Solitude and Solidarity: Creative Artists Need ’Em Both
March 23, 2016 § 9 Comments
By Jari Chevalier
Henry James once told the journalist Morton Fullerton that the “essential loneliness” of his life constituted his “deepest” aspect.
If you are a creative artist, everything you do and experience is invested into vision, meaning, and insight. Successful creation is a distillation of many hours of time alone just sponging things in and then processing them in solitude, a word that comes from the Latin “solus,” akin to the Greek word “holos,” signifying whole, entire. An artist comes to wholeness in and through work done in solitude; and in this, there cannot be a separation between self, work, and life.
You’d be hard pressed to find an artist who isn’t poignantly aware of her existential aloneness, and yet, like anyone else, she lives in relationship. Sometimes, instead of social relationships, the artist may rely upon deep, abiding relationships with the ineffable intimations of her gift. There’s a sense of partnership with the unseen—the muse, the unconscious, the universe—to get work done and to feel good.
When you are creating, the feeling arises that you are doing what you are meant to do and it is sustained by the experience of being touched by something larger—a communion experience that one simply cannot explain, but instead must honor and serve.
In this sense the artist working in solitude is not really “alone.” She is having intense affairs with aspects of self and with the numinous. The quality of relationship with one’s own inner dynamics, which are nurtured in solitude, provide the essential conditions for creation.
But there is a big difference between solitude and isolation. To balance long stretches of unbroken solitude, an artist, especially a developing one, needs like-minded others, people who understand the passion and process of a creative person and who support his efforts, who welcome him when he finally does come out from behind the closed door. It helps to have a peer group or, at the very least, one trusted fellow artist with whom to share both the work and one’s life.
Solidarity means unity among people, a shared sense of purpose and understanding of what matters—the values, feelings, sensitivity to beauty, to meaning, to the deeper qualities of mind and life.
Solidarity is every bit as crucial to the health, balance, and survival of the artist as is solitude.
Some artists choose to, or must, find their solidarity without real-time contact with peer artists, but instead, through engagement with the works of more distant artists. In the words of painter and art teacher Robert Henri, “If the artist is alive in you, you may meet Greco nearer than many people, also Plato, Shakespeare, the Greeks. In certain books—some way in the first few paragraphs you know that you have met a brother.”
T.S. Eliot states something similar about our solidarity: “A common inheritance and a common cause unite artists consciously or unconsciously: it must be admitted that the union is mostly unconscious. Between the true artists of any time there is, I believe, an unconscious community.”
Jari Chevalier is a multi-genre writer and visual artist, and a teacher of creativity workshops and retreats. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, Boulevard, Cimarron Review, The Cortland Review, Gulf Coast Online, The Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, Poetry East, and other literary journals. She has conducted over forty interviews with leading-edge thinkers, authors, researchers and activists. Jari has received support for her work as an artist and journalist from numerous private and government grantmakers. She earned her Master’s in creative writing from City College of New York and graduated with honors in writing and literature from Columbia University.