Intermingling of isolation and creativity - notes on solitude, true genius and artistic seclusion
To create, one must be in touch with their most authentic and raw selves. It's the path of lonesome creativity where pretentious zeal and unnecessary contact is uncalled for. The roots of creativity are set in a solitary ground. I struggled with isolation myself. It's like a backpack you carry around. Sometimes, isolation gives you a water bottle, a journal, a map, it's your guide and saviour. Other times, it’s just baggage. A humorous and at times, the destructive relationship between us, gave me my best creative pieces and my most troublesome and spiralling days amidst panic.
Man is a social animal. People need people. But does your art? To the artist, time can be a blessing or a curse, much like an idle mind. Over the past few days, I’ve given a trinket of my time, a piece of my mind to this notion.
Researchers Alfonso Montuori and Ronald E. Purser have written:
“This modern view of creativity has venerated the artist or genius as a cultural hero, because he or she is someone who has forged something new and original by struggling against and rising above the limiting forces of the conforming masses… To maintain such a stance, the creative person must disengage him or herself from the environment. The resulting isolation is romanticized or even seen as being synonymous with genius.”
Their work “Deconstructing the Lone Genius Myth” plays a new hand. The idea of romanticising seclusion as the factor that makes an artist a glorified hero. For he has broken the chains of social construct, disobeyed world laws to walk a lone path, to stray from the pack to give this world some beauty through art.
We’ve heard people say time and time again, what it means to be genius. To be genius is to be crazy, to have a somewhat tainted existence that never keeps the mind quiet. When we look at crazy and see genius, we believe isolation is the key.
"Our passions and best ideas are not always the sounds of our souls, they materialise through cultural transactions around us, the history and science behind our very existence and the environment that nourishes us. Research entails that the truly great, the novel and exceptional ideas are not of one, but of the culmination of many before him and around him, constantly feeding that idea. Our best work stems from existing inspiration outside of ourselves. So now I ask you, is it isolation that….
However, to an artist, the promise of isolation is the eradication of the ‘noise’ that external life provides. Its peace from bureaucracy and society, from systems and monotonous structure. Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari painted a Virgin and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome, during his visit to a monastery in Tuscany. He notes “I could have found no better place to know myself.”
Van Gogh, famous for his outward ideals of melancholy and the human existence and the ’Starry Night’, is known to be the poster boy for the tortured genius artist, which, as we discussed before, is synonymous to the True Artist. To him life was painful and it hurt every inch of his body. It was in isolation that he found colour in life, away from the greys of France. His classic use of yellows and blues were birthed from cutting the ties with the outside world.
But in the eyes and views of many writers, isolation is the salvation of the soul.
“Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude,” French artist Eugène Delacroix said.
He continues that everything around him and within him tells him to lead a solitary life. The possibility of being interrupted or maybe the expectation of the same weakens him after endless hours spent waste. When memory had nothing to feed on, it pines and dies. Instead, the mind occupied in scheming and valuable ideas of promise miscarry due to lack of constancy. They burn up and exhaust the mind.
He finishes by saying “The enemy is within my gates, in my very heart; I feel his hand everywhere.
Murakami when writing a new book, often engaged in self-imposed isolation.
Rilke being a rather mystical writer, beautifully comprehended:
“Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!”
But the patience of art is lonely patience. It demands you to feel, measure, explore, drown yourself in creative spirits, be it art, science or learning about the rotations of the earth. It takes you away from your mortal presence to show you divinity of a different kind.
“Oh, comforting solitude, how favorable thou art to original thought!” wrote Santiago Ramón y Cajal, father of neuroscience while discussing the ideal space for intellectual and intelligent breakthroughs.
“Solitude, a rest from responsibilities, and peace of mind, will do you more good than the atmosphere of the studio and the conversations,” Louise Bourgeois counselled one of her friends.
“There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone.” Said May Sarton In herd to solitude. It was within oneself that one found greatest joy.
Virginia Woolf, known for her electric writing said it best:
“If I could catch the feeling, I would; the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world.”-
There is a kind of loneliness that lodges itself in the psyche and never fully leaves, loneliness most anguishing not in solitude but in companionship and amid the crowd. If solitude fertilizes the imagination, loneliness vacuums it of vitality and sands the baseboards of the spirit with the scratchy restlessness of longing — for connection, for communion, for escape. And yet it is out of this restlessness that so many great works of art are born.”
It is in times of thriving and enviable appearances of one to the outside world, that loneliness manifests as an independent chill. It's when the reality is so intense itself, it becomes unbearably real.
The French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems, stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
John Keats had his short life filled and almost suffocated with loss from a young age — losing both parents at a tender age of eight and fourteen. And yet even amid his darkest times, he saw tender times ahead. His imagination never failed him and he sought beauty in the world.
“The roaring of the wind is my wife and the Stars through the window pane are my Children… I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds.”
For Keats, the path of solitude was the only one. It led him out of darkness to blooming seasons. The loss was a constant companion and solace came along almost immediately. His only certainty now was that his own living self wouldn’t leave.
Using this solitude for creative sustenance, despite having to suffer through the pains of losing his family and loved ones almost on the clock, he found a home in it.
“Though I may choose to pass my days alone I shall be no Solitary… I am as happy as a Man can be… with the yearning Passion I have for the beautiful, connected and made one with the ambition of my intellect.”
To be someone in this world, it's necessary to overcome the hurdles of being yourself. One learns to love through time spent alone, within one's mind through visions, dreams and images.
“People who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger”, Andrei Tarkovsky, Russian filmmaker, urged the young.
But to Wendell Berry, this novelty that sticks itself to artistic expressions born of isolation is an act of vanity. And this kind serves neither, the creator nor those created for.
Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.
Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness, one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfil.
"Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.”
When such pride and freshly imprinted originality wears off, the artist cannot very well assume solitude to be a long-term friend.
To him, we truly gain when we lose ourselves in the greater forces of nature. He extols the virtues of quieting the mind that is found in our surroundings:
“We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness…
True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.
One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.
In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”
The dilemma exists and lives on. The unclaimed spaces over the earth, where the winds and rivers are free from control, is where sometimes one can find solitude and creativity intermingled.
“We have all known the long loneliness,” Dorothy Day says and I agree. The only question now remains is, for an artist to be left alone with their mind, full of voices and visions, a chaotic battleground, does this pump him of crazy genius or find vanity as much a part of him as his veins.
Is creativity the child of isolation, or isolation a path leading to creativity?
Author: Maitreyee says, "18 and a creative enthusiast. Quite often I find myself down internet rabbit holes and books to forget the outside world, on other days, I see the world a little too realistically. Strongly believe the man was born for love and revolution. Fancies myself to know the ways of the world yet I fall prey to every single poem I read. I Believe if not for art, the world would lay barren. Intellectually curious but quite stupidly idealistic when it comes to life. We put all our love in books because sometimes it can’t exist elsewhere. The only dream is to create something that leaves a mark behind."