Throughout all of recorded history — and certainly long before that, too — some of the most creative people this world has ever known have been big believers in the habit of solitude.
Below is a small-but-influential sample of perspectives on being alone from some of the greats, including Tesla, Mozart, Einstein, Picasso — four men whose names are as well-known today as ever. (Editor’s note: While there have undoubtedly been many creative female geniuses throughout the centuries, sadly, their place in history has not been as well-documented.)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers.
Mozart: “When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer-say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep — it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”
Theoretical physicist, philosopher and author who is widely regarded as one of the most influential and best known scientists and intellectuals of all time. He is often regarded as the father of modern physics.
Einstein: “[A]lthough I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.”
One of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Novelist and writer of short stories whose works came to be regarded as one of the major achievements of 20th century literature.
Kafka: “You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
The inventor, Nikola Tesla, was one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity, and is perhaps best known for his many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism.
Tesla: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone — that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
A life-long resident of Austria, Haydn spent much of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Hungarian aristocratic Esterházy family on their remote estate.
Haydn: Isolated from other composers and trends in music until the later part of his long life, he was, as he put it, “forced to become original”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
German writer and polymath. Goethe’s works span the fields of poetry, drama, literature, theology, philosophy and science. His magnum opus, lauded as one of the peaks of world literature, is the two-part drama Faust.
Goethe: “One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.”
Spanish painter best known for co-founding the Cubist movement, and for the wide variety of styles embodied in his artwork. His revolutionary artistic accomplishments brought him universal renown and immense fortunes throughout his life, making him one of the best-known figures in twentieth century art.
Picasso: “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
American writer and editor, best known for his poetry. He won three Pulitzer Prizes, two for his poetry and another for a biography of Abraham Lincoln. H L Mencken called Carl Sandburg, “indubitably an American in every pulse-beat.”
Sandburg: “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.”
German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual.
Mann: “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous — to poetry.”