Art and Aloneness

by Mark Hahn

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I was corresponding with an old friend via text while traveling on business. I made the comment that I hated business travel. My friend asked me why.

Feeling somewhat introspective, I answered, “I hate being alone.”

Since the two of us often correspond about art, love, sex and life, he gave the comment a bit of thought before saying, ” Wait, to do art is to be alone!”

I shot back, “Art is what I do to get through being alone!”

Our correspondence moved on to other things, but while flying cross country, the topic kept coming up in my mind — being alone, why I do art and the connections.

When I’m feeling particularly down on the world, I’ll often joke, “The only thing I hate more than people is being alone.”

It’s one of those jokes that is too painful to be funny. Of course, most the time we spend in the company of other people is still just time spent alone. Superficial interactions, while better than nothing, still leaves you you nowhere.

With these thoughts I let myself doze off on the aircraft. I had nothing but existential dreams, trying to make contact with one person after another — none of whom could understand a thing I was trying to say. There was no contact. We were just individual people occupying space near one another.

I was woken up by violent turbulence and the plane being thrown around in the air. The young girl sitting next to me was terrified by me. I am a reasonably muscular man with a brush cut after all and I have a certain presence I suppose. It is pretty rare for anyone to be so put off by me though.

After becoming aware of the intense pain I was inflicting on her just for being there and trying to look out the window to see the clouds outside, I resigned myself to reclining in my my seat and looking up at the ceiling. Then I closed my eyes and thought about how much I missed my girlfriend. It was a long flight.

With my eyes closed, I also further pondered my motivation to create art –everyone has their own history. When we shut off and fall inside ourselves we cannot see anything outside ourselves. Art is both a way to explore who we are when we’re alone and a means for making contact with others. When art captures some facet of the essence of being human, it will resonate with people we share it with. We can reflect on being human as a shared experience — a way of feeling not alone.

Sometimes our art is a silent scream. We are screaming out that we want to make contact. Scream out that we exist. In a way, I was screaming something out loud as I sat and wrote this on the filled to capacity aircraft — fighting my overwhelming claustrophobic feelings of needing a way out and not even be able to let myself look outside the window!

Aloneness comes not just when we close off the world and sit behind a locked door, but when we let the world spin by and allow and are locked inside ourselves. So self absorbed that the world outside is not even a distraction. We can be sitting in the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting for our number to be called and be struck by a random emotional trigger that we associate with something around us. This can be made into art –the abstract association of a feeling with something seemingly unconnected to who we are.

Somehow I always feel that I find myself somewhere between my body, the emotions I feel and the things that I see and how I see them. I am both the observer and the photographer, but as in physics, you can never know both the true position and velocity of anything. One or the other. We can never know who we are as ourselves while in motion, in life or living. When we are engaged we are one thing and when alone another. We have to let go to live and disengage to experience ourselves as we are. Art and writing can preserve glimpses we have of ourselves when we are alone. Somehow we are really everything all together, but we cannot be aware of it all at one time.

If life could be your art, there would be no reason for producing art. If pure experience was art we would not need to create objects. Art becomes possessions that weigh us down — adding to the clutter of life.

Art can also be a beautiful escape. Something to think about when we are disengaged from the world. Passengers of life looking out the window as places meaningful to others pass by and we have nothing but imagination to place ourselves within these spaces.

We see an empty chair and imagine what it would feel like if we were sitting there. What an alternate life that centers around that chair and that space might be like. We can also imagine ourselves meeting someone who may walk into this dream space. In the end we want to be connected and not a loner producing objects with implied importance.

My plane finally landed. Most the passengers who could, were already standing. The young woman and I accidentally found ourselves face to face while gathering up our stuff in preparation to deplane. We didn’t smile or acknowledge each other in any way other than not looking away. Since the flight was over, the girl’s perceived threat from me had passed. Before getting up, I had to unplug my phone charger from under the seat.

I held it up and smiled, saying, “It’s great that they have plugs for charging devices on these planes now. I do everything on my phone and it won’t hold enough charge to get me through such a long flight.”

She smiled and said, “I know, isn’t it?”

I got up, turned my back and walked away. We had both spent the entire flight doing stuff on our electronic devices. Whew!

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