Can I be alone?

35

Dear Artist,

“It is useless to advise solitude for everyone,” wrote Paul Gauguin, “One must be strong enough to endure it and to work alone.” In these days of social sharing and manufactured applause, bona fide aloneness has become for many a kind of terrifying emotional enterprise. I’ve even noticed that solitude for some would-be creative types — once the de facto maturation ground for an artist — can now feel intolerable. Add to this the new reality that real, unadulterated solitude can be difficult to carve out — it’s practically endangered. Where do we go to be truly alone, to access our deepest stirrings and hear our inner poetry? “It seems to me that today if the artist wishes to be serious,” wrote Degas, “he must once more sink himself in solitude.”

gauguin_vincent-van-gogh-the-painter-of-sunflowers

“The Painter of Sunflowers” 1888
oil on canvas, 28.7 in × 35.8 inches
by Paul Gauguin (1848–1903)

Painting is a solo act where your process and imagination can be allowed to develop in decadent privacy. Here, your vibe is protected from cosmic dispersement. I remember a technique coming out of my art school where strokes seemed to leak between cubicles, profs and the printmaking department. Observe now the global morphic fielding of aesthetic trends on the Internet. Look to modern life to be swallowed up by consumerism, domesticity, busyness or material survival. “Here in my isolation I can grow stronger,” wrote Gauguin. “Poetry seems to come of itself, without effort, and I need only let myself dream a little while painting to suggest it.”

gauguin_still-life-with-profile-of-laval

“Still Life with Profile of Laval” 1886
oil on canvas, 18.125 in × 15 inches
by Paul Gauguin

Painting needs aloneness because aloneness creates quiet and quiet makes room for an unvarnished honesty to emerge and blossom into what is uniquely yours.

“My negative voice gets loud — doubt festers when I don’t drown it out with day-to-day chaos,” confessed a writer friend recently, when I asked about her alone time. It’s a worthy test, solitude, I replied. Paul Cezanne called it the stumbling block of the uncertain. You could start by creating a room — real or symbolic — for your imagination. Enter this room religiously — like going to church or gymnasium. In time, and with practice, any fresh terror at the emptiness transmutes into a kind of premium oxygen. “The things one experiences alone with oneself are very much stronger and purer.” (Eugene Delacroix)

paul-gauguin_still-life-with-teapot-and-fruits_1896

“Still life with Teapot and Fruits” 1896
oil on canvas, 18 3/4 x 26 inches
by Paul Gauguin

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Painting is one’s private life.” (Edgar Degas)

Esoterica: You don’t have to be a misanthrope to carve out solitude within an otherwise butterfly life. “Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone,” wrote John Updike. A studio is an artist’s default fantasy, but a short-term residency, road trip, walk in the woods or desk under the stairs are each also a committed, created place for silence. Allow yourself to be undisturbed, then breathe deeply and focus on your own imagination — be delighted. “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” (Marcus Aurelius)

gauguin_self-portrait-with-the-idol

 

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“A career is born in public — talent in privacy.” (Marilyn Monroe)

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35 Comments

  1. Solitude is something so important to my psyche and soul that if I don’t get enough of it I go off center, get skewed and am no fun to be around. I love this posting for reenforcing that desire that so many people don’t understand. Thank you once again for touching on matters of the art heart with such sensitivity.

      • DAVE IS RIGHT…IT CAN BE DEPRESSING, WHEN YOU ALREADY HAVE SOLITUDE OF BECOMING SINGLE, AFTER LOSING YOUR SPOUSE TO DEATH….SOMEONE TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT YOUR PROGRESSION OF A PAINTING…SOMEONE WHO WILL GIVE YOU CRITIQUES ALONG THE WAY, THAT MAKES FOR A MUCH BETTER END RESULT….I ALSO DONOT LIKE COMPLETE LACK OF SOUND, AND FOR EMOTIONAL FEELING LIKE STEREO PLAYING CLASSICAL MUSIC, MY FAVORITE IS PIANO OR CLASSICAL GUITAR…..AND A GLASS OF WINE SURE DOESN’T HURT MY CREATIVITY….COMPLETE SOLITUDE DOESN’T DO IT FOR ME…..AND I’VE BEEN AN OIL PAINTER FOR 75 YEARS………………SORRY, GEORGE

  2. Yes! Force yourself into solitude! Open doors to you’re imagination! Sometimes so hard to do but so rewarding and good for the soul.

