Deep Thought Thursday: Going solo

In the June issue of Art Calendar magazine, Jack White says:

When you made the choice to become an artist, you committed yourself to a life of solitary confinement. That is, if you plan on being successful.

I'm of two minds on this. The first is that, yes, you must spend a great deal of time alone in order to find your voice as an artist and in order to produce the quality of work you need. The second voice says Oh No! You have to get out and meet people and network and find people to buy your art.

So, how much time do you need to be alone? And what are the parameters of solitary confinement?

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20 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Going solo”

  1. Guess we can’t lose the romantic/tragic ideal of the artist misunderstood in his or her own time. Not a subscriber of Art Calendar and didn’t read the full article, but I have trouble with grand pronouncements like this. I think we in the art world, artists and art critics and art agents, might do better if we thought of ourselves as guides instead of authorities. Let’s empower collectors and be their partners when they navigate turbulent streams. Seems like a better paradigm than to be told what to do and what to think all the time…

  2. The need to be truly, deeply alone is undeniable for me as an artist. I am too vulnerable to the energies swirling around me. if people are in the studio I have a lot of difficulty concentrating. I usually stay up until 2 am to find the solitude. But I love people, and for many years had to hold down a day job. And one has to get out and do the dance with the public in order to “make it.” They just aren’t going to take the time to find you. You have to be VERY VISIBLE. I highly recommend Louise Nevelson’s bio: A Passionate Life, by Laurie Lisle- to understand the struggle.

  3. It’s 2 parts of a whole I suppose. I personally could be alone for 99% of the time and be blissfully happy! I go slightly nuts after ‘people days’ and have to retreat for a while. I’m very lucky because friends and fellow artists understand and respect this – I don’t have visitors, I don’t do 2 ‘out’ days in a row, etc. But I think Jack White is exactly wrong. Yes we do have to see people too. For me it’s planned into the schedule, forced even, because otherwise I wouldn’t do it. (and I know I need to do it more) I can attribute almost every important show I’ve had to meeting someone at an event or some form of social art activity.

  4. I consider sales to be part of my criterion for success as an artist. Although interacting with people can be distracting from your work, it often leads to sales. People love to meet the artist. I agree with Mike, an artist has to BE VISIBLE with the public so they don’t have to wait tables in order to buy paint. Waiting tables is much more distracting than “doing the dance” every now and then.

  5. I don’t agree with this statement as written and not sure of the context having dropped art calendar a while back. Solitary confinement seems rather harsh. But I do think there is a lot of truth in what he writes. Having the deep commitment to really believe enough in one’s self to become the best artist one can (ie a great artist) requires a huge amount of self-love and self-acceptance and mostly self-confidence. I think this can scare those that aren’t on a similar path. It can also lead to jealousies that separate you from the larger pack of artists that don’t share a similar vision. I’ve found that the percent of artists that are truly looking to become great artists, and willing to commit to it what it takes, to be a very very small number. Finding peers for support and friendship isn’t all that easy at that level of thought and action. Sure you need to meet people to do the business stuff, but finding someone that understands and shares that vision of this personal greatness is not very likely to happen. And it’s not very popular to talk of such things in public – “who are you to think you are great” is the common feedback. I was hesitant to post this for exactly this reason. But as Marianne Williamson says – “Who are you to not to be? … You don’t serve the world by being small” I doubt art is the only area where this occurs. For example, I think elite athletes face a similar situation.

  6. I felt an immediate connection to what Lisa is saying. In solitude, an artist is free to explore the depths of his or her creative spirit without the distractions of needing to explain or excuse their focus. In this respect, perhaps Jack White is correct. But I do see a changing art world that is requiring more of the artist than ever before, with very few mentors available for guidance on how to function in this new environment. For me, it is harder to fit in the “alone” time and draining to deal with too much “public” time, and I draw encouragement from hearing how others cope. Thank you.

  7. I wouldn’t exactly call it solitude but there is a significant amount of alone time in my mind required to be my creative best. Having worked the past 30 some odd years in the advertising/marketing/graphic design industry, I have learned to be creative in a bustling group situation. It is exhausting, yet exhilarating at the same time. The little free time I have is divided between time with my understanding husband, my art associations and my artwork, leaving little time for true solitude. Fortunately, I have learned to turn inward for quiet contemplation in small spurts or there would be no painting. Those special times when pure solitude is present are precious and result in all sorts of discoveries whether about my art or myself. And while I would love more time alone, I could never thrive without the interaction of others in my world.

