As you probably know, I have been spending the last 9 months participating as an Artist-in-Residence in rural Pennsylvania. I made the move here by myself, and have been living alone for those 9 months.
Upon my arrival, I was energized and excited. New places always do that, and I was ready to explore the area as well as excited to begin a new introspective journey as I began to create a new body of work. Moving alone is never easy, but early on I took solace in two different but interrelated quotes I happened to stumble upon:
“Isolation creates authenticity” and “Authenticity is the only way to vulnerability”.
I unfortunately do not recall the original source of either of these phrases, but they stuck with me; figuratively as well as actually scribbled down and underlined emphatically in my shiny new sketchbook. (I even embarrassingly reference these quotes in my previous post from January). These concepts are not new to me, I’ve spent considerable time thinking about and engaging in conversations surrounding the true definition of authentic, or what I like to refer to as, “honest” work. I’ve always been attracted to work that seems to come from an honest place, although I still struggle to fully define what that really means, or how one creates honest work vs. what? Dishonest work? Is there such a thing?
I believe all work that an artist creates is a reflection of the artist, based solely on the merit of being created by them, a unique individual. But there still seems to be something that catches my attention every so often. It’s that deep feeling of recognition you get or that tiny lump that forms in your throat when you look at a particular piece of work. It’s that funny feeling of recognition, almost like accidently catching someone with their clothes off, where you feel both a deep sense of that person and their vulnerability while also recognizing something in their vulnerability that you too possess. This for me is not always emotionally charged work, or highly narrative displays into a person’s past or current experiences. I’m talking about times I’ve looked at a Rothko or Agnes Martin and have truly been able to feel them there in that moment, in that painting.
This concept of vulnerability has subsequently been an important factor I consider in my own work and practice. So imagine my instant interest and connection to the two quotes paired with the new solo adventure I was embarking upon. I thought to myself, sitting in my apartment by myself at night “maybe this is just what I need, to spend time alone. To reconnect to myself and in return my work will become even that much more ‘honest’ in that way I’m always seeking”. And to some extent I do believe artists do need to be by themselves, to reflect and connect with their inner voice. I’ve always consider myself to have an intense inner life, and have always needed and valued time by myself. But I’ve also always valued the strong friendships and bonds I’ve created among other artists, particularly during my college years and the two years since graduating and floating around from residency to residency, and town to town.
During these past 9 months, I have met a lot of wonderful people and have had the opportunity to meet and interact with many exceptional artists and educators. I have also had the good fortune to travel a bit around the area on trips to Baltimore, NYC, Jersey, Philly and Boston. But for the most part I’ve been on my own, day in and day out. And I wish I could tell you those quotes were correct and that I connected with myself on a deeper level and in return created some of my best “honest” work. But in reality, I don’t believe that happened. I often found myself alone too much, and didn’t have a community to lean on when all that inner talk got to be a bit much. I often got overwhelmed and felt trapped and stunted in my own progress. Instead of learning the power of isolation and solo working and living, I actually discovered the opposite: how important community really is. For all of us, but particularly artists.
It is other artists that we need around us, to keep us going. Community actually affords us the opportunity to work alone in our studios, to be alone with your own thoughts, fears and vulnerability. We can actually create more authentic work in this way when we know that on the other side of that wall (or room or town) is another artist not unlike ourselves who is most likely wrestling with those same emotions and struggles. And to know that an opportunity, just as important as our studio time, is waiting for us later: a time to meet, vent, talk, bounce ideas off one another. To collaborate, critique and support.
If I’ve learned anything from my time here these past 9 months, it’s not about me but about other people. It’s about admitting and recognizing my personal and artistic need for community. It’s also been an opportunity to reflect and attempt to fully express my deep gratitude for all the amazing artists and friends I have had the chance to encounter on my journey thus far. This is not a new or revolutionary concept, but for me it took isolation to really truly appreciate community.
Here’s to looking ahead to new adventures, new places and new connections.