  3. Yes to wonderful solitude … and learning to turn the phone off, and saying no to all the those other things that seem to feel like obligations but are more often simply distractions .

  4. Gabriella Morrison on

    Privacy I cannot think of as “decadent”. It is as essential for life balance as is the urge for companionship. I have not sought out making art with others around; it is distracting and leveling of one’s ideas. Being alone is necessary for the fruition of one’s ideas and craft, the what when and why of one’s production. This is a good post with which to encourage others to brave the silence faced – a silence which can be filled from profound personal depth.

  5. Merrilyn (Merri) McElderry on

    HI , once again you bring to the table of innermost being TRUTH and LOVE..and such excellent writing. They say God brings us what we need every minute—well here it is in its glory..for me this day…thank you ….there are some very good quotes I wish I had right now from Juan De Calderone De la Barca on this..as well when he rejoices in each drop being so different…in solitude..then mingling with the ocean as ONE….blessings and thank you, Merri

  6. Your best letter yet! I think you hit the nail on the head. Too many artists are caught up in painting to sell. We struggle to think about what buyers want to match their white or grey walls and their grey couch! The buyer is also wanting the lowest possible price. Having a commission can bring the artist to her knees as she attempts to satisfy a customer for that $350. While being with painting groups offers the opportunity for learning and critique, it also brings pressure and competition that pulls us away from creativity.
    Finding the courage to strike out alone, to experiment, to destroy what you yourself cannot accept, to find new pathways is essential. Otherwise, go to Walmart or Homesense and copy somebody’s “Rhapsody in Gray”.

    • How sad your letter reads with this dreadful ` must sell at any cost`. As you so rightly say `Too many (artists) are caught up in this commercialism`.
      I work on my own, which gives me the essential ingredient ` freedom of thought, with no interference from outside influences except for music in which I find so much colour`.
      I, as a artist rarely destroy a painting……I work, scrubbing out layers that I feel do little or nothing for me until the painting tells me `I cannot take any more`. The satisfaction this gives me is boundless and wills me on to another painting……..Such depression when something does not happen in my paintings, but when it does it gives one back such a wonderful feeling and satisfaction. A real shame to the profession that so many `artists` only have the satisfaction of money. Are they in the right profession? I think not.

  7. Yes – I agree it’s important for most artists to have at least some solitude – it gives you the chance to let the paint and subject ‘speak’ to you and your true own style to come through. Isn’t this partly at least why there historically have been so few great women artists? – with, normally in the old days, sole responsibility for house and child care and none of today’s machines and technology to help, they had precious little time for their art. And even over the last few years most have to work to shoulder or share the bills. Not easy to find time to paint, let alone meditate and dream in solitude and listen to our inner creative voice. So now as then, we have to be ‘warriors’ for our art and some solitude. Make time, somehow, to find and treasure time to be alone. It isn’t just important – for most artists I think it’s vital.

    • Jenny… Google “women artists books”. You will find many books on women artists. Women have been painting from the beginning of history. However, their accomplishments were ignored or men took credit for their work. Their were women who were court painters, supported their families by selling their art, etc. I know a few history books that don’t mention any women artists…not even someone like Georgia O’Keefe whose work, at least, is recognized by many. I definitely believe solitude is critical for the development of art. If you have children who are active and keep interrupting you, ask a friend or relative to watch them…at their house…to allow you to paint in solitude for a few hours each day. Women who have homes, jobs and children can carve out time to go to the gym each day. isn’t your art just as important?

