The trope of the isolated artist is all around us. From Anthony Burgess’ writing retreat in the English countryside to Dali’s hideaway in the north of Spain and more recently, the mansion of DJ and producer Deadmau5 near Toronto, artists have been seeking to get away from it all for centuries.
And in many cases, solitude is an effective strategy for sparking ideas. But how can creatives ensure that the stream of ideas keeps running? The process of entering and remaining in a creative state of mind can be elusive.
Conversations—the kinds that take place in real life, with human voices—could be the answer. That’s because the act of engaging in a vocal exchange of ideas is an entirely different mental exercise. Conversations force us to address thoughts and questions from a different mind, with a different set of beliefs and perceptions. In the process, it shines a light on ideas that we may not have considered or explored in significant ways.
But not just any chat will do. Conversations that question the foundation of ideas can lead to new and welcome ones.
Have you ever gotten into a mild argument or even a heated debate with someone and realized that it was the first time you had managed to convey your thoughts accurately? Or worse, left the conversation feeling defeated, and figured out much later exactly what you meant to say?
I thought about moving to Berlin for years before a friend asked me, “Why don’t you just move to Berlin now?” While I had probably asked myself the same question dozens of times, there was something meaningful about hearing it from somebody else.
I didn’t have an answer to the question and found myself in the city shortly thereafter. It’s still where I call home thanks to the effectiveness of such a direct question.
Our own preconceptions about subjects—both personal and professional—can get in the way of using our minds efficiently. It’s a habit that could also be rooted in what Aldous Huxley understood as the “reducing valve” of the “Mind-At-Large.” The infamous writer, researcher, and psychedelic pioneer was adamant about the brain’s nearly infinite creative capabilities. But most of those, he posited, are limited by the mind’s Darwinian tendency to restrict our thoughts to those necessary for survival.
Creativity at its best is disinterested in mere survival. Some, like researcher Robert E. Franken, have defined creativity as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with…and entertaining ourselves and others.”
That sounds like it requires a lot of pushing outside our mind’s natural state.
And while there are many avenues to try and mitigate the effectiveness of Huxley’s valve, like exercise, breathing routines, and spiritual research, a conversation is a non-toxic, free, and accessible option.
Saying things out loud also allows us to alter the tone and texture of the conversation. Sarcasm, for example, has been proven to increase creativity. It forces us to view problems and scenarios with a different perspective, even when we didn’t intend to. Things like parody and sarcasm don’t translate well through text.
When they happen in person, conversations are opportunities to exercise specific parts of our brains. However, like exercise, it takes more than just enthusiasm to get where we need to be. Form and practice are equally important. One without the other will leave us imbalanced, without progress. But together, our minds, like our bodies, can experience incredible growth.
Like other wellness activities, it’s important to use a variety of activities—including in-person conversations—to ensure that we can continue being creative.
Read more about pushing creative boundaries:
Feeling Stuck? 10 Books to Unleash Your Creativity
Artscape Launchpad Using Collaboration to Push Creative Boundaries
Does Running Actually Help Creativity?