Sunday, November 05, 2006

Multi-Genre Programs

I can’t add to this list, but maybe someone out there can?

Hi Tom,

I was hoping you could offer some insight on programs that encourage multi genre exploration. I am currently in the process of applying to schools that do just that (links are below): UT Austin , University of Virginia, Hamline and New College in San Francisco . To explain what I mean by multi-genre, UT Austin offers a program where students focus in two genres usually choosing between fiction, poetry, screenwriting and play writing. Though I'm hopeful, Austin and Virginia are long shots so I'm trying to broaden my search (the crunch time has resulted in a sort of existential panic). Do you know of any other MFA programs that have a similar focus?

Thanks for your help!

-A little bit anxious


Sara said...

The NEOMFA requires everyone to take at least one out-of-genre workshop and craft & theory course, hoping to create writers with two strong genres. I don't know if that counts as a multi-genre focus, though.

Finish Tag said...

University of British Columbia (UBC) has an extensive multi-genre program, but the deadline was last Friday.

Anonymous said...

Look into CalArts, very interdisciplinary

Anonymous said...


Life in the metropolis increasingly depends on the ability to provide new and original solutions to old problems. This capacity to bring together knowledge and imagination is called "creativity". Creativity can be defined as many ways as it can be conceived.

As its simplest, creativity could be described as the ability to create products or ideas which are original and which posess a strong social usefulness. This definition, however, is not the whole answer. Frank Barron, one of the most important researchers in this field, offers a more articulate description of creativity. First creativity is considered in terms of the characteristics of the creative product and the social aknowledgement obtains. A criterion of usefulness is implied in, although not essential to, this definition. Secondly the creative product can be considered in its own context: the difficulty of the problem resolved or identified, the elegance of the solution proposed, the impact of the product itself. Thirdly creativity can be conceived on the basis of the abilities that favour it, id est as skill or aptitude.

Creativity, in fact, can be properly conceived as a cognitive capability separate from other mental functions. It appears increasingly independent from the complex of abilities grouped under the word "intelligence", although it has a strong interrelation with these mental abilities. Generally, creatively gifted individuals tend to score higher than the mean of the general population in tests measuring "intelligence", and are also evaluated as more intelligent than the mean of their peers by independent observers. Elevated performances in IQ tests, however, do not guarantee a proper utterance of creativity. The most complete studies on this topic (the Terman study on a group of gifted children followed through their lives, and the McKinnon study on a wide group of architects indicated as cleverer than the mean by their colleagues) showed that intelligence gifted people have better social skills and health than the mean of people of their own age, although with higher suicide rates, but are no more creative than the general population. So, as indicated by the study of McKinnon, there is no correlation, above an IQ level of 120, between IQ scores and creative ability, however measured. Intelligence and creativity, hence, seem independent of the other cognitive capabilities which identify an individual.

The methods used in the evaluating of creative aptitude and ability are numerous and as ingenious the argument investigated demands them to be. In 1981 Dennis Hocevar, in a circumstantial review, sumarized the ten main methods used in studies on creativity:
Tests of divergent thinking
Attitude and Interest inventories
Personality inventories
Biographical inventories
Teacher nominations
Peer nominations
Supervisor ratings
Judgment of products
Self-reported creative activities and achievements
From Hocevar D (1981): Measurement of creativity: review and critique. J Personality Assessment, 45: 450-464

Evaluation by third parties and comparison with biographies are the most used methods in large scale investigations. Personality inventories or tests for the evaluation of the individual's style of thought are frequently used with well selected samples of volunteers. One of the most ingenious methods of investigation was developed by Albert Routhenberg, who created a test of verbal associations in order to measure a type of cognitive thought called "janusian thinking". Janusian thinking is, in Routhenberg's words, the "tendency to conceptualize opposites in a free-response situation". This process involves "actively conceiving two or more opposites or antitheses simultaneously during the course of the creative process". This tendency favours the development of mental associations which are often unusual and uncommon, and according to Routhenberg's studies it seems widespread among creatively gifted people, particularly among those who are most productive, those who attain the eminence in their field.

Verbal fluency, fluency of ideas, redefinition, openness to experience, independence of thought, capacity to bring together remote associations and expend effort in the production of ideas are all abilities which favour the expression of creativity among gifted individuals. Most studies, however, agree that the expression of creativity is not the result of a single act, like an answer to a question or the resolution of a problem, but derives from a process which implies many different phases. The moment of "eureka" will not occur without a previous phase of intense working out which implies the collection and elaboration of information relevant to the creative effort, which must be compared and associated before resulting a creative product.

Arnorld M. Ludwig, who studied extensively the cognitive and psychological abilities which associate with and favour creative achievement, described the creative process thus: "One of the better known conceptualizations regards the initial stage as one of preparation during which the individual consciously but unsuccessfully attempts to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem. Then, when the problem is put aside, there is a stage of incubation, a period of variable duration, during which ideas germinate at a subconscious level, usually while the individual is engaged in other tasks. Then comes the stage of insight, discovery or illumination, the "aha" or "eureka" experience, mostly occurring when the critical faculties are suspended, such as during relaxation or dreams - when supposedly the entire solution to the problem is gleaned. But insight in itself is insufficient for discovery. The last stage supposedly involves that of elaboration followed by verification, when the idea is developed and tested against scientific, aesthetic or social standards" (from: AM Ludwig: Reflections on creativity and madness. American J Psychotherapy, 1989; 43: 4-14). An example among the more quoted is the anecdote reported by the chemist Kekule, who recounted that he conceived the ring structure of benzene after a dream in which a serpent biting its tail appeared to him. This and other examples illustrate how an innate propensity towards introspection and the ability to access hidden dimensions of consciousness can favour the course of creativity.

