Psychology
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Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity?

two-self-portraits-and-several-details-1886

On the psychology of why rejection and loneliness may be necessary evils for the creative genius

“In the deepest and most important things, we are unutterably alone, and for one person to be able to advise or even help another, a lot must happen, a lot must go well, a whole constellation of things must come right in order once to succeed.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in a small town in the southern Netherlands. At age 13 he attended Willem II College, a nearby middle school. An artist from Paris by the name of Constantijn C. Huysmans taught at the school, and it was he who first exposed the young van Gogh to drawing. Two years later, however, van Gogh grew frustrated with his schooling and returned home. “My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile,” he would later write to his brother Theo in a series of letters now collected as The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.

He subsequently moved to Paris and famously made a name for himself as a painter. Still, he suffered often with bouts of depression and gloom. At age 36, he decided to move to Auvers-sur-Oise, a sleepy town in northwestern France, where he could be nearer to Theo and to a psychiatrist named Dr. Paul Gachet, who was recommended to van Gogh by friend and fellow painter Camille Pissaro. Jan Hulsker, a Dutch art historian, notes that upon moving to Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh suffered a new crisis, “the starting point for one of the saddest episodes in a life already rife with sad events.” For a year van Gogh “had fits of despair and hallucination during which he could not work, and in between them, long clear months in which he could and did, punctuated by extreme visionary ecstasy,” writes art critic Robert Hughes.

Around this time, van Gogh wrote another letter to his brother, this time about his loneliness. Even if he were to have a friend for whom he cared, van Gogh felt that it would only serve to lead him away from his art.

“We feel lonely now and then and long for friends and think we should be quite different and happier if we found a friend of whom we might say: ‘He is the one,’” van Gogh wrote. “But you, too, will begin to learn that there is much self-deception behind this longing; if we yielded too much to it, it would lead us from the road.”

The next year, on July 27, 1890, a 37-year-old van Gogh is alleged to have shot himself in the chest with a revolver. “Some think Van Gogh shot himself in the wheat field that had engaged his attention as an artist of late; others think he did it at a barn near the inn,” writes biographer Ingo Walther. Van Gogh walked to the Auberge Ravoux, a lodge where he had recently been staying. Two doctors attended to him but without a trained surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. Theo was notified and rushed to be with his brother. The next evening, however, an infection caused by the bullet killed van Gogh. He spent his final evening smoking a pipe and chatting with Theo. His final words were, “The sadness will last forever.”

Van Gogh likely had a cadre of mental issues, none of which were suitably diagnosed while he was alive. Yet what seemed to weigh heaviest on him was the inevitability of his loneliness. According to his letters to Theo, he felt he had one of two options: content himself with loneliness or try to countenance his loneliness with friendships thereby derailing his creativity (“lead us from the road,” as he wrote).

Aldous Huxley wrote, “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely,” and upon thinking about it even a little, it quickly becomes apparent that many of history’s creative geniuses have been deeply lonely people. There is the obvious reason for this: dedicating oneself to an artistic pursuit means one has little time for social endeavors. This is what has frustrated flamboyant, gregarious writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James, both of whom wrote about the dreadful isolation necessary to turn out great fiction. But whether it’s the mysteriously secretive writing careers of J.D. Salinger or Donna Tartt, the well-known loneliness of Joseph Conrad (“we live as we dream — alone”) or the friendship-loneliness conundrum of van Gogh, it becomes apparent that something else is at play. Loneliness is not just sufficient for creativity; it is necessary. It is almost as if one can only be truly creative when one detaches from society.

“Starry Night Over the Rhone,” 1888, Van Gogh, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Sharon H. Kim is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University who focuses on individual and group creativity. She did her undergraduate work at the Ohio State University and completed her doctorate at Cornell. She has jet-black hair and chunky black spectacles to match. In her most recent study, she found evidence that people tend to be more creative if they have been socially rejected.

What is perhaps most interesting about her findings is that no actual social rejection has to have taken place, the creative must only feel rejected in some way and must establish a feeling of independence, of being “different” than his or her peers.

In the 1956 book The Outsider, Colin Wilson claimed that creative geniuses tend to live on the margins of society, rejected and non-conformist. Yet, a neurological nuance must be added to Wilson’s well-known theory. When creativity becomes all that matters — when dreams of fitting in with society and having a white picket fence fall by the wayside — then one’s cognitive focus can move from socio-cultural ones (fitting in) to creative pursuits(standing out).

“Given that creative solutions are by definition unusual, infrequent, and potentially controversial, they are stimulated by the desire to stand out and to assert one’s uniqueness,” writes Kim. “The experience of rejection may trigger a psychological process that stimulates, rather than stifles, performance on creative tasks.”

