Yesterday, Mary Catherine Jorgensen of East Bay, California, wrote, “A side effect of being a self-employed artist is occasional loneliness. Not everyone works alongside other artists, and many of us work alone. The privilege of being able to choose between music, radio news, or silence, and between working early in the morning or starting at noon — in short, being one’s own boss — has a downside. It’s lonely. Any suggestions? I’d love your input.”
Thanks, Mary. When art students are welcomed here for a second opinion on their work or future, I often ask them how much they like working alone. Used to being in busy, stimulating environments like art schools, they sometimes look at me as if I’m out to lunch. Fact is, with the exception of various forms of team art, most of the functioning professional artists I know have come to terms with the strengths and weaknesses of keeping their own company. Although less of a problem for introverts, this art can be learned.
The art of effective aloneness includes the understanding that solitude is necessary for creative gain. “Most progress,” said self-improvement guru Bruce Barton, “comes out of loneliness.” Creative people need to dream and contrive on their own. “Dreams,” said Erma Bombeck, “have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.”
At the same time, there are human connections to be won. Connections with like-minded fellow travellers are best. The right companionship, at appropriate times, can actually give courage to solitude as well as sharpen creativity. Just knowing that others of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood are out there is part of it, but sharing on a one-to-one basis — both the good stuff and the nasty — is best of all. Fortunate are those who train up to exemplary friendship.
Companionship, for many of us, takes the form of a spouse or significant other. Generational relationships are also particularly rewarding — father-son, grandmother-granddaughter, that sort of thing. Professional associations, occasional clubs, informal gatherings, crit groups and coffee klatches can further the illusion we are not doing this on our own. “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone,” said Orson Welles, “Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
PS: “An artist is always alone — if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.” (Henry Miller)
Esoterica: Another source of equanimity and joy of solitude comes with an appreciation of Nature. Even the most crowded cities evidence other forms of life. Animals and birds, as well as tiny, struggling plants, provide a rich metaphor that can sustain a thoughtful loner. Needless to say, the heart soars in wildness and in wilderness, and the great cosmos is both comfort and inspiration. Like a close and intimate friend, it speaks to you. “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” (Rachel Carson)
by Cherie Blackwell, Fairfield, CA, USA
You are so right. Going from art school to the solitary studio is a shock — even depressing. I have to counteract this by setting up a schedule that forces me to get out and mingle. I created an art group with several other artists. We get together for trips to the museums, for lunch, and rotate among our studios to view and provide critiques on the current works. We feel this is absolutely necessary for sanity.
by Sara Spanjers, Tucson, AZ, USA
I actually enjoy my solitude that comes with being a self-employed artist. I find my concerns come with being with others in larger groups. I find it particularly difficult to focus when there are others around me now. For instance recently while camping with a large group of friends and family, as the camp host I was unable to socialize and prepare meals at the same time. I felt uncomfortable and a bit of anxiety in this situation and others that are similar. I have a feeling that it comes with the territory of working alone and having the luxury of focusing/creating by myself. Just an additional side effect I find working as a studio artist.
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by Linda Blazonis, Lisbon, ME, USA
I happily spend a great deal of time painting and doing all the myriad tasks involved in art making and production. I live alone and work alone, yet I am not alone in my endeavors. My constant companion, my dog Acadia, provides the perfect companion I need for these times. She is patient; she is quiet, she is happy to be my attentive assistant while I paint. When I take a break from my work I take her out for a quick walk. We enjoy the few minutes in the fresh air of Maine. This is a great way to live, indeed.
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by Morag Walsh, Beaver Harbour, NB, Canada
I am an artist living in rural Eastern Canada, and understand your writer’s situation. To balance that necessary loneliness of creativity, I have joined an online artists’ forum where we discuss each other’s work, provide teaching, news, and demo links, and just generally share our artistic ups and downs, often with great humour. I, also, find participating occasionally in group shows or artistic fundraisers provides me with real live contact with fellow artists which is very stimulating and as necessary as the alone time for me, an extrovert type.
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by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
Your message speaks to a question that many would-be artists need to answer. Why become an artist anyway? If the answer is to become popular, and to have a fascinating social and romantic life, then these folks are likely to be disappointed. Art making is not an extroverted activity. You will be spending many hours with your best human friend — yourself. My little dog does sit by me on the floor to provide support. As you say, it’s not all that bad. The beautiful sunshine comes in my window looking out to a garden in bloom and a gentle morning breeze graces my skin. I’ll have time during the day to talk to my wife and to write emails to various friends I may never meet. As an introvert, I need my alone time. It makes me more appreciative of socializing when I have that opportunity. I never feel lonely when I am by myself. Put me in a big crowd, however, and I am quickly alone!
