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Peeks and Piques!

   Solitude vs Society

By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES online April 2012

Some years ago, I was having lunch with Françoise Gilot a few blocks from her studio not far from Lincoln Center. We’d just spent a good part of the morning at Solo Printing in SoHo where I watched Françoise at work on a large sunflower print (which now graces my living room). We’d hardly sat and made our order when a young woman with a large art portfolio tucked under her arm timidly approached and said, “Pardon me for interrupting,” and, turning towards Françoise, continued, “but are you Françoise Gilot?” Françoise nodded. “Would you mind taking a look at my work and telling me whether I have any talent?” (This is not so unusual in Manhattan; a few months later, I was walking along 5th Avenue on my way to an appointment when a young man, equally armed with a large portfolio, inquired if I was indeed who I am and, throwing his stuff on the hood of a nearby car when I answered in the affirmative, began spreading out drawings for my comment. I begged off, telling him that I was already late for an appointment). Anyway, back to Françoise — holding her hand palm upward, she stopped the young woman from opening her portfolio and quietly asked, “Can you be by yourself for an hour?” “Yes…yes,” she answered. “For two hours? An afternoon? For days at a time?” The girl looked puzzled. “Do not ask others if you have talent,” said Françoise. “Ask yourself if you are willing to spend hours and days alone in your studio — ask yourself if you need people more than you need to be with your art.” Although I am not a professional artist, Françoise’s advice certainly rang true for me for, as a writer, I too need my solitude and my seclusion from interruption. For years, my old studio (which burnt down two years ago) had a shade on the front door that read “Go Away!” Cornelia, my partner, has long chided me for my usual remark when someone drops in for a visit: “If you’re ever in the area again and passing by, I’d appreciate it.” The shade no long exists, but I still have no telephone or T.V. in my new digs to disturb me in my solitary reveries. Truth be told, the older I get, the more time alone I seem to need. Lazing back in my recliner, I can spend hours gazing at the little bonsai garden I started in my new studio while mulling over my next ‘brilliant’ epistle. I’ve shared Françoise’s story with many, many artists since that afternoon and, almost to a person, they’ve all agreed with her observation. You simply have to make a choice — as many artist “celebrities” have discovered, less and less time can be devoted to creativity in the studio as more and more time is spent on socializing with fans and patrons. Need I really point out that it is the art-viewing public that is the biggest loser? One can almost call it a blessing that many of these “celebs” now resort to young artists – i.e. ‘real’ artists — to do most of the hands-on work while they just do the signing. So — not a total loss, I guess — but still.

(Visit my blog at rjsteiner.wordpress for more “Peeks & Piques!”)