Scholars didn’t always think like this. In fact, Kim quotes a series of studies, principally Roy Baumesiter’s 2005 study, which claimed that social exclusion hinders cognitive performance and therefore decreases one’s ability to be creativeBut Kim flatly rejects this claim, asserting that loneliness and the feelings of rejection instead allow one to better focus cognitive performance on a single, creative task.

Think of it like this: You go to see a play with a friend. During the play you’ll likely be wondering what your friend is thinking of the show, what quarrels he or she will take with it, what your discussion will be like on your walk home. But if you go to the theatre by yourself, all of your concentration can be directed on what’s happening on stage. Your mental energy is focused.

When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called “meta-cognition,” or the process of “thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts,” as psychology professor Gregory Feist says.

The difficulty lies in striking a balance. There is solitude, which can lead to meta-cognition and creative focus. But there is also, as van Gogh experienced off and on throughout his life, crippling loneliness that sets the artist back. The gap is razor-thin. Loneliness and depression (Hemingway called depression “the artist’s reward”) are central to why so many great artists from Hemingway to Plath to Hunter S. Thompson have taken their own life. Sartre is alleged to have said, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company,” but parsing the distinction between solitude — where one is willfully and happily alone — and loneliness — where one is desperate and depressed to be alone — is a task that should not be taken lightly. “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous, to poetry,” wrote Thomas Mann. “But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.” He might have added: to the crippling, the desperate, the depressing.

Vincent Van Gogh (left) and his younger brother, Theo (right), 1887

Modern studies have shown how great a challenge it is to differentiate between loneliness and solitude. One wants to “treat the loneliness while strengthening the solitude,” writes psychotherapist Edward Tick. The trouble is that solitude may not be enough for creative genius because it entails no rejection. Loneliness, however, is the product of rejection, either a rejection inflicted by society or inflicted on oneself and therefore lends itself most to creativity.

Yet, one must wonder, is it possible that creating great art is such a momentous act that loneliness and social rejection cease to matter? In a letter to a seventeen-year-old aspiring author called Leonard, the French-born author Anaïs Nin wrote, “Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” The composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky also seemed to strike this balance. He was notoriously depressed and, as a gay man in nineteenth-century Russia, surely felt socially rejected. But when he had a creative breakthrough all of that went away. “It would be vain to try to put into words that immeasurable sense of bliss which comes over me directly a new idea awakens in me and begins to assume a different form,” he wrote to his financier and friend Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck in 1878. “I forget everything and behave like a madman. Everything within me starts pulsing.”

But this may be a balance that only a select few can endure. Creativity stems from the ability to make original, unique connections, to bind together disparate information in a way that few are able to accomplish. “Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way — seeing things that others cannot see,” writes neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen. Often, the only way to see what others cannot see is to experience what others cannot imagine experiencing: rejection, isolation, loneliness. The trouble is that rejection, isolation, and loneliness are awful emotions to have to endure. Few can withstand them for a few years. Almost no one can withstand them for a lifetime.

Even a genius like van Gogh could not deal with the social detachment that he felt his creativity demanded. Still, he felt it worthwhile. On October 14, 1875, van Gogh wrote another letter to brother, counseling him to reject society. “Seek only for light and freedom and do not immerse yourself too deeply in the worldly mire,” he wrote.

Six months after Vincent died of an infection, Theo died as well. Theo’s medical report, according to biographer Wouter van der Veen, noted that he died of dementia paralytica brought on by “chronic disease, overwork, [and] sadness.” Van der Veen also wrote that Theo’s health degenerated in large part due to his brother’s death. Without Vincent, Theo, who also struggled with loneliness, felt more alone than ever.

Finally, in 1914, over twenty years after Theo’s death, Theo’s body was exhumed and moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to be next to Vincent’s grave. Now the brothers could rest — together.

283 Comments

  1. Pingback: Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity? – Explore Creativity

  2. It’s an old theory a la Mencken to tell you the truth. Of greater interest is the need for isolation and the need to pull away from others in order to be able to hear, in order to be able to create. It’s the difference between a life of constant activity (quite unendurable and unbearable), and one of actions (wherein a clear focused intention to create something is allowed to occur). If this is perceived as society rejecting creative people, artists, etc., it’s largely, I think, a mistake if not rather reductive at best—but it’s the sort of mental busywork of ideas that don’t really matter that much and which people who truly make stuff don’t need to concern themselves at all, to tell you the truth.

  3. What must be understood is the RAZOR THIN GAP between isolation and loneliness. . . loneliness is the power of absorbed thoughts and energy that one is not needed or accepted. In loneliness, the grief is from within. In isolation, you are separating yourself from people & events to create; to unleash genius level talent.

