The Laws of Nature

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Value of Solitude

(This painting just won an award at the 29th International Exhibition of the San Diego Watercolor Society, and also was sold)

Artist Reg Butler (1913 - 1981) once remarked: I work alone (I haven't found a way of working other than in considerable privacy), and I go to quite considerable lengths to insure that ... I don't find it possible to lose myself in the activity if there are other people around.

I have to admit that I work in the same manner. So many times, other artists have asked me to paint with them or to join a group of painters. I've tried, but the distractions keep me from thinking deeply about all the decisions I have to make as I paint, so I end up with wasted time and materials. Also, for some reason, group painters feel obligated to comment on each other's work as it progresses. This can be harmful because it may influence the artist as he/she is painting and remove any possibility for originality. So, I've been working in isolation for years now. On rare occasions I've enrolled in week-long painting workshops where I learned a few important things. However, it was always challenging to concentrate because of all the socializing. Don't get me wrong - I love being with people, but not while I'm working. Here are a few other artists that agree:

Leonardo Da Vinci: The painter or draftsman ought to be solitary, in order that the well-being of the body may not sap the vigor of the mind.

Edgar Degas: It seems to me that today, if the artist wishes to be serious - to cut out a little original niche for himself, or at least to preserve his own innocence of personality - he must once more sink himself in solitude.

Pierre Alechinsky: What interests me most about the act of painting is that it is a solitary act ... Of course, when one is faced with a canvas, one is no longer alone, and the sense of solitude diminishes. This can be an agreeable passage of time. In fact, solitude then becomes a kind of companion.


Sheila said...

Hmmmm..... I don't think I've ever painted with a group. I'm going to have to try and see what the experience is like. I can see why you become lost into your work process and would not like distractions from getting you off point, especially with watercolor.

Margaret Ryall said...

You always have the best quotes to support your points. Do you collect them as you read? I know I've read fantastic quotes over the years but I don't have one of them at the tip of my tongue or the end of my pen. I'd like to hear about your "reading" process.

As for solitude when you work, I agree it is necessary. My report card would say "Does not work well with others." when it comes to painting groups. I never charge myself with the task of producing anything sensible in a workshop situation. I've made it OK in my mind by saying I create experimental boards. Then I have some leeway to interact and learn from others in the group.
Good post - as usual.

Kathy said...

Sheila - I wouldn't rush to work with a group. But, week-long workshop experiences are usually very helpful, as Margaret points out below.

Margaret - I'm an avid reader of technical and historical art books. I take loads of notes in bound notebooks that I keep and refer to those notes when I write blogs. This is another way of saying that I can't keep much in my head :)

-Don said...

First of all, Congratulations on both the award and the sale of this beautiful work.

2nd, I'm with you sister...I work alone. I LOVE to socialize, but when it comes time to create I do it best solo. I think that may be a big part of why my most productive painting time is after midnight when the sane people in the world are asleep. I love all of the quotes you use. Keep on sharing these gems. Thank you.


hwfarber said...

I meet with a group once a week; we spend most of our time laughing.

Any serious painting is done in my workshop in solitude--I'm with Don; I usually paint after the sane people are in bed. I've found that when I'm really in the zone, I can't remember words so conversation is impossible (I guess the the left brain switches to "off").

Myrna said...

I love the last part of the last quote about solitude being companionship! I have always had the ability of full concentration and can "tune" out what is around me. It is useful when creating in a public environment. The only group painting I do is in workshops. Your scholarly approach to art is amazing.

Chris Beck said...

Congratulations on the award and sale! And thanks for sharing your insights and results of your reading.

I am, like you, far more creative and productive when I work alone. There's something about getting lost in the moment and being open to new ideas that disappears with the distractions of a group. Critiques or off-hand comments offered before a work is complete are extremely limiting if not outright destructive to my creativity -- not because the persons commenting have any intent to control my work, but just because their views jumble up mine.

Kathy said...

Don, Margaret, Chris, Myrna, and FW - looks like we're all on the "same page" when it comes to working in solitude. I'm not surprised. I've seen multiple works by each one of you and can tell that you're engaged in deep thought without much distraction because of the apparent mastery. Who needs distractions?

Carolina Moon Arts Studio said...

Congratulations Kathy! I thoroughly enjoy our conversations and i am with you all in that i always felt i made a terrible student because i needed to be alone on my own to work.

Kathy said...

Hi Carolyn, I, too, have enjoyed our conversations! Thanks so much for adding your comments to this blog :)

RHCarpenter said...

After painting with a group in a class setting for over 6 years, I've broken with that tradition because I think my art needs more quiet time, solitude, and dependence on what I see instead of what others see. You are so right that a comment early on from a painter in class during critique can change your direction. I need my paintings to be my own now...I hope I can find what I'm looking for. Love your recent posts!