Don’t Work in a Vacuum

I have something to confess: I don’t write these blog posts on my own.

Yes, the content is mine.  But I get many of my ideas from discussions with my friends.  I also have “wise readers:” people whose opinion and taste I trust, and that I know I can rely on for honest feedback and support.  One of my wise readers has read almost every essay before I’ve posted it.  And each one has been better for it.

Why do I bring this up?  We seem to have this idea of the artist as a solitary hero, isolated by their vision and slaving away alone.  They live in a vacuum with nothing but themselves and their art.  But it’s just not true—and worse, I think it’s a dangerous belief. 

I used to put my art above everything else in my life.  It was my top priority, my dream.  I had this idea that to be successful, I should lock myself in a room and really work.  After a couple of years I would emerge as a “skilled” artist like some type of butterfly from a cocoon, or like a martial artist from a movie’s training montage. 

Instead, I struggled with it.  I burned out on music because I played alone in my home for hours on end.  My writing had no conflict, no insight, no human interaction.  I was perpetually drained and miserable. 

And then I tried modeling.

Here’s one of the things I love about modeling: you don’t work alone.  If you look at an image of a model, you already know that it’s cooperative.  You know that she worked with a photographer, a painter, or a sculptor to create the piece of art you’re viewing.

Modeling made me question myself.  If working with others was the best way to create art as a model, why did I think that other styles of art were any different?  Why did I not acknowledge the impact of other people on my creativity?

Answering these questions led to one of the best things I’ve done to improve my work: I switched my life priorities.  Instead of concentrating solely on my art, I focused on cultivating relationships.

With that one change, I flourished.  Not only did I feel happier, but my art improved.

Deep connections with other people give artists the two things they need the most: support and inspiration.

It turns out that deep connections with other people give artists the two things they need the most: support and inspiration.  Art isn’t experienced in a vacuum—it’s meant to be shared with other people.  It isn’t created in a vacuum either.  We get our ideas, and the strength to work on them, from other people.

I know that many freelancers and creative types do survive working solo.  But I honestly don’t think that I could thrive as a professional artist without the people in my life.  I depend on them.  Without them, I’d burn out from the stress and isolation. 

I know that it’s not just me.  I see plenty of other artists enveloped in stress and loneliness like I was.  They don’t know how to relax, and feel guilty if they ever stop working.  They constantly worry about whether they are good enough. 

So if you’re struggling too, work hard—but don’t work in a vacuum.  Fill your life with human connection instead.  Your work will be better for it.