    The difference is this.
    Whether social rejection inspires creativity or not, if you treat rejection by reflecting on your weaknesses, it turns into loneliness (which has never birth anything better than depression).

    But if you isolate yourself , and channel that pain into something productive and meaningful, the world would be your’s in a New York second!

    I keep saying this…. In happiness, there’s only contentment & gratitude… But with pain, you want more, you want better, you never want to feel like that again.

    There’s POWER in that!

  4. johnberk says

    I believe that the definition of social rejection as necessary for creativity can leave to unprecedented results, such as rejection marketing, in which people will try to put themselves in the position of socially rejected in order to increase their market value. Neoliberal thinking can infect almost anything, and is indeed happening. Average artists are becoming popular, because they are different. How can you empirically prove that the key to creativity lies in being lonely. Yes, you can judge the average levels, but there will still be a plenty of people who are creative and social, without openly admitting that. And there are plenty of antisocial people who cannot do anything creative. So how would you proceed into your analysis? Would you consider touring the bars and drinking with friends or playing football as utterly denying the option for creativity. What can creativity, then achieve? A world of suffering and loneliness?

  5. A knowledgeable post indeed. The title of your post intrigued me. After all, most social rejects do turn out to be the ones taking the world by a storm. Loved it x

  6. Allergic to wool says

    I felt less lonely after deleting my Facebook account, but the sorrow ceases to leave me. My sorrow is my unwanted, but loyal companion. Even times I was with another or others the loneliness remained. It’s a longing I don’t quite understand as it changes quicker than I can grasp. Sometimes I find myself wishing to be home, then remembering I am at home. I took it literally in my youth, now I wonder what this home may be or may have been. Other times I find a bit of comfort curling in bed, imagining a man that truly loves me is embracing me securely. ADD has been an obstacle in my creative passions. I have more or less 50 projects that have been pushed aside. Instead of returning to existing work I create more new. My work is mainly literature. 50 chapter ones. I am too weird for a man to love. Each heartbreak feels a push outside of society. I’ve had so many that I now feel one foot in, the other out. Seeing other women be loved adds to the ache. I study them and wonder what it is they have that I lack. How is it that something so simple is the furthest from my reach. It’s all I ever wanted. Since I am down to one foot left in reality I figure love can be mine in fantasy. If I can’t find my love then I’ll just create him. That may be motivation to finally complete a novel. Maybe even bring me one move back into this game, life, as well.

    • Vanessa says

      Trust me, you are not alone. You are not alone at all. Promise yourself, that you will finish your next chapter one! And pray. You got this, and I believe in you already. Link some of your wor if you can.

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  10. GenAlex says

    Of course!
    Rejected painter/librarian become the most creative and terrible dictator!

  11. Pingback: Tech News / Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity?

  12. NompumeleloNqobile says

    interesting! But again the confusion in distinguishing between actual loneliness and the state of being alone. Is creativity therefore hindered when one relishes in solitude?

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  14. Rejection is a very strong term. In more practical terms and specifically from the point of view of early psychological development it’s probably more realistic to acknowledge a point in time where a sensitive young person realises that group mentality is an entity unto itself. The strong individual always struggles in such an environment. Do you have the courage to break away even if it means being alone?

  15. Pingback: Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity? | Twinspirational moments

  16. This post definitely made me think…
    It’s so tragically beautiful how the loneliest people are complete geniuses. And how this creativity can be shattered with social connection.

  17. Pingback: Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity? | To Teach Is To Touch Lives Forever

  18. Jill Barth says

    Mind-bending… is there a method to seeing and balancing? Not actually being IN the experience one’s writing (or arting) about? The skill of nonattachment. This letting-go is mighty. Great piece.

  19. Maybe the dark side of creativity, would like to think happy people create too!! In fact have seen this in action, perhaps adversity in life feeds the creative soul.

  20. Your absolutely right.. Loneliness is necessary as it eventually leads you away from pretending and pleasing other people to finally land up doing something that is for yourself only. I might not be socially rejected but I am in a place where being social is not possible because of the lack of like minded people around me.. It has made me more creative.. Totally !

    Love it !!

  21. Re-blogged this post with remarks..
    “The ironies of being creative.. IMO, perhaps it’s worth the pain and sufferings.”

  22. Wonderful post.

    The story of Van Gogh has always been one of the saddest, yet one of my favorites. Painfully relatable, and so tragic in that such a pained mind could create beauty that would capture the world for so long after his death. Your article did well by him. Thank you for seeing beyond the paintings and seeing the man himself.

