Michael Atavar Various Books by the Author

The Unconscious is the Real Magic of Creativity: Interview with Michael Atavar

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Michael Atavar is Artist and Creative Consultant. He works with individuals and businesses, helping to solve professional problems, using creativity as a key. He is the author of four books, most recently ‘Better Magic – How To Have Creative Ideas In 24 Steps’.

Age of Artists: What is the science behind your new book ‘Better Magic’? And what is the real magic?

Michael Atavar: Rationality is important – data is useful, especially in business, but my book takes a different approach and explores the irrational as a source of ideas. The unconscious, what sits under the surface of the mind. We carry this library of information with us all the time and we can use it to generate new material – if we are open to it, if we are willing to experiment. Even in rational business contexts we can cultivate magic.

Age of Artists: You write the unconscious is the real magic of creativity. Why is that?

Michael Atavar: If you want to go beyond routine, the unconscious presents a territory where you can find new ideas. When I work with people, I find that they often already have the answer to their problem – they just don’t trust that this area, so exploratory and experimental, can actually be useful. It feels beyond comprehension. However, the ideas that emerge from this process are very fresh and alive – outside the normal formulas that we usually operate within. Over several years, I designed different exercises to capture this unconscious material, hence my latest book ‘Better Magic’. It also contains my usual mixture of tips, exercises, group tasks and games. Some of these methods are extensions of the sophisticated techniques of Freud and Jung, reformatted by me for a different context. The early work of these pioneers is touched on in the book. Integrating objects, amplification, dreams, word associations, drawing – I can trace a line back, through experimental fiction, to these advocates from Vienna.

Michael Atavar


Age of Artists: Many of the recommendations are based on idea to write things down. Why is taking notes so important? Can I get along without it?

Michael Atavar: I work with pen and paper; I’m a writer so it’s my primary tool. If I want to pursue a more experimental trajectory, I tend to leave the computer behind and re-use scraps. It gives me a freedom to begin anywhere: with a squiggle, with a noise. I make a lot of notes and often I find that this first, unformed response, without the ego intruding, is very valuable. It allows me to step into an unknown landscape. However, it’s not necessary to make notes – you can also do this in your mind. Recently I was told of someone who followed one of the visual exercises in ‘Better Magic’ (one about looking for sixty seconds). She didn’t write the results down, yet the images stayed with her for several days, like a waking dream. So, the choice is yours. Everything and anything is a path to the idea.

Age of Artists: Much of what you suggest is very practical and can be applied right away. What role does personality and attitude play in your view.

Michael Atavar: Persistence is valuable. The act of doing something small that accumulates every day over time is important. A personality that can accommodate this approach often works successfully with creativity. There is a lot of material generated in my work – yet much of what I write is abandoned in a process of simplification, reduction. A person who’s willing to throw things away, even at the last moment, in the cause of a successful idea, would also do well. Perhaps what I’m suggesting is a radical frame of mind. Certainly, a willingness to keep going, against all the odds, is valuable. One of the areas developed in the book is that of creative leadership – these qualities of persistence and exploration are very helpful in developing the skills of business leadership. Also, my writing encourages the feeling type. It’s an attempt to deal with process in a coherent way. If you are willing to examine yourself more fully, your creativity naturally expands. That’s my experience.

Age of Artists: Following your suggestions creating seems to be a very lonely task. It seems you do not believe in collaborative creation.

Michael Atavar: Why do you say ‘lonely’ – that not my impression? My work in businesses and organizations is collaborative and many of the exercises in the book are directed at a collective experience. Also, several of my projects (‘210CARDS’ with Miles Hanson, ‘A-B’ with Roelof Bakker) are collaborations. Yet, of course, when I generate ideas, it tends to be at my desk, with a blank sheet of paper in front of me. There is a to and fro – the group dynamic, and the solo event. Sometimes there is a tension between the two. This is often a good way of generating creativity, moving between the different states. If I were working with you as a client, I would say if we can hold both ‘collaborative’ and ‘lonely’ then we could really get somewhere. If we work with both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ and don’t reject either, we become alive to possibility.

Photo credits:
Picture of books: Jack Jackson
Portrait: Roelof Bakker


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