“If you are alone you belong entirely to yourself. If you are accompanied by even one companion you belong only half to yourself or even less in proportion to the thoughtlessness of his conduct and if you have more than one companion you will fall more deeply into the same plight.” — LEONARDO DA VINCI
All artists, great and small, create alone. It is a sweeping statement, but nonetheless unavoidably true. Our thought process is designed in such a way that there is no outside input from another human being necessary for us to formulate a thought. Creative thought, in particular, relies heavily on the subconscious for musing, searching and formulating. Dreaming, if you will.
When we say that we are letting thoughts come, it is usually a process of ruminating; even rummaging around in our subconscious minds to see what our collective library holds on any given subject. Of course this doesn’t exclude the possibility of group thought, or team think-tank brainstorming, but when it cuts right down to the bone— creating a painting, writing a song, poem, or story, it’s usually done by yourself. Alone.
Einstein was said to have some of his best thoughts in the shower or while shaving; not while puzzling away at his paper, at his books, or at the blackboard.
Van Gogh, like so many artists, spent countless undisturbed hours in the field alone; observing and absorbing the landscape before painting a single stroke.
Rembrandt painted his landscapes—not outdoors— but in his studio from his imaginings of collective landscapes that he had seen.
Michelangelo was often thought to be rude when he abruptly left a social gathering, sometimes in the middle of a conversation, to rush to his studio to be alone and sketch down his thoughts.
Mozart created, even wrote in his head, while bumping down the road in a coach and looking out the window. He heard melodies there like nowhere else.
Beethoven and Schubert, as well as many other great composers, walked alone in the countryside; a physical diversion as well as a mental one.
Ray Bradbury wrote the entirety of his novel Fahrenheit 451 in the basement library of UCLA on a rented typewriter; steeped in silence; surrounded by books.
Edison napped in a broom closet. He awoke refreshed and with a new idea.
John Steinbeck sharpened a batch of Ticonderoga pencils and gathered a stack of yellow writing tablets and waited.
Hemingway wrote his tight, sparse prose standing barefoot on worn skin of a lesser kudu at a small podium; alone in his farmhouse.
Jesus went out into the mountains or desert to find solitude and to pray. It was there that he could communicate best with his father.
Aloneness usually does not happen in a crowd, but sometimes:
Andrew Wyeth often broke up his day by stopping at a local coffee shop named “Jack’s” in his hometown of Chaddsford; ordering a piece of apple pie and a cup of coffee; alone, with his sketchbook and his thoughts.
Beethoven would sometimes stop at a noisy pub or inn and, surrounded by people, write down a thought he’d been humming (very often to the distraction of others around him). Alone, but surrounded by people.
Artists of every stripe find their creative thought in the sanctuary of their studio, sitting alone at a piano, or staring out a window at nothing- reflecting on everything.
What is it for you? Where is the place (or places) that you are most alone?
Where does your imagination roam into a good place to find something that you have forgotten or better yet, that you have never seen before?
Is it certain room, or a favorite chair? A view that inspires— or a cool dark spot?
Or maybe, it’s standing in a clear mountain stream gazing at the water for trout. (I like this one.) A crowded coffee shop? A brisk walk?
Wherever it is, know these places. Recognize them for what they are and why you have them. Identify them and call them sacred. These places of solitude where you can be completely, entirely, and creatively . . .
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