  23. Reblogged this on Be In's home and commented:
    This article makes me think of: 1/ 3 options I can choose for my lifestyle: to be isolated or socialized, or a mix of the psychological states. 2/ respect people who choose to be isolated and their alone time as they may do/think of the great things 3/ how to know if one is enjoying the isolation and he/she is struggling with depression and how to deal with it

  24. Being alone is deadly, but socializing often shortens your creativity – what do you prefer? This depends on the person and every individual handles this different…

  25. As an artist myself, I can definitely relate to this article. I do find that the artist within demands solitude and lots of it.

    However, rather than being lonely, I find myself needing ‘aloneness.’

  26. Reblogged this on makeyourvoicesmatter and commented:
    Wow..I feel like crying right now…this story your research reflects a large fragment of my soul.It always nagged me;why brilliant writers who leave or left a mark in th

  27. Sometimes we need some extra motivation to stop saying “I will do this some day” and really start doing it. The pressure sometimes can be good.

  28. Sometimes or most of the time when a creative person is depressed or feeling a bit anxious is usually when the best writing comes to us. I think most of us are on the verge of insanity and some know how to channel these emotions and use them productively.

  29. Reblogged this on Grace, Shine, Glitter and commented:
    Strikes home quite a bit! I wouldn’t self myself a creative genius, but feeling “rejected” has always bought a twisted, surge of inspiration both creatively & in terms of concentration on my academic/ career goals. I’m not saying people drain this but… Love all the individual stories intertwined in this piece !

  30. Laurie A. Griffin says

    That is the most interesting article I’ve read in a while and it rings true!

  31. irhoseworks says

    interesting article! great read!:) reblogged this on dauntlessvafilipina.

  32. I am convinced that quality art are the things expressed and shared that you don’t get to see quite often. While many great works can be broken down and understood, some of our best ideas come to us with very little premeditation and forethought. This much, I know,
    and you may very well be on to something.

  33. Reblogged this on Ability2Create.com and commented:
    Great post! John Dryden, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Thelonious Monk, Nikola Tesla, Tupac Shakur, and John Nash all had psychological struggles. Visit wp.me/p5dbEv-V

  34. Pingback: The Sanctity of Alone Time | Trinity's Travels

  35. Reblogged this on Old Road Apples and commented:
    Should you find yourself nodding a lot while reading, the comments on this post suggest you’re not alone. I mean, we all know Charlie Brown is the giant among his peers, don’t we?–though I’m holding out some hope for Pig Pen. Seriously, I’m guessing a lot of creative people will see pieces of themselves in this post.

  36. Well, I have to say I am the most creative when I am a bit depressed and down in the gutter, I have no idea why, it seems that some bad feelings make for the best results. Maybe it is a hidden action of the brain or spirit to prove the world wrongy

  37. Row Row Row your boat, gently down the stream!
    Yes we are all lonely in our heads. I’ve been playing the lonely game for too long! Thanks for your article, I’ve dealt with social rejection all my life but I don’t know if too much creativity has come of it, mainly I’ve just medicated with booze! But I’m 2 months sober now! Ready, set, interact!

    Hi! I am just waking up in this life! I want to connect with you! I want to learn about you! I want to create cool and exciting things with you! I want tons of money! I want to travel! I want lots of toys! I want to be a good and nice person! I want to be a good Buddhist and stop wanting to stop wanting things! I want to help the Earth be pure again! I want to live in excitement every single moment! I want the BOOM BOOM CLASH LIFE. I want to be a model! I want to be an actor! I want to have a million views on my wordpress site! I want to meet superheros! I want to ride a zipline from the top of Mt. Everest! Sooooo! Come say hi! Check out my site! YAAAAY:):):)

  38. Reblogged this on sutlive2 and commented:
    I am reposting Cody C. Delistraty’s blog post “Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity?”

  39. I found this depressing to read, because I could see the truth in it at a distance. However there is a silver lining, so perhaps it depends on what a creative’s focus is? I hope.

    Interesting read.

  40. I enjoyed this article a great deal. Perhaps that would explain why I accept sadness but also try to push it away. Rejection is something that has because normal to me over the years so I choose to spend most of my time alone. That loneliness as sadness can be a great asset, but comes at a cost. I hate being so distraught that attempting to create is just impossible, yet creating something often helps open myself up and wash away some of the pain I hold at times. The world just sort of melts away.

  41. pghthriftster says

    Really interesting post! I think this could be very reassuring to creative people who feel different from society. Thanks for sharing🙂

  42. Visionaries can often feel isolated methinks. Having ideas that don’t match anyone else’s ideas at the time can be a lonely place…the brain runs on a different vibration.

