Solitude and Creative Expression

Note: This piece is adapted, in part, from Douglas Eby’s book Developing Multiple Talents, The personal side of creative expression.”

“Solitude or working alone can help a creative person develop and refine their work, but it is certainly not the only way to nourish creative projects,” so states Douglas Eby in his new book. Well, to each his own. Some creatives prefer isolation while others seem to strive amidst a collective. Both environs serve a purpose. It depends, I think, on how you’re wired.

Many artists acknowledge the value of academies such as Juilliard, and less formal artist retreats and workshops, like Idyllwild. Others give credit to formal education at a university’s marketing and communications school or a structured curriculum at, say, the International Center for Studies in Creativity.

Eby points out that much of the writing and advice on creative expression and enhancing creativity focuses on the inner journey of the individual. Furthermore, creating happens in a social context, and often depends on inspiration and support from others, on finding an audience, and getting financing from publishers and producers.

Perhaps, I say, but not always. Today we are living in very uncertain times what with COVID still rearing its ugly head. A good number of people, myself included, are living and working in solitude. Venturing out is a rare occasion. Yet, the creative juices flow for me, still, even when I don’t expect them to do so. But, at times, it is a struggle.

Creative work impacts other people, even worldwide. I’m often amazed as to how many new people indicate they “like” my blogs and/or “follow” my posts. Most of them I don’t know and have no idea of their location.

But being creative can also be inhibited by others.

Barnhill
George Orwell chose to write “Nineteen Eighty-Four” while living in Barnhill (1946-1949), an abandoned farmhouse on the isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides in Scotland.

Following the success of his novel Animal Farm, Orwell told his friend Arthur Koestler, “Everyone keeps coming at me, wanting me to lecture, to write commissioned booklets, to join this and that, etc – you don’t know how I pine to be free of it all and have time to think again.”

Dancer, choreographer and teacher Carol M. Press, Ed.D. writes in her book The Dancing Self that “Creativity’s profound effect affirms what binds us together as a species. 

“Creativity contributes immeasurably to the health of humankind; before we understand and accept our differences, we must acknowledge and feel our common bonds…we are social animals, born to live in relation with others.”

She adds, “Anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake in her book Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began asserts that art-making is an intrinsic human capacity that has psychobiological foundations. Through such creative endeavors people experience, express, and elaborate their common interests in finding meaning and competence in their lives.”

Sally Field has commented that “Actresses and other women in the industry need to have contact with each other. Not to tell sob stories, but to kick each other in the butt creatively.”

Other values of social connection include emotional support. Creative expression and personal growth often demand courage and help in dealing with fear.

Referring to a variety of research studies, Robert J. Maurer, PhD, a family therapist, writing consultant and instructor at UCLA, has commented in his classes and books that those people who are able to reach high levels of personal and professional success have a healthy acknowledgment of fear, and they also honor the need to be comforted and supported when extending outside comfort boundaries.

Erica Jong
Erica Jong

Some forms of creative expression – like acting and filmmaking – require collaborating with many other people. But sometimes an artist needs isolation or works best alone. Boy, can I relate to that!

Writer Erica Jong has been quoted on the topic, “Everyone has a talent. What is rare is the courage to nurture it in solitude and to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.”

Many people have talked about the importance of place, work space and solitude for developing creative talents.

Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf

In her famous essay “A Room of One’s Own” in 1929, Virginia Woolf said that for women artists “a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself” and encouragement to develop the “habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”

Marylou Kelly Streznewski [strez NEFF skee] is author of the book “Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential” (a ten year study of 100 gifted adults). Streznewski is also a Program Specialist in Gifted Education, and a poet and fiction writer. In our interview, she talked about taking the time she needed to write. Her perspectives can also apply to other creative expression.

“I have four children, a husband and an elderly mother, and now grandchildren, and all of that is a pull of things you care about and want to do. You have to constantly pull back and say, My writing is important and I must do something for myself, and the world will have to fend for itself for a couple of hours.”

Most writers and designers I know tend to prefer to be isolated to some degree. Personally, I’ve noticed that even in a class or seminar that is writing-centric, the more I can isolate my mind into whatever it is about which I’m writing, the better.

Of course, during this COVID pandemic I’ve been in isolation for over a year. Living by myself does have its advantages when it comes to “being alone with your thoughts.” However, when I was very involved in advertising, brainstorming sessions with others proved of great value. Now that I’m living alone, isolation can be a mixed bag, creatively speaking. Sometimes when I’m thinking, my thoughts are not that positive or encouraging. I either consider a different genre more appropriate to negativity or I just start writing and see what comes out.

Two writers about whom I’ve become more knowledgeable, Rod Serling and Ernest Hemingway were, for the most part, “isolationist writers.” They had their minds, imagination and the world around them as motivation and insight for their work. Both turned out pretty successful with each specializing in a totally different genre.

When he would get stuck or not feel like writing, Hemingway would sit down and force himself to write just one declarative sentence. The rest, he said, would ultimately follow. As he is quoted, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” The stream of blood would then begin.

Creative expression can indeed be found in the most unlikely of places or from the most unlikely of personalities. Serling had a way with the Twilight Zone of having it all come together and be believable. Commented Serling: “I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.” 

Let’s face it: A writer or artist, graphic or painter, should execute their craft in the most suitable environment for them. Putting oneself in isolation just because some study says that’s what works is ludicrous. Do what works for you. It may be that several different scenarios play to your favor. You’ll never know until you try.

Douglas Eby (M.A./Psychology) is author of the Talent Development Resources series of sites including High Ability; Highly Sensitive and Creative; The Creative Mind and others – which provide “Information and inspiration to enhance creativity and personal development.”

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Ideasnmoreblog, for a different kind of playground for creativity, innovation and inspiring stuff.

7 thoughts on “Solitude and Creative Expression

  1. I think I’m a “not alone” writer. I’ve been stuck since Covid locked us in. And I’m still not past it. And still somewhat hesitant to go out much, even though I’m fully vaccinated. It takes time to break a habit.

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  2. Pingback: Solitude and Creative Expression – blogsy

  3. Fun read. I related to Marylou Kelly Streznewski’s quote big time. My solitude is unplugging from all the devices that link me to family and friends. Oh for that George Orwell house by the ocean — even for a month! Well met, Joe. ♥.

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  4. Funny the serendipitous connections made throughout our lives. The breeding of and flow of ideas when people express ideas, whether it is written, spoken, painted, danced… the gathering of a ball of often accelerating meanings with many offshoots and effects. This piece spoke to me at this particular time having just spent a week with an exhibition of my paintings and meeting of at least 25 people a day who were drawn in through the doors. One of the many results of having this exhibition was that I am now considering moving into a kind of community/ hot office/studio spaces with a studio (that has a lock on the door 🙂 ). Having worked in isolation for the last year or so I approach this with some trepidation but with a feeling that it may be quite a sparky and creative place to be. I guess I will find out what kind of person I am.. despite know that there is also a whole community of I’s in us that benefit from different contexts and circumstances. Thanks for your writing it is great to read – you might be interested in my Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/simonblundell_artist/

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