One of the most difficult things about pursuing the artistic life is its isolation. I am primarily a hermit at heart and prefer a life in contemplation removed to a certain degree from the frenzied routine of daily life. This is part of my nature and why I have a natural tendency toward the artistic life. But no one can remain entirely isolated and be in touch with the drama of man in his struggle within and without- human nature revealed and changing. Even the ancient Russian tales of the hermit who lives in isolation in the great forests of Siberia, would periodically go on a journey of self discovery- walking across Russia seeking advise from holy men and women and being open to God presenting himself in the ordinary contact with common people. (The Way of the Pilgrim, Trans. Helen Bacovcin)
This week, an artist friend and I went hiking and painting in the Catskill mountains. Although I would call it a retreat since we were in relative isolation, it was one of great companionship. We shared the experience of common painting subjects, some I have painted before. This presence of another artist seeking and struggling with his own sense of image was very fortifying. Both of us on a journey within and without- without– transforming what we both saw and within-seeking the correspondence between experience and soul. It allowed me to see through another the universal need for all to come to terms with their world and the beauty and mystery that lies there.
This is why I believe artists have always sought an artistic community-to periodically have companionship, common pursuits and the genial criticism of those that support you. It is why historically, we see great artists appearing together- Robert Henri and Sloan, Rockwell Kent, Hopper and Edward Redfield; Delacroix and Chopin; Rodin and Camille Claudel. The list goes on. Guilds were the original gathering places and later retreats in the country away from urban concerns- freedom to get back in touch with the reasons for painting in the first place. I myself, find such community in the Woodstock School of Art. It is a place of companionship that allows the artist to pursue their work unhindered, providing sketching, models, print presses and mental space to work. It still remains close to its historic roots as an artistic retreat.
Although my friend and I have very different styles our work ethic is similar and we both are driven in an inner way to find all that there is to know regarding craft as well as and more importantly all that is beautiful and engaging in the world. Although most of our time is spent in isolation pursuing our individual sense of image, the time together is one of engagement and insight into why we do this at all.
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