Dose Of Fellow Man Spurs Creativity

Commentator Andrei Codrescu says he once had to escape an artists' colony because it isolated him from the buzz of the city. Today, he's content having more trees and fewer people. But he says peace of mind and solitude are not a good breeding ground for creative ideas.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Quiet or chaos? For as long as there's been art, there's been a debate among artists about the ideal creative environment. Do you retreat into solitude to a cabin in the woods, or do you live among the masses? Well, commentator Andrei Codrescu knows what he prefers.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I was once accepted to a so-called art colony where they provide you with shelter and food for three months to allow you the solitude it is assumed you need to create. I was living in New York City at the time. And I only lasted three days in the gilded gourmet cage of the colony before I bolted out of there and hitchhiked to the nearest bar in Manhattan.

That was me then, a young poet. I needed people more than I needed trees. I'm older now. I need trees more than I need people. But it's nice to have both -only the ratios changed. When I was young, I needed 10 people to 1 tree. Now it's 100 trees per person.

The art colony idea has utopian roots. Creative people need to be relieved of the struggle to make a living. They need the freedom to think. However, like all utopias, this one is flawed. The creative process is perverse. New ideas come when one least expects them. It's like the guy with a sign that says, think, over his head. He never had a thought in his life, and he'll never have one as long as the sign is there.

In the past, truly creative people were driven to retreats by poverty, not the need to create. Poets lived in garrets and mystics took to the desert because those places are cheap to live in. If a poem or a vision shows up under those conditions, it was most likely the product of hunger.

In the age of social networks, multitasking and increasing hyperactivity, retreats and art colonies are coming back with a vengeance. Now we read that venture capitalists in Silicon Valley provide creatives with luxurious quarters and wads of cash to sit around and think, in the hope that they will come up with new ideas for startups.

I imagine that the first generation of genius entrepreneurs who currently run the world are highly dubious of these operations just like great artists and poets of the 20th century were of art colonies. Money buys leisure, but not inspiration. Safe places are nice when you're hungry or tired, but they lead to sleep, not creative fever.

BLOCK: Andrei Codrescu edits Exquisite Corpse, a literary journal online at Corpse.org.

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