Reactor

Breaking: Getting Drunk and Losing Sleep are Good for Creativity

by An Xiao on February 21, 2012

Artist "William Powhida" getting drunk at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea.

Artist "William Powhida" getting drunk at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea. (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

LOS ANGELES — I know a lot of artists who get drunk a lot. I know a lot of artists who are sleepy half the time. It just so happens that these artists are also very creative.

Two new studies, as reported in Wired, say good ol’ science backs up this observation.  Here’s the first one:

When people were tested during their “least optimal time of day” — think of that night owl stumbling into the lab in the early morning — they were significantly more effective at solving insight puzzles … Performance on the analytic problems, meanwhile, was unaffected by the clock.

Nicolas de Lacy-Brown, "Hombre con Vino" (2004) (via delacy-brown.com)

But then there’s another study out of the University of Illinois with the terrific title of “Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving.” Students with a blood alcohol level of at least 0.075 were more successful at solving creative problems. That’s less than one drink for most people, two at most.

This is good news for hard-partying, insomniac artists itching for a creative breakthrough. Apparently, the reason sleepiness and intoxication are so good for creativity is because they lead to a decreased ability to concentrate. That lack of concentration in turn leads to greater free association, so the brain is more likely to come up with novel solutions and connections.

But what about us poor artists in Los Angeles, where we have to remain alert and awake while driving? Fortunately, another Wired article hints at a solution: self-driving cars are just around the bend.

 

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  • samthor

    It’s always been my M.O. 

  • Karen Adelman

    hey there! interesting take. reminds me how much better i am at speaking french after the first glass of wine. lowered inhibitions also seem successful in jolting the confidence necessary to make creative leaps. however, i am also reminded how bad i am at it/everything after the fifth and sixth glasses.

    yes, i can tell you’re intentionally treating this subject lightheartedly. but, in the spirit of responsible journalism, don’t you think it would be appropriate at least to draw the distinction between getting blitzed and having “two at most”?

    there are lot of other reasons artists (and other people) suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction, none of which are really worthy of your public encouragement. they are also not very funny, nor are the damaging affects on one’s health and relationships. feel free to scold my lack of a sense of humor on this one, but the research you cite clearly doesn’t imply benefits to getting actually drunk. i know a lot of artists who get drunk a lot too. they tend to make impressively self-loathing douchebags.

    i could also go on about our disturbing culture of tacitly enforced continuous (um, unpaid) labor, and how i think that really affects our sleep patterns (and how it has little to do with staying up late to party), but i’m sure i already sound like a grouchy enough grandma.

    • http://www.heathermccaw.com/ Heather McCaw

      I completely agree. Might I also suggest there are other healthier ways to achieve the same results? Meditation, for example. And what about all the work the subconscious does coming up with novel solutions and creative ideas during a good night of sleep? There are some recent studies supporting that theory as well. 

  • http://twitter.com/rustik rustik

    and just where does Marijuana fit in???

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    explains much about the low vibrational quality of much art …. stress on the walls, anyone?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alex-Duke/1142148383 Alex Duke
  • ronaldgillis

    Yaaaaaaaaaa,I knew I had found the right profession for me.Oh excuse me bartender,could I have another.Only this time put some alcohol in the drink…..my muse insists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552952779 Hudley Flipside

    Marijuana does not do the same thing.. but makes the mind brain relationship inactive… that is the truth..

  • Joseph Staples

    Sounds much more like the “eggs are bad for you/eggs are good for you” thing that goes back and forth every few years.

    If you party hard and don’t sleep much, you’ll want to agree with this and will point out millions of examples. If you don’t agree, you’ll find examples of the sober, work-a-day artists that have done well to prop yourself up.   

    I’ve done both enough to say…I have no idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Gerry.Visco Geraldine Winifred Visco

    This definitely confirms my methodology.  I’m wildly creative, don’t sleep, and have at least 3 gin and tonics every night.  Don’t listen to the naysayers.  Party so you can create!

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