  8. Thanks so much for this message. I’m a writer and a musician. I feel I need solitude not only to actually create something, but in order to feel more whole and prepared to do so at some point when the muse is ready. I think that poetic soul that feels most alive and real in the dreaming, needs that solitude in order to connect with the reality, that others may see as imagination. I just feel more myself, and that makes me freer to create, authentically, as well. Thanks again for the post and for the comments as well!

    • Sara, excellent reminder and post. Jonathan, The Untethered Soul is one of the books that expanded my conscious peaceful life and should be a must-read.

    • Virginia Urani on

      Bless you, Sara … this is a beautiful letter and reminder of how much I love being alone in my little studio or a woodland trail. It is there that I meet a friend I like very much … me!

  9. Having a quiet place to work is different from solitude. Solitude that can be found in a crowd is often feared for being the state of age when things pass and you can’t reach out any more to feel them. A sense of purpose and focus lets the feet and fingers move and the mind follows in its own sweet time. Quiet is a luxury, it seems to me. Thanks.

  10. Having just retired from a company that is very into “open collaboration spaces” your letter affirms my experience that to be creative, an artistic thinker must have some private space to ponder and imagine. Thank you for sharing these thoughts!

  11. Having just experienced two different days, of planned solitude for painting, and, having both days turn into just the opposite, I shall try for another. First Day – Even, after letting someone in my house, know, of my plans, I found I was surrounded by the cable company guys, working on new connections. Second day, somehow, a few people wanted to visit, and, look at our new landscaping, and that someone in my house, invited them in. As I was finally ready to face my canvas, my stool’s leg decided to break, and, I landed on the floor. Perhaps, on the next future solitude day, I will find myself painting, a chaos image of memories. Co-ordinated calendar’s are definitely a necessity.

    • Sorry Susan, best made plans, right. I’ve had similar experiences. Every so often, if I’m aware and family is out of the house … at the same time I recognize that wow, I can do something artistic, I usually just want to enjoy the quiet, not do anything or not do anything – outside, happy me. Inspiration doesn’t wait for my quiet. It has a life of it’s own. Ideas pop into my mind anytime. It is helpful for me to right them down and maybe actually use them or combine them. There is a Tuesday Morning Painters group I belong to, not a class, they keep me from being to serious about my artistic endeavors and are very happy to critique each others creativity. So, if you can, gather with friends and acknowledge the quiet too.

  12. I agree about the solitude, but Gaugin seems a poor example. He had 3 wives ages 13, 14 and 14 during his time in the South Pacific and infected them as well as numerous other very young girls with syphilis. The still lives are lovely but much of his work reflects not solitude but violent sexual images as well as art reflecting his lifestyle as a syphilitic pedophiliac.

  13. I find I have to unhitch myself from the daily whiz of activity, even though I live alone. A little voice in my head tells me to do the laundry, tidy something up, cut grass etc etc, and another very quiet voice says – No – its OK – these can be done later…… Find some little crutches – for example an evening radio date, use your phone to tell you when it is 15 minutes away, yes music you enjoy so it doesn’t annoy you and helps your mind to flow.
    I like the electronic diary and each day I see it first thing and it says task 1 task 2 then an art related task or two to pull me in the right direction.

  14. Although I don’t prefer to solitude myself a lot, but when it comes to designing and painting I find myself secluding myself. It’s that piece of mind I need in order to let out the creativity within me. I always noticed that especially at night before bed time, it’s almost the perfect time for me to start painting and getting creative at what I do.

  15. Solitude is a bittersweet location in the heart. Like aging, it is not for the faint of heart. When we are alone with our “unvarnished honesty” we can become quite frightening to ourselves.

  16. Solitude is bittersweet–sweeter when it is a decision, and more bitter when it is forced upon someone. Aloneness can bother the soul or give it breath. Forces come to play which is greater than a simple decision.

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