If Pascal was right in that all of humanity’s problems can be traced to a lack of solitude, then a lot of solitude might be a good thing. What if a lot of solitude were combined with a lot of silence and a lot of simplicity? What then?
Just such an experiment was conducted in the U.S. in the woods of New Hampshire beginning in 1908. It was called the MacDowell Colony and it consisted of 26 secluded studios widely scattered among 60 acres of trees. The purpose? To provide creative artists with the optimum environment to facilitate their connection to their muses or, in the words of Simple Reality, to open the flow of inspiration from the Implicate Order. “Simply stated, it is an earnest workshop where working conditions are as nearly perfect as possible.”[i]
Each of the 26 simple studios was equipped with a piano if for a composer, north windows and an easel if awaiting a painter, and tablets, typewriters and tables for writers. Each cottage was heated for year-round use and a basket containing lunch was quietly delivered each day. The artists lived in a central residence hall with a library and met together for breakfast and dinner each day.
Well, did solitude, silence and simplicity result in the creation of art? You be the judge of whether the “flow” of beauty from the Implicate Order is enhanced by solitude. “MacDowell colonists have won twenty-three Pulitzer Prizes [between 1908 and 1963 when the article reporting on this community was written] for work that, in most cases was done wholly or in part at the Colony.”[ii]
For a small sample, Edward Arlington Robinson won a Pulitzer for poetry in 1922, 1925 and 1928; Willa Cather for One of Ours in 1923; Stephen Vincent Benet for John Brown’s Body in 1929; Thornton Wilder for The Bridge of San Luis Rey in 1928, Our Town in 1938 and The Skin of Our Teeth in 1943; and Aaron Copland for Appalachian Spring in 1945.
Herbert Kubly, the writer of the article from which the quotes in this essay were taken (who was also a “graduate” of the Colony) gives us a personal testimony of his experience there. “Here, for the moment, I am in harmony with the world, and my life, like my work, comes into focus.”[iii]
Today, the false-self dominated American culture has little awareness of the importance of the beauty of art which could bring all of us more of the experience of the present moment (focus) and harmony that Kubly enjoyed. More solitude, silence and a life lived more simply can help attain that experience. We could all use a little more time alone in a cottage in the woods.
[i] Kubly, Herbert. “The Care and Feeding of Artists.” Horizon. March 1963, page 31.
[ii] Ibid., page 30.
[iii] Ibid., page 33.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.