  43. Hi
    I think you make interesting points about the thin gaps between solitude and loneliness, and the fact that many creative people need regular space to concentrate on their work. However, if you look at the lives of successful artists you see them seeking out other artists to talk about their work – especially when they are struggling to be seen and heard. One example is the Canadian artist Emily Carr who stopped painting for many years until she became friends with the Group of Seven and started to paint again. Could it be that rejection of the ‘new’ is a sad, but inevitable consequence of those artists pushing at the boundaries of what is considered ‘art’ and so most artists seek out networks to sustain them through this?
    KP

  44. love it and a great understanding of life actually. it may seems childish but this is what can be learn from japan Anime; Naruto.

  45. Reblogged this on leariatrusays and commented:
    All my life I have been different. I did not fit in the Black world and I certainly did not fit in the white world being black. I have had to cope with loneliness often and depression at times. This curse appears to run in my family. My husband is the same way. However, in my older age, I have finally learned to cope. My children are still learning to deal with their gifts that have made them so different. The thing is- no one wants to be different especially when they are young. We must teach our children to embrace their differences. Unfortunately, this is impossible! This lesson they must learn for themselves. As parents, we must sit in the stands of their lives and watch them learn and pray they do. Thus, I agree with this blog. I no longer care I am not accepted. I made myself happy and strive toward those who help me fill the emptiness that comes along from time to time. I am still here.😌

  46. kmtramel says

    Reblogged this on kmtramel and commented:
    As I’ve dealt with mental illness for most of my life, I strongly identify with this post!

  47. Kaazmik_Oddasee says

    I totally agree when you chained by the societal ways of doing things you feel like a freak on a leash” Choked by conformity.

  48. Reblogged this on Thiiiiilv and commented:
    Reminds me of my art school projects,insomnia, deadlines and ‘infidelity’ with art pulls us from our closest relationships, we simply accepted our lonely life for who we are, definately true article…

  49. Thank you so much for this! I’m a very happily married women and I feel very fortunate in that. But in the friends/family department, I lack that deep connection others have.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m surrounded by good people and my friendships and family relationships are pleasant enough, but nothing compared to the deep love/trust connection I have with my husband, which is a true blessing from God. I often find myself longing for a best girlfriend or a connection with a family member like I once had with my late grandmother (who had the same loving qualities my husband does).

    So lately, instead of filling my time with friendships that left me feeling empty, I’ve withdrawn a lot. The result is creativity beyond my wildest imagination. My husband has noticed it. And I’m lucky I have him to share it with; otherwise most people I know just wouldn’t “get it.”

    It could be a “trade-off” for now, but I’m still determined to have it all which means that someday I’ll have a best girlfriend too🙂

  50. This reminds me of a quote I once heard. “The most beautiful stars are only seen from the bottom of the well.” We must go through suffering to truly appreciate life and to develop a greater compassion with our fellow man. This compassion helps to create art to lift the spirits of others or to express these emotions.

  51. Enjoyed reading this. Even in social standing and among peers and family, ‘solitary and proud’ seldom resounds with happiness. But one must take it that way, I suppose. Thanks for a giving a positive reflection on being alone.

  52. Interesting article. My personal opinion is that rejection, loneliness and isolation are all part of the human condition. I cannot think of one person who has never experienced or felt like s/he has experienced rejection or loneliness.

    It can be isolating to think differently than most around you, I agree with that. And sometimes this comes with a joy in standing out while other times it comes with a deep, wrenching loneliness that feels relentless.

    I agree with Nin, balance is the key.

    Great blog!

  53. Very interesting article. I agree, most of the artists feel some kind of rejection but i think that sometimes not necessarily because others reject them rather than they them selfs see and feel they are somewhat diferent. With not being able to easily fit, its easy to turn isolating your self as a result.

  54. skaybae says

    Really good read, Cody. Particularly like the Rilke quote at the beginning – I just read a book of his called “Letters to a Young Poet”. Definitely check it out if you’re still interested in learning about creativity!

  55. What an enjoyable read!!! A perfect piece to exemplify the birth of positives from negatives… No wonder this has been reblogged multiple times..!!! If I may comment so….Well done!😀

  56. Yes, I believe social rejection makes you withdraw into yourself and prompt your deep inward search… where you dig deep into your hidden creative self… You then make a great self discovery and Eureka! You remain there and excel despite all…

  57. I think so. Cause there’s this man who is seeking for help to get his wife back. And i published his story as a random act of kindness. Cause he needed everyone from all over the world to have a picture taken with a sign or message for his wife and create a movie or slideshow of those pictures. Creativity at it’s finest.

