Isolation and Creativity

My backyard

Sometimes the rarer, the beautiful can only emerge or survive in isolation.  In a similar manner, some degree of withdrawal serves to nurture man’s creative powers.  The artist and scientist bring out of the dark void, like the mysterious universe itself, the unique, the strange, and unexpected.  – Loren Eiseley

I came across this quote at another artists website.  It speaks to me in a couple of ways.  The first is the idea of creativity and isolation.  The second, that I will address in my next post is the juxtaposition of artist and scientist.

One of the fantasies that I have entertained throughout my life is that of retreating into the woods and living a life alone in a cabin; chopping my own wood, carrying water, reading by lantern and rising with the sun.  Some of this is fueled by my love of the outdoors and my fascination with self-sufficiency.  The other impetus is the idea of being alone for an extended period of time.

I grew up in a big family on a farm so there was always someone at home and some sort of noisy activity going on with haying or milking or a rousing game of tennis ball against the barn.  We couldn’t leave the farm for any extended period of time so friends and family came to us for visits.  There was always room around the kitchen table for another person and it was often filled.  Being the eldest of 5 girls, the only way to peace and quiet was to retreat into the woods where I could hide for a few hours; my solitude broken only by the knowledge that I would be missed at chore time.

I think that with all of that activity going on, isolation became a fascination for me.  What could I do with days and weeks of time to clear my head and let loose my creative energy?  What amazing things could I create without the critical eye of an audience?  What if I had the space and time to play and make mistakes and just let my curiosity have its way with me?

The fantasy is wonderful.  The reality looks more like this:

I wander around the house and the garden, a bit aimlessly.  This lasts at least a couple of days.  I think about turning on the computer or watching a movie to pass the time but am able to resist the urge.  I clean something.  I organize something.  I try not to read.  I stand in the studio and look at my supplies. Maybe I go into the kitchen and bake some bread.  That feels good.  I wander back into the studio.  I pick up a brayer and ink up a plate – maybe make a quick print – nothing too special but now I have an inked plate to play with and here is where the fun starts.

It takes me days of quiet to get through to the place where I feel like I can start to create.  I don’t often get to work from this quiet place because I have a family and a job that I go to five days a week.  But when I do, this is what it looks like; hours and days of quietness, the gathering of energy and emotional resources before the work.  I believe that quiet and even boredom can positively contribute to creativity.  It’s almost like the brain needs some empty space to create something new and exciting.

What do you think?  How does it work for you?


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