  8. I have been so lucky in my life. I think the genes that made me an artist came with other genes that made me love being alone. I can literally go weeks without seeing or talking to anyone. It doesn’t bother me at all. I just told someone the other day “Me and Myself” get along just great!! Obviously I do have to go out sometimes, but I am always so happy to get back to my cave of solitary confinement. It works for me! 🙂

  9. I love spending time with people, and I also feel the over stimulation afterwards that other artists have mentioned. True alone time is hard to find when one is married and has children. I find I forgo sleep, and work late into the night to get what I need. If I could work it my way I’d spend 75% alone working, 25% in a social atmosphere, (3 days on, one day off)But for now? I’ll take what I can get. I should mention that my studio is in my home, there was a time when it was separate from our living quarters. It was easier to have that time I needed, but there are pros and cons to every situation.

  10. I understand the need to be alone to create in your own voice, but don’t we also need feedback from others to help us move forward and in new directions? Since I had to use the studio at the local college when I first started out, I was able to interact with other jewelers and no matter what their level of mastery, each person looks at the world differently and can help us see in different perspectives also.

  11. Like Tina and Sheree, I thrive on “alone time”. I just function better and it’s better creative time for me. As with many things, it seems like this quote tries to make it ‘all or nothing’. There has to be a happy medium. Myself, though, I find it easy to love my solitary time and tolerate the public, than maybe someone who thrives on the connections and must tolerate some alone time.

  12. In terms of success in the art market (as distinct from the making of truly exceptional art) I suspect the very extroverted artists are at a big advantage. Sadly there is a great deal of contemporary art that enjoys some success primarily due to either the artist’s talent for meeting people and/or their family connections. A lot of the very best artists are by nature pretty darned introverted- how else can they spend the hundreds of hours needed to make work that is extraordinary? But rather than sulk, artists who believe in their work can learn a great deal by studying the extroverted-networking or well-connected artists. Some of the things they do well we can borrow and employ ourselves. One doesn’t have to be a phony with this, simply find which of their practices you can get yourself to do at least once and awhile. One doesn’t have to become somebody else. Rather we just need to stretch a little.

  13. Allison J Smith

    That statement is just another myth about artists. Yes, we all know unless you’re collaborating, you’re working alone. So are the people in the cubicles typing on their computers. When you free your-self through your art and release your bonds, you no longer “need” to have isolation. But you still must work alone to make a piece of art. Just because you work alone does not mean you are in solitary confinement. We must patiently help others understand so they stop spreading these myths.

  14. I definitely need a mix of both alone and people time in my life to find my rhythm. I do most of my creating/making work solo, but find camaraderie, inspiration, and friendship outside of the studio. And, it isn’t always in places one might expect – it’s always good to keep the eyes and ears open. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll see.

  15. Here we are with the recurring issue of balance which rises up in everyone’s life, artist or not. As an artist, I can disappear easily into my work and that is a deeply compelling, satisfying place from which I withdraw grudgingly. That is where the real work of being an artist takes place. Yes I have to market my work. Yes, I have to look up every now and then and realize there are others out there and practical life matters to deal with but that quiet, deep undisturbed place is the heart of where the paintings come from and I have to make sure I get plenty of it. As an artist my life tips pretty extremely at times toward the introverted life and it’s an ongoing job to seek and achieve a balanced life, not to mention dealing with marketing.

  16. There’s lots of interesting reading here about this subject and I agree with what many have to say. I am not an introvert by nature and am in fact often happiest when I’m around people. I raised my children while working in my home studio and became quite adept at working with a certain amount of chaos going on, especially when they were teenagers and the house was always full of noise and activity. And I prefer to work in the quiet by myself when I can get it, but this is actually quite rare. If I waited for solitude I would never work in the studio. I’ve learned to be alone in my mind, I guess. I make much of my living as a writer and as an artist so waiting for the perfect moment is not really an option for me. If the house is full of people and the pets are running wild I still have deadlines to meet and work to create. And so I go to the studio and shut the door in my mind and go to work. It works for me.

  17. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Liza: Thanks for the recommendation. I love bios and I haven’t read Nevelson’s. Tina: I’m sure Jack White doesn’t mean you never have to get out. I’ll have to recheck that. And, yes, my quote was taken out of context, but it’s a powerful pronouncement. Lisa (and Sue): Does this mean it’s “lonely at the top”? I do know a little about this and I couldn’t agree with you more. I caution all of my clients not to belong to groups just to belong. They have to receive just as much as they give. I fear a lot of artists are in the role of nurturer and aren’t being nurtured. Sue: This is interesting: “I do see a changing art world that is requiring more of the artist than ever before.” I wonder if you can talk about that a bit more. ??

  18. I’ve had 35 years of working with people and raising 4 children with my husband. I’m planning on becoming a full time artist in another year and what scares me is the many days I may not have much contact with people. I work in isolation many days during the summer and do fine but during a long winter when there’s more than just a few days….well that is something I’m not sure I can adjust to. For me the isolation is the thing that makes me hesitate about my next move.

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