As Giuffre puts it:
Emily Dickinson, Paul Gauguin, and Charlotte Bronte were legendary loners, famous for seeking out solitude, far from the cafes and parlors of the big cities. So why were these three creators chosen? Basically, if you could show that even these famous loners benefited from collaboration, you could put the nail in the coffin of the “lone genius” hypothesis:
So here’s what she did with these three famous creators: She compared their level of correspondence during creative and non-creative periods. For all three of these famous recluses, their letters provide an unusually accurate representation of their social networks, because they all lived and worked primarily alone and rarely had face-to-face creative encounters.
Past research suggests that creativity would increase when (1) a person’s social network is dense, but not so dense that everyone thinks the same; (2) a person has easy access to a diverse range of other people; (3) a person is linked into many different types of groups. And here’s what she found.
During periods of high creativity, the density of their social network is about .475, higher than during uncreative periods – meaning that the creator’s social network draws together and interacts more frequently. In other words, more collaboration is associated with greater creativity.
When Giuffre actually read the content of the letters, she found ample confirmation of creative interaction: “The artists actively solicited support and critical feedback for their endeavors from others in their networks” (p. 838).
The bottom line: These famous loners were not as isolated as the myths would have it. Communication, collaboration, and social networks contribute to creativity.
*Giuffre, Katherine. (2010). Half the right people: Network density and creativity. Culture Unbound, 2: 819-846.