AIArt InquisitionGeneral Art

Art Inquisition: Do you want to be alone?

Do artists need to be wild? Agonized? Tortured? Living fast and dying young? Starving? Substance-enhanced? In a recent By Heart series in the Atlantic, Danish writer Dorthe Nors posited that Ingmar Bergman, in his solitude and reclusiveness, had the right of it in his last few decades of life. Rather than living the wild artist’s cliche, his artistic discipline was committed to a routine that involved a great deal of alone-time.

Nors notes that a tortured or excessive life is not a prerequisite to feeling deeply, but that the human experience, from basic to complex, can be used to fuel one’s art (in whatever form it takes).

“All human beings have these moments when we feel this outpouring, our “soul volume,” as he says, being pushed out from us like toothpaste from a tube. Everyone feels this, but artists try to capture the feeling through art, contain it within some permanent form of expression. And when I read a good text or see a good movie or enjoy a good piece of art—it is the humanity, this poured-out human experience, that I detect.”

Solitude allows one’s creativity to assert itself, she says. It can be hard to assert control, to discipline yourself to sit and face your humanity and what it is you have to say about it. But that’s when the good stuff comes out.

Is it easier to hang out and be “social” on the intarnets, to go out every night and be distracted by other people, to have others around in general? Sure. But we all have a long list of want-to-do projects that somehow never get done because we somehow don’t have the time. What if we made sure we had that time, alone?

What do you think? Do we need to be alone to make stuff? Is our work better if we have time alone to consider, or do we just need more time in general? Why is it so hard to finish something, or even to get it started? Do you look forward to having an empty house for an entire afternoon? When do you get your best work done? What does this say about collaborative work? Does being alone help or hurt your mindset toward your art? Am I weird for not wanting people to peer over my shoulder while I work? Did you read the linked article? Because it’s a good ‘un.

The Art Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. It appears on random days at 3pm ET…because NOBODY EXPECTS THE ARTIST INQUISITION!
Make with the comments!

Previous post

Design Diary - Pan Sword

Next post

Mad Quickies: woodworks, fiber arts, GAYTMs and more

Beth Voigt

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and public transit and is still on her first smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around.


  1. February 26, 2014 at 10:12 am

    I would say, at least, that being isolated is good for being creative (in the literal sense of “creating things”). In my experience, and what I’ve seen of other people, a primary motivation for creating art is as a means of communicating with others. When you have more direct means for doing that, i.e. talking with friends, it deflates the need to communicate in other ways.

  2. February 26, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    I think Bukowski said it? “it’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just that I am happier when they aren’t around.”

    As for me, I flip flop. I do love to be alone and I spend a lot of time by myself getting my work done but I also love (a few) people who make that work worthwhile, like my best friend Johnny and some of the people I have met through Skepchick. And I’d be more than happy to have ALL the writers of this blog as permanent fixtures in my living-room.

    I guess it is about finding a balance that allows one to focus. An artist or creative type can easily slip into reclusive mode as one more shiny piece of art gathers up all our attention once again….. *wanders off*

  3. February 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Amy, I’ve now got a mental image of us all hanging off your walls in rappelling harnesses. 😀

Leave a reply