Being an artist, I know that creativity can’t be forced or called at the flick of a switch. Indeed, most people would likely agree that creative inspiration and production in the arts need space and time to materialize. An artist daydreaming, contemplating, apparently doing nothing appears to be quite an accepted picture. But then, artists are often considered ‘a special breed’ taking special freedoms at the margins of ‘regular’ society, aren’t they?

The central importance of time and space for contemplation and daydreaming for academic work seems less established. Yet, after all, developing new ways of understanding is definitely a creative endeavour as well, and it can’t be done at a fixed schedule or pace. This is why I regularly take time out, not only from studying but from doing anything, really. I’m not talking about reading a novel, watching a movie, doing sports, or something else that distracts me from my studies. Distraction is important, but I’m talking about freeing my mind from the task of following anything in specific which, to me, is best achieved when lying on the sofa, idling, or looking out the window without looking at anything. Taking a walk may work, but only if I know the way by heart. Most importantly for opening up and letting go, though, the idling needs to be done without feelings of guilt. That’s the challenging part because we’re trained to be continuously productive, and it’s why I thought I’d strike a blow for deliberate unproductivity for the sake of creativity.

One of my favourite spots for the practice of active idleness

When my mind roams freely during times of intentional idleness, anything may come up. The latest news about Covid, the Ukraine, or the Venice Biennale mix with last night’s crime mystery, the conversation with a friend, and plans for a day trip with my dad. And everything is accompanied by a half-conscious whistling of today’s catchy tune. Thoughts related to my studies are likely to come up as well, simply because that’s what I spend a lot of time thinking about anyway. Eventually, I may lose track, and my thoughts will wander along unmarked paths. When two or more of them cross each other unexpectedly and combine to reveal hitherto unseen angles or links, scales fall from my inner eyes, and a new insight takes shape.

I’m not saying I have great ideas every time I lie on the couch. Often, I just enjoy the idleness to relax and refuel, or I ramble over things completely unrelated to my studies or art for that matter. This isn’t lost time, though. It forms the backdrop against which moments of creativity may eventually arise. Of course, the moments when you’re kissed by the muse do not come out of the blue. They are the reward of hard and focused work; but they rarely make their appearance during work hours. I imagine them as shy creatures that need to be given room to enter the scene and only come forth into the light of consciousness when we’re not waiting for them. If we’re busy doing other things, though, we may easily miss them. It is the combined light-heartedness and open-mindedness of active idleness that generates optimum conditions for creativity to emerge and flourish. That’s why, to me, taking time for not doing anything, together with fully embracing it without feelings of guilt, has become an integral part of any creative practice, be it artistic or academic.