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Jaume Escofet, “lonely soul” (2014) (via Escofet’s Flickr)

In a recent article in the Telegraph, full-time author Chas Newkey-Burden cautions against becoming a writer. He warns would-be writers, of whom there are apparently many in the UK, to confront the realities of the profession: it’s lonely, unstructured, and poorly compensated. Scott Timberg’s widely discussed new book The Killing of the Creative Class — and the discussions it’s precipitated — seems to vindicate Newkey-Burden’s position. By all accounts, the cultural and professional spaces available to artists and writers are shrinking to claustrophobic proportions.

It’s true that it’s difficult to make a living as a writer or artist — but it’s not true that writing and creating are lonely endeavors. To write or to make art is to participate in a broader communal discussion that not only includes contemporary writers and artists but also past and future thinkers. This is most obvious in the case of literary or art criticism: often, multiple writers address the same text or exhibition, responding to their peers in a more straightforward way. (I can’t count the number of reviews of Elena Ferrante’s works I’ve read in the past months.) But it’s also true, albeit less transparently, that visual artists and the authors of literary fictions are engaged in a profoundly social endeavor. In writing or creating, they partake in an artistic or literary tradition, elaborating on the works that preceded them.

At a time when the arts are financially imperiled, it’s especially important for us to recall that they still have much to offer in way of cultural and social capital. Creative types aren’t such an embattled minority as the battery of pessimistic articles predicting the end of painting or the novel makes them out to be — and indeed, new forms of engagement, like blogging, have enabled broader and more inclusive discussions, facilitating the creation of more widespread critical and artistic communities. Now if only that were lucrative.

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Becca Rothfeld

Becca Rothfeld is assistant literary editor of The New Republic and a contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Daily News’ literary blog, The Baffler, and...

5 replies on “Are Full-Time Authors and Artists Really So Lonely?”

  1. i think he just means that artists/writers spend a lot more time alone than most professions. Communing through your creative labor might be social in a meta sort of way, but its not like having a chat over the water cooler, talking politics at lunch, or bitching about your boss. Generally speaking it’s solitary IRL.

  2. I have trouble making art if I’m around people 24/7. Socializing tends to block out or distract my creative process. I believe you need to be alone when you are doing the work, or hoping to do the work. But of course when you aren’t all artists are always going to other shows, socializing with friends etc.

  3. I have been an Artist for 30 years and love being alone in my studio best. It is better then friends and family because Art is my friends and family. I live like a hermit on 10 acres and love it. IMHO if you need people around you to validate your life and Art your a loser. The Internet was designed for Artist to isolate themselves and yet keep in touch without having to deal with people.

  4. As a visual artist I’m alone in my studio but I love what I do, time just seems to fly by and I’m never lonely.
    Outside the studio is a different matter altogether. For about 10 years I had no male artist friends, I missed that camaraderie and although I had many female artist friends which is great, it’s not the same.
    I was lonely!
    I’m now in a situation where I have male artist friends again, we hang out at least once a week, sometimes we don’t even talk about art but the important thing is I’m no longer lonely when not in my studio.

  5. I’m never alone with my thoughts while looking into a canvas with a brush dipped in acrylic paint while out in my studio…but then I’m almost a modern-day hermit.

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