Who is a Creative Genius?

by Lynn S. Schwebach

In academic contexts, genius usually implies a person with a high IQ. But another common usage, and much less defined, is when individuals use the phrase creative genius.

Tom Petty has sold more than 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. In 2002, Petty was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers currently celebrate 40 years as a band, one of the longest-running bands in U.S. history. Do you think Tom Petty is a creative genius? 

Research done over the past few decades shows that high IQs do not highly correlate with creativity. In fact, some experts point out that extremely high IQs probably inhibit or prevent high levels of creativity. And individuals with average IQs can be highly creative.

So who is a creative genius?

Dean Keith Simonton, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, has devoted a significant amount of his career in studying this concept. He has written books on the subject, journal articles, essays, and chapters of sourcebooks devoted to the psychology of creativity.

In “The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity,” Simonton wrote a chapter called Creativity in Highly Eminent Individuals. He defines creative genius as follows:

Creative geniuses become highly eminent because they have contributed at least one product that is widely viewed as a masterwork in an established domain of creative achievement.

He wrote that the magnitude of their creative contributions last years, even centuries. Think Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Descartes, Newton, Einstein, Beethoven, Woolf, Bergman, Picasso, and McCartney.

If you’re wondering if someone falls within this realm of creative genius, simply go to google.com and type in the name. If thousands of Internet sites come up, and you get a Wikipedia entry, that person has passed the first round to enter history as a creative genius, Simonton wrote.

If a link goes directly to a site specifically dedicated to that person, chances are even higher that historians document them as creative geniuses.

In another chapter for “The Routledge Companion to Creativity,” Simonton compared creative geniuses to extraordinary leaders. Creative geniuses influence and affect culture through “products,” such as books, poems, paintings, or compositions.

In the same way, extraordinary leaders, such as presidents, lawmakers and military leaders exert exceptional influence on their cultures through policies, programs, reforms, initiatives, strategies, tactics, and laws – also considered “products.”

In summary, Simonton states that “genius is defined by excellence in achievements, achievements that may range from breakthrough symphonies to battlefield victories – and any other manner of exerting impact through products.”

To  see more of my art, visit Schwebach Arts, and my Etsy shop.


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