Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Is Isolation Good for the Imagination?

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Amsterdam. Holland is one of the few countries in Europe that I have never been to so I couldn't wait to explore the capital of the Netherlands.

Of course there were sights I expected to see; the chilled out so called 'coffee' shops and the red light district. But as I soon began to learn Amsterdam is so much more than meets the eye.

For a start it is home to the museum of one of my favourite artists: Vincent Van Gogh.

I studied Van Gogh in primary school. We used pastels to recreate my favourite painting: The Starry Night.

Back then I enjoyed his work immensely and this enjoyment has lasted a further twenty years. I think his paintings are exquisite and I find the style of them so unique.

But besides creating these wonderful paintings, Van Gogh unfortunately had a darker side to him as well. His self mutilation of his ear has made him world famous and it is well known that he spent most of his life just drifting around, unable to do anything well except paint.

Now a few months ago I blogged about 'Do you Have to be Crazy to be Creative?' with Van Gogh in mind. But as I explored most of his life history I realised he really did need to be crazy to produce his best work.

During the final few years of his life Van Gogh was sent to an asylum. He spent a year there where he spent the majority of time alone. And it was in this asylum where he produced his finest art.

Van Gogh always maintained the reason why he did his best work there was simple enough to understand. It was really the only place where he could concentrate without being distracted by the minutiae of everyday life.

Despite saying this it was also the place where he was at his most loneliest. He painted a picture of cornfields and crows to try to capture the feelings of isolation and his inner turmoil.

Now this painting really got me thinking. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are not good for the soul. But are they good for the imagination?

Writers, like artists, spend most of their working time alone. They sit down and write, pulling wild and fanciful stories out of thin air. But these stories really come from their imagination and the imagination needs time by itself to work properly.

Some writers, myself included, will say that in order to write well they have to go out into the 'real' world to experience life and get ideas for their plotlines. But unless I am left alone to transfer these thoughts and ideas on to paper I simply cannot write well.

So, is isolation a necessary evil in order to write well or get things done? Even though writers complain of feeling lonely, do they need to accept that this is all part and parcel of the writing craft?

Tell me your experience of isolation and loneliness. Is it something you tend to suffer frequently or are you one of those people who can spend many happy weeks not seeing a soul?


  1. I've heard this subject talked about a lot recently in the online writer's community. I think writers generally tend to be people who are fine with more time in solitude than other people. That's when our imagination has time and space to percolate.

    But it's true that it's also important to balance the solitude with being out in the world so that we have experiences and material to draw on to feed the imagination.

    So that's the equation: fodder for the imagination (outer world experience) + time and space to let it percolate (solitude) into something rich and meaningful.

  2. Hi Natylie,

    Yes, I agree with you there. It's all about finding the right balance between real life and fantasy. Thank you for commenting.