Get active and blog
by Kelley MacDonald, Tiverton, RI, USA
There are two things I might suggest to Mary Catherine: First, find a local art association and get active — give classes, take classes, volunteer to help with shows, be on the board, etc. You will find likeminded people and eventually find people at approximately your level who will give comfort and support when you need it, and outlets for fun which are needed as well. I am lucky to have forged some really strong bonds with other artists doing this — and we now have a core group who are ‘thick and thin’ type friends. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you’ll get there.
In addition, the blogosphere, believe it or not, provides a way to cultivate company and makes friends you will eventually count on for their comments, support, humor and vision! Set up a blog (blogger has a free one with easy templates) and spend the 5 minutes a day posting what you’re working on. Visit other people’s blogs and surf from their safe links. You’ll find art you LOVE and people’s personalities are right there, and you can tell who you’d like to get to ‘know’, and post comments on their blog. That usually causes them to check back on your blog and comment and then the friendship begins.
Happy as kings
by Katherine Harris, Bracciano, Italy
Of course it’s a given that when we are creating art, we usually need to be alone. But being alone isn’t loneliness, by any means. Those two words may look alike, but they are very different. In fact, we can be in a crowded room, and be mentally feeling alone. Conversely, we can be in our studio with only canvas, paints and brushes, and be mentally at yesterday’s party with friends. Loneliness is a state of mind, and, as such, is mostly controlled mentally. In other words, it’s mostly under our own control. Unless panic, fear, or some surprise happens to take over, we can always begin to focus on something we choose to “get going.” I sometimes think of this childhood ditty: “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings!” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Abby from NCIS
by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK
Have you ever watched NCIS on the television I wonder? The forensic scientist (Abby) is played by an actress who really lives the part. She prefers to work alone with all her various instruments in her laboratory. When she arrives in the lab every day she speaks to all her favourite instruments wishing them all good morning! This is something I have always done myself. All my tools are there for my use and at my convenience. They all do a vital job in whatever work I am involved with. I know each one intimately and there is a happy needful relationship between us.
I did try working outside of my life once. Misery really. Am I lonely? No, not in a million years. I find creative peace in my workshop together with all my many friends who line the walls and live in drawers. Let me introduce you to some of them: Brushes and paint, vice and drill, planer and saws, spanners and thinners, and oh so very many more. How could I ever be lonely with such good mates?
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The closed door
by Charles Peck, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA
This is a subject with depth for those who aren’t aware of the lifestyle, otherwise just everydayness. Rachel Carson’s comment in the Esoterica I found to be what I know as my experience. I have been alone much of my life by choice and it seems I always have something in front of my eyes or in my mind which is engaging me to the point I feel tired at the end of day whenever that occurs. When I have visitors everything stops as I focus on them and respond to their input, so no painting, reading, thinking, drawing or just observing gets done. I enjoy people and do seek them out when I step out and go downtown, but I enjoy closing that door as much.
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Balance in life
by Olivia Alexander
Being an artist who works from a home based studio, I too have found at times it’s very lonely and isolating. But I have come to recognize that the need to create is far greater for me than the need for company! Also, my best creations come out of being by myself. Only then can my true creative thoughts really freely flow. So I try to embrace and accept these times of loneliness as opportunity to create what I have found to be often my best works. To help keep balance in my life I have found the following helpful:
— I have set aside a day of the week where I catch up with fellow art friends, we visit galleries (have a coffee of course) and just discuss our ideas and what we’ve been up to. Time spent with likeminded people is invaluable even if just for an hour a week.
— I have also just joined Twitter (I resisted for a long time) and also Facebook. I can advertise my art on these sites but also social network with other artists from all around the world.
— Local art societies are also a good place to get involved. They often have demo days and exhibitions running that can help build contacts and friendships.
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by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA
When I have been alone for long periods of time, I sometimes conjure the scene in “Castaway” where Tom Hanks is sitting by the fire, talking with the soccer ball head he created out of his need for contact with someone. It always makes me smile. While I was raising my children, I struggled to find time to do my art! When they moved into their own lives, there I stood, paintbrush/pen/keyboard in hand and the quiet literally stopped the creativity. I felt stagnant and couldn’t seem to get started again. I sold my home in Texas and moved to upstate New York. Aaaah, the sound of the wind through the trees, long walks with the dogs, infinite time to create! The change was good but I found I was putting most of my creative juices into making my studio ‘just right.’ The short version of this story (I’ll save you the angst) is I discovered I need a balance of human interaction and aloneness to be my best self. In times when there was so much activity I had no time for myself – I made time for quiet moments to dream, to read, to fill the spirit so empty from spending all of that energy. When I found myself alone, day in and day out, I joined local art groups, a book club, volunteered to be on committees and helped neighbors regularly so I could pour out the extra energy stored from all of that time alone. Interacting with humans also gave me insight for my writing, ideas and subjects for my artwork and always connections to some sort of new way to share what I do with the world. Now if creativity stops, I think about what is lacking: people, ideas, rest, dream time, exercise? Finding what works for you can be a dramatic and life altering experience. Travel is my greatest muse! Nothing moves my spirit more than seeing the ordinary with new eyes!
Find artistic friends
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
Make yourself get out there and meet other people who understand art. I have felt the most alone when I am in a crowd of people who don’t care one bit about art. One good artistic friend is worth hundreds of people who don’t have a clue about art or an artist’s life.
Here are some other ideas:
–Take a workshop, either in your field, or just for fun in a totally different field.
–Form a painting group that meets once a week for a set number of weeks. After that time period is over, decide if you want to continue with the group or discontinue it.
–Volunteer. Docent groups are often made up of people who are artists or who at least have a deep appreciation for art. The docents from our nearby art museum often go on outings to places of artistic interest. This not only is education for the group, it also provides opportunities for people to get to know one another.
–Get involved with some other type of group such as a theater league, book club or faith-based group.
–Get a part-time job that does not burn your creative juices, but rather stimulates you as an artist.
–Get a pet. (I have two dogs and think they make wonderful company!)
–Join an online community
by Abbie Williams, Nobleboro, ME, USA
My mother used to say, “Life is a lonely business” and she wasn’t an artist and didn’t live alone! Life is a lonely business and we have to learn how to be successful at being alone, especially women who tend to be “clan” beings. I spent about 15 years working and living alone ( except for my 2 boys) in a small town on the coast of Maine and the winters especially brought on intense loneliness not to mention Light Deficiency Disorder. The LDD was eased by putting up color corrected lights and turning them on whether I needed them or not. What helped also, was making plans so I had things to look forward to. By Wednesday my whole weekend had to be planned or I’d get nuts. When I got really desperate I would hop into the car and go to the supermarket to see living beings. Invariably I would meet someone I knew, but it was other artist’s company I really wanted. One of the hardest things about being a self employed artist is the freedom of time and not differentiating between week days and weekends when almost the whole rest of the world works 9 to 5 during the week. That makes it impossible to call up and suggest meeting a friend for coffee. I learned to schedule my painting time so it fit better with the rest of world, leaving more free time for the weekends and holidays. The other thing I did was to write a letter to as many artists I could find in my area and asked them if they felt lonely too. I then asked if they would be interested in a once a month pot luck get together to talk about art, critique what we were working on and eat food. I got about an 85% yes response. That helped to create art friendships and added one more thing to look forward to. After 15 years of battling loneliness and my kids growing up and leaving home, I decided living alone in Maine was too much work so made plans to move to Taos NM (where artists abound) to spend the winters to paint. I was sure to meet likeminded artists. Just before leaving I met a lovely man who is now my husband who moved to Taos with me. We spent 10 years there, had a wonderful time and surprisingly I never got to be friends with many of the artists. They too spent most of their time alone. So now I am back on the coast of Maine and have found 3 wonderful artist friends who I paint with once a week year round and in the summer we go out together twice a week to paint, laugh, critique and eat lunch. After moving all the way across the country looking for artistic companionship I found it in my own home town in Maine.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Elizabeth Symons of Victoria, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Family and friends sometimes guilt me out by saying, ‘You spend too much time alone.’ My reply is, ‘I’m not alone, I’m working. See you later.'”
And also Paol Serret of Mullumbimby, Australia, who wrote, “How can you feel lonely as an artist when the world is at your feet and all the answers are on the tip of your nose?”
Enjoy the past comments below for Are you lonesome this morning?…