  58. Having studied creative writing in college i often found one common key; to hear the inner voices calling one needs to hear the sounds of silence as well. Yes its lonely at times, and friends often don’t understand. Still to separate oneself from society, from time to time, is important to hear that writer that lives inside of us all. There are millions of writers on this planet but only a select few will ever hear the call to put pen to paper.
    Silence is golden, to those who know how to spend its worth.

  59. Reblogged this on Icarus Flies and commented:
    I really enjoyed the article and especially appreciated your delving into the perceived differences between solititude and loneliness. The idea that the creative process must contain both somewhat and the emphasis on the process of the rejection to fire the creative process in a strange way makes sense. Thank you for pointing that out. I enjoyed the article and am posting it on my blog as well. Thank you.

  60. I found this post very interesting and was inspired to write my own thoughts in response to this -https://claasecelia.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/artists-in-isolation/

  61. becomingbeautifulx says

    I don’t think it is ever beneficial to be lonely… How can you focus on anything important when you have a gnawing feeling that no one cares about you? Even thinking about having no one to talk to makes me sad…

  62. It is the original square peg in the round hole syndrome – not everyone fits in and by not fitting in your life takes a different path beyond the mediocrity of a ‘normal’ existence.

  63. It is possible to being alone when being creative. But also to naturally socialize happily with other people when you need them. And we all need friends and peer support. We do want some feedback for what we do. Any artist that claims they don’t, are fooling themselves.

  64. Really great article for reflection. People get discouraged and frustrated with pressure but the pressure is what often builds us up. Thanks for writing this!

  65. Wow, that explains a lot about why I prefer to be alone. “Self-reflection is a cold mother”-Black Dynamite. Thanks heaps man! Awesome reading!

  66. Interesting…

    You can see a common theme of rejection amongst many other painters as well, i.e. Monet.

    Anyway, I’ve also been having a lot of discussions about this recently. At the time of me writing this, I don’t think it necessarily always “social rejection” that leads to it.

    I think it is just trying to better understand who you are, and what you want your purpose to be. Which is something that “social rejection” can play a part in, but at the same time is just one of many factors which lead to introspection. Some other reasons could be “loss of family members/friends” (through death, rejection, or otherwise) , “loss of job/work”, etc.

    Would love to hear others thoughts on this…

  67. I think when we are young we need the extreme highs and lows, often faced alone, to be truely creative. In my youth, I know I wrote my best poems at the lowest ebbs in my life. As we get older, we are not so reactive and learn to even out the highs and lows and learn from them rather than react. We need space and time to be creative, bordom is also a key ingredient.
    But this separates from true genius, true obsessive creativity. This can only be achieved when we are to some extent outside ourselves. It is not regulated, thought out, composed. It flows from another place – demanding, frantic, uncontrollable…

  68. And I realised I don’t know how to tag my blog….due apologies. But the marginalization to an extent has triggered the untapped art and history is replete with such artists. But the psychological set up is such that the homo sapien who is the subject tends to be more focused when his/her primal existence, be it literal or metaphorical is at stake. Another analogy would be that of a war. these artists here at at war with the society and their art is the weapon they wield.

  69. I would say more than many artistic types, such as me, an INFP, naturally seek out isolation and have trouble dealing with society. But that’s just a personality flaw. I don’t think isolation helps creativity; there are plenty of artists who are more social than me. Genius comes from talent, technique and knowledge…there is no shortcut. My two gil

  70. Tester says

    [audio=”http://cdn.espn.com.br/audio/693ea975-c7fb-38d1-86b4-b999c40dc928.mp3?_ga=1.66726126.1769035756.1429958337″]

  71. Reblogged this on Annimal and commented:
    I’ve always wondered why my creativity sky rockets when I am isolated or going through a tough time. As an artist I can agree with some of the notions made in this article. Definitely a good read 👌

  72. I found myself agreeing with most of the philosophies within this writing… Although I do not believe there has to be a correlation between rejection, isolation, loneliness etc and creativity at least not in the convention that this article suggest.. I believe creative people tend to stick out and have no natural role within an artificial society.. They are “bigger” than the society and have no true confined role.. Consciously and subconsciously they realize this which leads to the majority of the feelings.. And the majority of the reason they are often rejected.. They can’t fit into the box that was molded for them..

  73. Thank you for writing such a helpful, insightful piece. Creating something connects us with others, but while that thing is in our head, we work to birth it, so that we can feel that connection. How do we create that thing in our head that makes us happy? That’s such a hard question.

  74. Social rejection is part of the evil’s hearts , can’t control as many other things creativity is harder to develop so if u have it rock it and do what u like with it since u r in total charge of it

  75. Anonymous says

    I needed to hear the message in this today. Van Gogh is one of my hero’s, and I enjoy reading the letters these brothers shared. Thank you.

