism”? Not in this book – subtlety of thought and argument is as absent here as it appears to be in the minds of many A-listers.

     Then there is “the Artisan,” who creates because creativity is its own reward. This is probably closest to what most readers will regard as a “creative type,” immersed in creating things for the sake of creativity itself. But does Wagner think of, say, Mozart as an I-must-create Artisan, or Saint-Saëns, who once said he produced music as an apple tree produces apples? No – what constitutes musical artisanship for Wagner is U2’s The Edge. And those to whom she gives profile focuses are photographer Vivian Maier and painter Chuck Close.

     The remaining three “creative types” are treated with the same level of insight (or not), explanation (or not), and empathy (well, yes, since all are created creatively equal). “The Game Changer” wants to use the creative process to develop something avant-garde, seeing boundary-breaking as a primary reason for creativity; “the Sensitive Soul” uses creativity as an emotional and spiritual outlet, but not for its own sake (that would be the Artisan) – the purpose here is to help others; and “the Activist” wants to use creativity to change the world – not in the highly personal, connected way of the Sensitive Soul, but with grand purposes and grand gestures. The problem is that even the exemplars of Wagner’s creative types are much harder to encapsulate than Wagner suggests: they are blends, not clear examples. Sometimes Wagner herself is aware of this. In her chapter on the Activist, for instance, she mentions three Activist authors – V.S. Naipaul, Don DeLillo and Jonathan Franzen – and points out that all three explicitly stated that authorial activism had become passé, before all three went on to write more novels. Creative types are both more complex and more self-aware (except perhaps for A-listers) than Wagner gives them credit for being.

     Wagner carefully says “you just might be” each of these types if you behave certain ways and want certain things; and she then suggests ways to maximize your tendencies in a particular direction while minimizing your risks of failing to fulfill your creative potential (“fulfill” of course meaning something different to each creative type). Eventually, near the end of the book, Wagner acknowledges that “creativity is a mystery, one not meant to be fully solved,” and this is a welcome touch of humility late in a book that has sliced and diced creativity and provided recipes for enhancing it according to which aspect of it each reader may follow.

     There is really nothing wrong with reading this book to see whether any of it seems insightful or helpful to you on the basis of your personal experiences and creative impulses. A good place to start is “The Takeaway,” an end-of-chapter set of bullet points relating to each creative “type” and making suggestions. If these lists seem apt and helpful to you, the rest of the book may also be useful. If the lists seem obvious, trivial, or even demeaning (a suggestion for the self-directed Artisan is to “promote yourself – your work deserves to be seen by multitudes”), then the remainder of the book will divulge nothing of significant creative value.

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