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Frank Barron, 80; UC Scholar, Author Explored Psychology of Creative Mind

October 15, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Frank X. Barron, the internationally known UC Berkeley scholar who began exploring the creative mind in the 1950s, has died. He was 80.

Barron, also a UC Santa Cruz psychology professor from 1969 to 1992, died Oct. 6 at his Santa Cruz home of complications from a fall, his family said.

The author of several books about the psychology of creativity, Barron also delighted in writing poetry. A book of his poems, "Ghosts," will be published posthumously.

Risk-taking, the veteran researcher said on several occasions, is a common characteristic of creative people. "Creativity requires taking what [Albert] Einstein called 'a leap into the unknown,' " he said in a 1979 discussion of his work. "This can mean putting your beliefs, reputation and resources on the line as you suffer the slings and arrows of ridicule."

Barron, a native of Lansford, Pa., earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from La Salle College, served as an Army medic in World War II, and completed a master's in psychology at the University of Minnesota and a doctorate at UC Berkeley.

He began his half-century of pioneering research as a founding member of Berkeley's Institute of Personality Assessment in 1949. Although he had teaching stints at Harvard, Bryn Mawr, the University of Hawaii and Wesleyan, he remained with the institute until moving permanently to UC Santa Cruz in 1969.

During the 1950s, Barron conducted in-depth interviews with creative thinkers, including architects, research scientists, mathematicians and such writers as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Jessamyn West. He also helped design personality measurement tests.

Barron detailed many of his findings in what is still considered a major work on creativity, the 1963 "Creativity and Psychological Health," which former Times book editor Robert Kirsch praised as "a work which is both readable and illuminating, informative and challenging."

A creative person, Barron observed in that book, pays attention to vague insights that most people cast aside on grounds of good sense and has "ego strength" that helps him rally from difficulties. He also is strongly motivated to find new ways to bring order to the world, and is willing to rebel against conformity to do so.

"The creative genius," Barron wrote, "may be at once naive and knowledgeable, being at home equally to primitive symbolism and to rigorous logic. He is both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner than the average person."

Among Barron's other books were "Creativity and Personal Freedom," "Creative Person and Creative Process," "Scientific Creativity," "Artists in the Making," "The Shaping of Personality," "No Rootless Flower: An Ecology of Creativity" and, in 1997, "Creators on Creating," an anthology co-edited with his daughter, Anthea Barron.

Frank Barron's work helped point psychology toward improving psychological health and personal vitality, as well as toward treating mental illness. He earned the American Psychological Assn.'s Richardson Creativity Award in 1969 and its Rudolf Arnheim Award for outstanding contribution to psychology and the arts in 1995.

The philosopher, educator and writer is survived by his wife of 42 years, Nancy Jean Barron; one son, Frank; and two daughters, Anthea and Brigid.

The family asks that memorial donations be sent to the UCSC Foundation for the Frank Barron Memorial Award for student research, in care of John Leopold, Social Sciences 1, Faculty Services, UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064.

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