  76. Pingback: Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity? | За закатом всегда наступит рассвет

  77. I wonder if the loneliness is less now that people have the internet and can find others who are like-minded…

    It really is ironic, though, that the people who are most famous throughout history are those who were rejected by the people of their time. We all seem to want to be accepted and to be famous at the same time, but to really change the world – even just one piece of the world – you have to stand out, be different, and reject societal norms.

  78. Pingback: Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity? | Whispering Photon

  79. I found the article interesting and I hope you won’t mind hearing from someone who doesn’t agree but thinks that perhaps this an over-generaliztion:
    “Loneliness is not just sufficient for creativity; it is necessary. It is almost as if one can only be truly creative when one detaches from society.”
    I don’t think there has been a definitive study showing that this is true of all creative geniuses but I suspect it may encompass many. Several great talents come to mind who seem to undermine this theory and it only takes one white crow to disprove ‘the assertion that all crows are black.’
    William Shakespeare, who may or may not be the one we still haven’t proved isn’t the writer, and who is considered by some as being the greatest writer in the English language, was engaged in regular and ongoing theater productions, directing and acting, as well as married with a family.
    J.S. Bach, IMO the greatest genius in any artistic medium, seemed to have had a very busy social life, had 20 children, taught and played organ on a regular basis and there is little in the rather copious record about him to suggest this would apply to him. He was quite self-directed and apparently did what he liked regardless of urgings by others, including his employers.
    Another example, Franz Liszt withdrew from society and even joined a religious community but well after his most famous works were composed.
    Also, Tolstoy rejected the social environment which in turn rejected him but this was long after he had written both “War and Peace” and “Anna Karinina”.

    I would suggest that your rejection idea is not applicable to all artistic geniuses but it does suggest that perhaps art and creativity is a source of solace for those who are rejected. I can see that, I live that.
    I found a different theory in an interesting article that suggests that mood disorders highly correlate to creativity:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/06/secrets-of-the-creative-brain/372299/

  80. Hmmm…interesting question. What I gather from your research is this: solitude and socialization are both important. Exposure to other human beings is necessary to remind us that no man is an island. At the same time, we all need to be comfortable enough with ourselves to use alone time constructively. Personally, I’ve seen how social rejection can be a key to creativity in the sense that it can challenge one to become a better human being. It can challenge one to develop his intellect, his physique, his overall personality…with the subconscious goal of being accepted.

  81. There’s an ambiguity over the authorship of social rejection, who is rejecting whom? Is an outsider rejected because their expressions are intolerable to collective harmony, or is they who reject the banality arising from social impositions?

  82. I’d never really seen it from this perspective, but the more I think of it, the more it rings true. Thanks for writing this.

  83. Pingback: Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity? | campbellnicole

  84. T.V further fortifies your theory I must add; The diagnostic phenom that is Gregory House The spot on detective Sherlock Holmes Redmond from Blacklist Harvey Specter from Suits …social recluses, social prodigies…It apparently is the rule; a modest dose of social ‘awkwardness’ goes a long way in building a genius.

  85. Reblogged this on Bambi's thoughts and commented:
    I found this very interesting. It makes sense, great minds and the best of people find success in the hardships they come by therefore feelings of rejection and loneliness as such may inspire most people to work harder and achieve what they love most. When those around you cannot relate or understand then a focus on something else works as a distraction and encourages one to find a sense of achievement in something greater. The longer this period, could possibly increase the rate of success in which the target work and creativity is achieved. This is due to the fact that more time is put in, allowing enough thought to produce a piece of work or concept that is different to that which is already put out into the world.

  86. I think some non-creative people don’t get it. It is a necessary easy ( isolation and loneliness), At least for me. It allows me to think and reflect, to interpret my world and analyze how I fit in. I think the rejection forces you to carve out a place for your specialness. If the world is lucky enough that you share, you find other like minded people. Thanks for getting IT.

  87. wordsfocus says

    First of all, a great read, thanks. As I know few people that suffer from social rejection/loneliness I am not so sure that in the success stories social rejection created/enabled or enhanced creativity. It is that the person is creative and choses higher time-out periods from the others, seems to be ‘different’ , causing unintentionally others to reject him.

  88. It seems that for every wonderful innovation and creative work we need inspiration first. Social rejection just gives people that inspiration to prove themselves and get accepted.

  89. vladimirstoic says

    Two words: high school. The most artistic and mentally beautiful people I know are rejected, or feel to be rejected, by society. Social rejection is the key, and creative genius the reward.

