In John Milner’s introduction to his book The Studios of Paris: The Capital of Art in the Late 19th Century, he shares an interesting, albeit semi-amusing, quote from Ernest Meissonier, one of the most successful artists of his era. Meissonier states, “Here is a piece of advice worth having: Never let your daughter marry an artist. You will bring her to sorrow if you do. … An artist cannot be hampered by family cares. He must be free, able to devote himself entirely to his work.”
It’s a thought-provoking comment and one that raises larger questions regarding the type of life an artist chooses to lead. Is it possible to achieve great things artistically while pursing other professional or personal endeavors? Is the calling of an artist almost set apart, and does it need to be nurtured in a way that our societal structure doesn’t allow? Do artists need to isolate themselves in order to truly create, or does reclusiveness sever potential sources of inspiration?
The inherent solitary nature of an artist and the irony of how one could spend countless hours alone creating only to then have people all over the world respond to one’s work could be a topic of endless discussion in itself. I’ve heard artists talk about the mild shock associated with opening receptions for their exhibitions: They’re surrounded by more people than they can give individual attention to, answering personal questions about their life and work, and responding to inquiries for purchasing their paintings, only to go home the next day to ensuing weeks or months of isolation in the studio.
Perhaps finding a balance between solitude and sociality is the answer. I recently came across the words of writer Catherine Calvert, who I think summarized the beauty and freedom of solitude well. She writes, “Solitude is for those with an ample interior; with room to roam, well provided with supplies. And I need a day or two every so often to make the journey.” This author’s understanding of the power of being alone and the phrase “every so often” resonate strongly with me. Although I get a tremendous amount of inspiration from spending time with other writers, musicians, artists, friends, and family, I also need regular moments of self-reflection and introspection to get centered and refilled creatively.
How about you? Do you find you are more focused when you are away from the demands and distractions of everyday life, or are you able to successfully juggle your art with outside responsibilities? Do you agree with Meissonier’s quote that artists must be wholly devoted to their work in order to realize their full potential? Let us know by leaving a comment. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist.