Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Do Artists Need Solitude to Work?

Path Katherine Kean
watercolor on paper
I happen to think so, although it may depend on the artist and what type of work they do.

Time alone in the studio (except for the dog, of course) is an opportunity to relax into a flow of consciousness. To let words and linear thoughts drift away. This state feels freer – nobody is watching – nobody is judging – it’s an anything might happen place to be.

Solitude helps me to get into the creative flow. Like falling asleep – they say that falling asleep takes about 7 minutes - I find it takes a certain period of time without interruption. An interruption means the whole process must start over again. For me settling down to work is preceded by a period of puttering around. I used to view this time as procrastinating, but I’ve learned that it is an essential part of getting to work. I flit about the house fiddling with this and that, putting things away, but gradually thinking less and less about what I’m doing while my mind is pulled toward what I’m going to work on. I end up finally in front of the easel, setting up the palette, mixing a color, these are the final acts of tinkering – I’m already almost oblivious to the world around me and on the way to becoming fully absorbed in interaction with paint and the surface.

Oddly I often find it helpful to have the TV on, tuned to something I don’t feel compelled to pay attention to – usually a talk show. This seems to serve to keep the literal part of my brain occupied; it’s like sending a talkative child off to play, leaving me free to work. .

And getting that time to work, undistracted and focused, requires saying no. Saying no to distractions, interruptions, and disturbances. Email must be ignored, the phone left unanswered – just for the time being.

“The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone." James Baldwin

Robert Genn has a whole page of quotes about solitude and art.

10 comments:

Melissa said...

It is so much prettier here than on facebook.. so I'll answer here.
Yes, I think a huge part of being an artist means being alone. Most of the time I need silence, too. But when I know exactly what I am about to do, I can listen to my playlists.

Palmer said...

I agree. Solitude allows for the superficial to settle down, fall away, or just get trumped by a part of us that wants to express. Often, ideas seem to come from nowhere. They just float in, but you have to be able to listen for them--and solitude allows for that. Funny about the tv, I also find it sometimes soothes the antsy part of my brain. Another thought-provoking post Katherine, thanks!!

Katherine said...

Hi Melissa,

Thanks - I actually like it better when people comment here because it's open to the whole world beyond just facebook friends.

I know what you mean - and sometimes the sound can help move the work along.

Katherine said...

Hi Palmer,

I like that - it's a wonderful image you put there of ideas that just float in.

I find sometimes the ideas are already there just patiently waiting for me to notice them.

Jean Spitzer said...

I don't need solitude, exactly; I just need no one actually talking to me while I'm painting. If someone does, it forces me out of the almost meditative state I'm in when I paint.

Katherine said...

Hi Jean,

Exactly.

I suspect that the painting centers and the language centers of the brain overlap.

Thanks for visiting. I went by your blog - beautiful work!

Shauna Morrissey said...

Good Afternoon, we haven't met but I stumbled across your blog and felt compelled to comment. I too love the solitude but must have background noise (just no audience). I feel that utter silence encourages those subtle, darker, insecure subconscious voices to have too much space to speak. Noise seems to keep them at bay.

I just wanted to let you know how great I think your work is as well as to offer my congradulations on your award.

Shauna Morrissey

Katherine said...

Hi Shaunna,

Welcome and thank you!

I can understand what you mean about some of the inner voices - the voice of that inner art critic must especially be drowned out - at least during the creative process.

Thanks for visiting and for adding to the discussion.

Melissa Sue said...

I've always worked alone, but I think I wouldn't mind having another artist in the room occasionally. But it'd have to be a working artist - friends and the husband being around sort of de-rail the process. And I do the TV thing also! Well, never had a TV in the studio, but I've got a small stack of DVD's that are in constant rotation - since I've seen them all so many times they don't distract me, but at the same time I love them so they keep the blabbery part of my brain occupied.

Katherine Kean said...

Hi Melissa Sue and welcome.

A stack of DVDs sounds like a great idea - better than TV. Too often my TV ends up on a news channel and broadcasting info I could live without - at least for the time being.