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SLOUCHING TOWARD UTOPIA: Conscious alienation

Spend time alone, but make it count

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As artists, we often cordon ourselves off from the world in the name of creativity. It's easy to do - to pass off our own, deeply ingrained alienation as some sort of heroic individualism. When contrasted against the sort of pap that passes itself as "community", or "leisure," the dandyism noir of the loner artist seems like a safer bet. I mean really, which is better? Sitting at home alone making art or wallowing in Club Med-style commodity orgies? The studio or the boorish bar scene, where everybody talks about themselves simultaneously in increasing volumes? What did Marla Singer say - "Waiting for their turn to speak?" As the holidays fade, we recover from bouts of forced socializing - just the kind of situations that make staying home alone such an attractive option.

Between these two choices, however, lies an infinite array of possibilities. We don't have to narrow our choices so much - alienation vs. pointless frivolity - curmudgeonly isolation vs. joining the victim cults, drinking and talking endlessly about our "issues" - holing up vs. leftist collectivism and self-abnegation.

OK, OK, I'll get to the point. After all that, I have one solid suggestion. Spend time alone, but make it count. Do something that feeds the well of ideas that exists in your noggin. Go somewhere sacred - the mountain, the woods, the river, or an abandoned building if that's your idea of sacred. Be alone consciously, with intention, rather than succumbing to the urge to shut it all off - alone, or together.

Artists need time alone. We get cranky if we don't have time to replenish and process the maelstrom of thoughts and ideas that most of us obsessively produce. We need time to be fully present (forgive the Zen). We need space, time and internal and external peace so we bathe in inspiration. We need time, like everyone else, to simply observe, breathe, feast on imagery. This kind of mission should be undertaken every week. If you're too busy, you've already lost.

Get unbusy. Make a vow to yourself to take time out to feed your soul. Talk a walk in the woods. Go bowling. Go listen to some gospel music. Dance alone by the water. Go to the library and pour through old linotype illustrations. Go somewhere you've never been, and be prepared to take it all in. Re-read the last sentence.

If and when you decide to embark on such a journey, don't take your art supplies. Don't mediate the experience in any way. I have a bad habit of taking my camera or a book. Don't do it. Commit yourself to the raw experience. Putting things between us an immediate presence - whether it's an iPod or a sketchbook - defeats the purpose of this sort of exercise. The artist's language is a sensual one - it is a language of experience, imagery, touch, smell, sound and emotion. When we create, we draw on this experience. If we find ourselves coming up short on inspiration, it may result from starving ourselves of the kind of unadulterated sensual adventure I'm suggesting. Do something you wouldn't normally do. Don't go to the same old place, or at least take a different route. Do something unexpected, something mysterious. Above all, immerse yourself fully in whatever you do. And make it fun. Don't let this become a duty. Duty numbs us, turns us off, tunes us out. Make it an adventure. Take it as seriously as a child playing a game. See what happens.

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