Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Solitude vs. Isolation

Appledore Blue, jigsaw reduction woodblock print, 6" x 8"

As you know, I visited Appledore Island to teach printmaking and paint a bit in August. While I was out there, someone told me that the Peabody Essex Museum, (currently exhibiting a bunch of Childe Hassam's Appledore paintings) had asked our students some questions about their experiences creating art on the island for the museum's blog. 

I never read the questionnaire, but I heard that one of the questions was something like: How did the solitude of the island affect your art? 

I passionately responded, “Solitude? Where did anyone find any solitude? I’ve been racing all over this island trying to find some!”

That very morning I had rushed out of bed early to paint some dramatic light before breakfast only to find two artists and a poet already set up near my chosen spot and a gaggle of museum curators on a tour of good sunrise viewing sites.

While I enjoyed the first light from my rocky perch, I didn't get any painting done.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about this issue deeply, because something about the island does change my perspective about painting. There is something special about the place, for sure.

The mysterious "altered state of being" reminds me of how I felt when I was in SEA Semester as a college student. I was on a sail boat with around 30 other people for 6 weeks. We did stop a few times and see other folks, but for the most part it was just us.

What I felt on that boat was definitely not the result of solitude. Think about it - 30-odd people on one ship out at sea means no one is alone. Ever.

We had no solitude - we had an isolated community.  Just like on Appledore. I don’t really know how many people were on the island when I was there. Well short of the 120 maximum amount the place can hold these days. Less than 50, probably. But the island isn’t very big. 

The buddy system is encouraged. The rules are fair but strict, as any violation means extra work for someone else. Everyone eats together on a firm schedule. We sleep in close quarters and hope to fall asleep before our neighbors start snoring. 

There are also smaller sub-communities of artists or scientists or staff or alumni within the general population. During dinner, we artists share our experiences of the day, report on exhibits we enjoyed earlier in the summer, our favorite artists or a newly discovered color. We take advantage of being isolated from our non-artist friends and families and co-workers and everyone else with other like-minded fellows.

Solitude is what I get when I go to the printmaking studio alone early in the morning or lug my painting pack into the woods. Solitude is alone-ness without loneliness. Important to my creative process, but not why I go to Appledore Island.

On the island, it is not solitude that changes our attitudes about our surroundings, our creative work and our companions. It is shared isolation from the mainland and a shared appreciation for the history, culture and natural beauty of the place. It is a shared rigid schedule that allows space in our day for focusing on our art creation. 

It is a shared interest in creating and helping each other do so. Together.

Note: I wrote this before I read the blog entry PEM published earlier in the month. I encourage you to head over there and see what some other artists think. You will also be treated to a marvelous poem. I was surprised to see that they've included a photo of me drawing and a second one of my paintings and a print from last summer. 


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