In this respect psychoanalysts talk of "regression in the service of the Ego", as it sound the happy wording coined by the psychoanalyst E. Kris to indicate the ability of turning to the unconscious to wide the sphere of experience. This capacity to gain access to the hidden side of the mind seems to characterize artists and writers but also, though to a lesser extent, scientists and philosophers.

The unexpected and disquieting surfacing of unconscious feelings in daily life also characterizes another wide group of individuals: those who suffer from a mental illnesses, whether for a brief period or for longer. As shown by many studies, there is a surprising link between a creative gift and the risk of mental disorder: in fact, the prevalence of mental problems among creatively gifted people is significantly higher than in the general population. This would suggest that genius, as a result of creative aptitude, and madness are connected by a non-casual link.

The Italian psychiatrist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso has over the past century been the most consistent supporter of this hypothesis. In one of his best known books, "The Man of Genius", Lombroso illustrates his thesis in a circumstantial way refering to the genius and the lunatic, extreme types related by a shared genetic basis, which taints the descentants of the most gifted families. Lombroso was not the first to assert that there is a tight link between mental ilness and creative achievement.

More than two millenia earlier, in the fragment known as "Problemata XXX", Aristotle, or a disciple of his, raised the question as to why the vast majority of the eminent people are afflicted by "melancholy", i. e. suffer from a mental disorder. The text, now accepted as part of the Aristotelian canon, is surprising in its modernity and accurately describes those characteristics peculiar to one of the most diffuse mental disorders, manic-depressive psychosis. The author of the Problemata XXX indicates many behavioural characteristics as attributes of the more eminent people of his time, attributes such as mood instability, proneness to depressive withdrawal, impulsiveness, tendency to alcohol and drug abuse, high risk of suicide, all of which are peculiar to patients suffering from manic-depressive illnesses. In the Problemata XXX there are also illustrative stories taken from myth and literature, with a gallery of examples mixing excellence and bizarreness, often with a tragic outcome.

The stereotype of the eccentric artist or of the mad scientist, moreover plays a protective role in the collective imagination against the fear and suspicion that excellence and diversity of others always engenders in the majority. The image of madness as a result of genius has been repeatedly expressed in the history of the western world, being codified during the Renaissance in the figure of the melancholic genius afflicted by Saturnian acedia, and resurging during Romanticism in the figure of the deracin (?) artist.

Cesare Lombroso was among the first to apply a less anecdotal method to the investigation of the relationship between the creative gift and the risk of a mental illness, offering an answer that is nevertheless the positivistic version of the romantic myth.

Most studies performed in the positivistic era in order to either confirm, or refute, Lombroso's hypothesis rest on biographical evidence. This raises the suspicion that these studies claiming a higher prevalence of psychopathologies among creative or eminent people, were biased by overexposure. For individuals, such as artists in the public eye more information is available about their private lives: this could determine an apparently higher prevalence of disorders that tend, as a result of negative stigma, to be hidden whenever possible. In addition, some temperamental traits widespread among creative people, like eccentricity, uneasiness, propensity to excess and experimentation, could be a reflection not only of an underlying mental disorder, but also, and above all, of the tolerance by society of the behaviour of individuals who obtain achievement. In some way this behaviour will be a secondary product of the achievement, rewarded since it permits the expression of dissenting demands which by the majority of people are not able to express and which are not directly linked to the creative utterance.

Despite from these reservation, even the later studies, performed using methods applying specific nosographic categories and the direct confrontation with the candidate through interviews and inventories, yielded similar results, with a higher prevalence of mental disorders among gifted people than among the general population.

The two principal studies performed in the era preceding the systematic ordering of the more recent classifications (DSM III, and now IV, and ICD 9, and now 10), show among both artists and scientists a prevalence of severe mental disorders significantly higher than among the general population, with a strong familial association between creativit, psychopathology, and higher suicide rates. In a study performed in Germany from 1927 to 1943 on 5000 individuals, Adele Juda, at that time researcher at the Institute for Psychiatry of Munich, evaluated frequency and distribution of psychiatric disorders in a well selected sample of eminent artists, scientists and their relatives. The study shows a significantly higher prevalence of mental illnesses among eminent people and their families compared to the general population. Among artists disorders of the schizophrenic spectrum and psychopaties were most common. Among scientists, instead, disorders of the cyclotimic type, in particular manic-depressive psychoses, were more frequent. In both groups there was a high suicide rate and a strong familial heredity in the transmission of the psychopathological trait and of creative talent.

Some decades later JL Karlsson, in a study of Iceland, reported a clear familial association between the diagnosis of psychosis, taken from hospital registers, and eminence in artistic or scientific fields, based citations in Who's Who. A clearly recognizable creative talent was present in the relatives of schizophrenic patients twice as often as in the general population; and in the relatives of manic-depressive patients six times as often as in the general population. Karlsson, in his conclusion, suggestes a familial link between creativity and psychoses, substained by a common genetic basis.

In both studies there is a surprising but clear association between the creative gift and the risk of schizophrenia, although mediated by a familial link, since in the concept itself of schizophrenia as illness there is implied a criterion of impairment.

Anonymous said...

UNC Wilmington has a multi-genre requirement - not sure how much though. I'm thinking about applying there for fiction once I finish my MA.

M said...

I'm getting my MFA at Hamline University in St. Paul right now. The multi-genre work really makes this program amazing. I've taken classes in all 3 genres and switched my thesis from fiction to poetry, and I'm considering doing a joint thesis (both fiction and poetry). They're also really supportive to ideas for creative independent studies. I started a writing program for refugees in the Twin Cities. Anyway--I'm glad I picked a program that was flexible in this way. I doubt you'll regret it.