The Artist’s Prerogative

The Artist’s Prerogative

“…and writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.”~ Pico Iyer

We’ve heard an enormous amount recently about the pandemic of loneliness sweeping much of the world today. For the most part, the reasons for it seem to stem from the breakdown of community, and therefor human connections. We’re told about the assault to our physical and mental health resulting from this failure to attach ourselves to others, and if we had any doubts of our own about the repercussions of loneliness, the scientists are emphasizing them at every turn. Even the human brain can’t function properly without other brains to interact with, or so we’re told.

Much of this is intuitive, but it makes one wonder a bit about the role the arts play in human consciousness, because both artists and scientists (closely linked, I believe) describe the joy of working singularly for many long hours that seem to evaporate when the focus is trained on one specific goal. There is no time I feel more connected or less lonely than when I’m writing, and I heard a young scientist say the same thing recently in an interview about the community of other scientists working on different projects in one location. Even though there were others all around, each one worked on something different and was completely wrapped up in their separate tasks. She also described the vanishing hours when she worked, and how being ‘one’ with the project seemed to be what made the whole. That’s a difficult thing to explain in terms of being totally connected in a universal way as opposed to literally.

I’ve discussed this phenomenon on the blog before, particularly in rebuttal of the suggestion that writers lead an isolated or lonely existence. Yes, it’s true they don’t have the time to devote to joining clubs, playing Mahjong or Bridge, or taking Mandarin lessons to be part of a growing cohort of joiners. But community can consist of just what that young scientist I saw interviewed described. Focusing completely on something that’s part of a bigger whole makes you feel part of it, too. The amount of time travel and imaginative cognition available to you as an artist is unlimited, and it’s very hard to be lonely when you can go anywhere, do anything and be with anyone you want to through what I call the artist’s prerogative. Again, I’d include the research scientist in this community as well, and I hope those of you who don’t resonate to the likes of the prearranged groups of social clubs and organizations will realize a quick turn toward the arts and sciences can solve your yen for belonging immediately. There’s absolutely no reason to be lonely just because you’re alone. And that is the privilege of participating in the arts and sciences. That universal connection is most definitely the artist’s prerogative.

6 Responses to The Artist’s Prerogative

  1. I find it interesting that being alone can be different at different times. When engaged in a project, regardless of what it is, time can zip along. But, there are those times (referenced by Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s) when the Big Reds hit and those call for riding out that wave. If one can figure out the particular cause of a red downer it helps but isn’t always possible.

  2. Reminds me of the positive psychology flow state. Do what makes time evaporate to find focus and enjoyment. I also love the perspective that being alone is different than being lonely. Being alone might be just the thing that helps us find our flow state.

    • Yes, Carolyn, that is the point. You have it. I’ve never heard it called that, but it works. It’s interesting how artists love that state so much they’ll do almost anything to get there. It certainly makes time and work dissolve.

  3. Another provocative essay. Thanks.
    I’ve been drawn to a number of memoirs of the experience of living alone for extended periods. It’s a fascinating experience and often seems to amplify thoughtfulness of the human experience. General prescriptions for people such as issues around loneliness strip away the fact that not all people fit any one prescription. I dare go further and suggest that any passionate endeavor can lead to a sense of purpose and diminish or even eliminate the need for continual social contact.
    In the glare of social scientists urging social contact as critical for combating loneliness, I suggest that experiencing aloneness and complete intimacy with one’s thoughts is a higher form of awareness and thus the reason you note the artists prerogative, because that’s what they do.

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