The practice of solitude

"Headwaters of the Hudson," oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

“Headwaters of the Hudson,” oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas.

If, like Garbo, you vant to be alone, the Maine coast in summer is not your place. During its 100-day season, a more gregarious habitation never existed.

Right now it’s trendy to declare, “I’m an introvert,” as if there were any need to justify the need for alone time. Society has always been wary of loners, but being alone is a requirement for serious work. If there’s anything at all to the idea of “talent,” it’s the capacity to separate oneself from the herd long enough to think.

This is not unique to the arts. I have known Dr. Kate Rittenhouse-Olson for nearly four decades. There were many times when she turned down invitations to youthful hijinks because she needed to work. That capacity is why she’s an internationally-recognized cancer researcher today.

"The Long Way Home," oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

“The Long Way Home,” oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas.

Each of us is a constantly-shifting mosaic of outer- and inner-driven motivations. This is a conundrum for creative people. Our work requires us to be alone, but what we produce is a form of communication.

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in his Nobel acceptance speech. “Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”

Plein air painting is, in some ways, performance art. We work outside in public spaces. That allows people to engage with our art. At the same time, we must keep our inward focus. It’s a delicate balance and at times it’s stressful.

The importance of being informed was impressed on my generation at home and at school. A daily paper was as much a part of a good upbringing as brushing one’s teeth in the morning. My Millennial children, on the other hand, don’t feel nearly as obligated to be politically and socially involved as we were. None of them take a daily paper or watch broadcast news. I’m starting to think they are smarter than me.

"Hudson Overlook," Carol L. Douglas

“Hudson Overlook,” Carol L. Douglas

While I’m painting in an event, I let my correspondence go. I ignore the news and Facebook. When I get back, my strongest impression is always that I haven’t missed a darn thing. Yes, there was horrible violence while I was gone. Sadly, that is no longer news. Yes, the major candidates went tit-for-tat about who could be the ugliest human being. Sadly, that tells me nothing I didn’t already know.

“Your kid does not attend in class.” Lots of parents hear that. So what? Daydreaming is just a nasty term for solitary thinking. It’s a rare human activity, and no creativity is possible without it. In a world where the bonds of interaction grow so tight that we can’t even sleep without our phones on our pillows, the art of being alone is even more precious. Grab it if you can. That is the direction in which genius lies.

Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit for more information.