Some forms of creative expression – such as acting and filmmaking – involve collaborating with other people. But a number of artists make use of isolation and do their best creative work alone.
One example: George Orwell chose to write “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (from about 1946-1949) while living in Barnhill (photo), an abandoned farmhouse on the isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides.
Following the success of his novel Animal Farm, Orwell told his friend Arthur Koestler, “Everyone keeps coming at me, wanting me to lecture, to write commissioned booklets, to join this and that, etc – you don’t know how I pine to be free of it all and have time to think again.”
Solitude or working alone is certainly not the only way to nourish creative projects. Many artists acknowledge the value of academies such as Juilliard, and less formal artist retreats and workshops, like Idyllwild.
Much of my writing and advice on creative expression and enhancing creativity – including The Creative Mind column and my books – focus on the inner journey of the individual.
But creating happens in a social context, and often depends on inspiration plus financial and emotional support from others: audiences, publishers and producers.
Creative work can impact many other people, even worldwide.
But being creative can also be inhibited by others.
Dancer, choreographer and teacher Carol M. Press, Ed.D. writes in her book The Dancing Self, “Creativity’s profound effect affirms what binds us together as a species. Creativity contributes immeasurably to the health of humankind; before we understand and accept our differences, we must acknowledge and feel our common bonds…we are social animals, born to live in relation with others.”
She adds, “Anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake in her book Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began asserts that art-making is an intrinsic human capacity that has psychobiological foundations. Through such creative endeavors people experience, express, and elaborate their common interests in finding meaning and competence in their lives.”
Sally Field has commented, “Actresses and other women in the industry need to have contact with each other. Not to tell sob stories, but to kick each other in the butt creatively.”
Other values of social connection include emotional support. Creative expression and personal growth often demand courage and help in dealing with fear.
Referring to a variety of research studies, Robert J. Maurer, PhD, a family therapist, writing consultant and instructor at UCLA, has commented in his classes and books that those people who are able to reach high levels of personal and professional success have a healthy acknowledgment of fear, and they also honor the need to be comforted and supported when extending outside comfort boundaries.
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Many people have talked about the importance of place, work space and solitude for developing creative talents.
In her famous essay “A Room of One’s Own” in 1929, Virginia Woolf said that for women artists “a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself” and encouragement to develop the “habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”
Marylou Kelly Streznewski is author of the book “Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential” (a ten-year study of 100 gifted adults).
Streznewski [strez NEFF skee] is also a Program Specialist in Gifted Education, and a poet and fiction writer.
In our interview, she talked about taking the time she needed to write. Her perspectives can also apply to other creative expression.
“I have four children, a husband and an elderly mother, and now grandchildren, and all of that is a pull of things you care about and want to do. You have to constantly pull back and say, My writing is important and I must do something for myself, and the world will have to fend for itself for a couple of hours.”
In his book Solitude: A Return to the Self, the late British psychiatrist Anthony Storr points out that creativity is often linked to seclusion. Henry James, Beatrix Potter, Franz Kafka, Beethoven – all were ‘loners’ or embraced solitude to create.
“Loner” may be a somewhat negative label, but a number of creative people have used it as part of how they view or identify themselves.
In an interview on the Charley Rose Show, actor Jessica Chastain talked about being somewhat a loner as a child. [From my post Jessica Chastain on being sensitive and a loner.]
In an interview, speaking of his role in the television series ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ James Franco said it echoed his own high school experience. “I was a little freak, a little geek. High school was a big party the first couple of years, but that gets old, so I broke away and just was a loner. I did a lot of painting, and I was a member of a local art league.” [James Franco on being a loner.]
Actor Kerry Washington: “I’ll be honest with you, I’m a little bit of a loner. It’s been a big part of my maturing process to learn to allow people to support me.”
Fashion designer Tom Ford: “I am really a loner after all; I am really not a social person.”
[Both quotes from article Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts – which includes other quotes on being a loner.]
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Most of the above comes from two sections: “Relationships – Connections” and “Environment“ in my main book: Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression.