Are you lonesome this morning?
July 14, 2009
Yesterday, Mary Catherine Jorgensen of the East Bay in northern 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)