  90. I don’t necessarily think loneliness is the key. Time and energy dedicated to a creative pursuit can leave little left for others.

  91. This turns out to be an amazing eye opener. Honestly the way we feel all depends on our perception. I respect ur emotions and the way you judge things.
    Amazing !!

  92. I enjoyed your post and your blog very much. I started a new blog a week ago, Real Life Natural Wife. I hope you’ll come by and let me know what you think. Have a great weekend!

  93. This was a great read. I have to thank you – this really speaks to me on a very personal level. I feel that the company of creation – the process – is a very sacred thing to most artists. The finished work acts as a kind of marker of the process, of the hours of contemplation spent creating something guided by a unyielding force. Having been on the rejection-train for most of my life, this article makes sense of my desire to ecape into my own thoughts.

  94. This is new thinking for me. I see why his painting is so special. This sky is lit with light! He may have walked in the darkness, but his painting is full of light, here. It is the light you see, and the blue!

  95. Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had and commented:
    “The difficulty lies in striking a balance. There is solitude, which can lead to meta-cognition and creative focus. But there is also, as van Gogh experienced off and on throughout his life, crippling loneliness that sets the artist back. The gap is razor-thin. “

  96. hazardgirl11 says

    I’m a first-year psych major. I’ve been reading these stories, and they are fantastic!

  97. Hi; I’m a novelist from New York. I found this essay very interesting, as well as your earlier ones on this topic from 11/27/14 and 12/1/14. I first came across a deep exploration of this subject when I read Thomas Mann’s semi-autobiographical “Tonio Kröger”. There he writes, “Good work only arises under the strain of a miserable life; he who lives cannot work, and only after having undergone death can one completely become a creator.”
    For me, the change that brought me to becoming a writer was my first difficult period of unemployment when I felt like I was no longer living and as if totally apart from the world and the activities of all its people.
    I saw similarities in the histories of many writers; there was a lot of suffering at the same time as a lot a creativity in the lives of Baudelaire, Gogol, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Heine, Leopardi, von Kleist, and Turgenev.
    Despite the evidence of much correlation among various character traits, I hesitate about trying to find any causation. For instance, I think that Lord Byron’s creativity came most of all from his high level of dandy-ish nonconformity. It is impossible to say what causes what. Except for, perhaps, the pessimism caused by reading and thinking more. I would love for you to read my concise few paragraphs on that topic, at the end of this post:
    https://roncogan.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/2014
    Also, I wonder if you could explain what you think van Gogh meant by his final words. Was he referred to mankind?

    • “There he writes, ‘Good work only arises under the strain of a miserable life; he who lives cannot work, and only after having undergone death can one completely become a creator.’” And you didn’t think he was being morosely ironic? Seems one or both of us might want to reread this as perhaps, as it true of all great literature, both views may contain truths as well as elements of their opposition.

  98. Pingback: Loneliness and Isolation: Necessary Ingredients of Creativity? | duende

  99. Reblogged this on Cogitation, and commented:
    Vincent Van Gogh // Theo Van Gogh.

    Loved the way the author wrote about solitude v.s. loneliness. Good read, stirring, gripping, thought-provoking article.

    When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called “meta-cognition,” or the process of “thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts,” as psychology professor Gregory Feist says.

    The difficulty lies in striking a balance. There is solitude, which can lead to meta-cognition and creative focus. But there is also, as van Gogh experienced off and on throughout his life, crippling loneliness that sets the artist back. The gap is razor-thin. Loneliness and depression (Hemingway called depression “the artist’s reward”) are central to why so many great artists from Hemingway to Plath to Hunter S. Thompson have taken their own life. Sartre is alleged to have said, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company,” but parsing the distinction between solitude — where one is willfully and happily alone — and loneliness — where one is desperate and depressed to be alone — is a task that should not be taken lightly. “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous, to poetry,” wrote Thomas Mann. “But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.” He might have added: to the crippling, the desperate, the depressing.

  100. David says

    I liked the information, I didn’t know so many artist, great artist, suffered from this. This makes sense too, creation requires difference and like Huxely said, difference leads to isolation.

  101. herunveiling says

    Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. Though we are wired for connections, our brains often fill in the gaps and authors companions to fill in the void, where relations fail. I think creativity is the minds way of healing, it’s ‘nature abhorring a vacuum’.

  102. herunveiling says

    Reblogged this on Her Unveiling and commented:
    Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. Though we are wired for connections, our brains often fill in the gaps and authors companions to fill in the void, where relations fail. I think creativity is the minds way of healing, it’s ‘nature abhorring a vacuum’.

  103. Pingback: Loneliness and Isolation: Necessary Ingredients of Creativity? : Longreads Blog

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