Michael Ventura [“The Talent of the Room,” January 1994] seems to think writers have a corner on the talent for being alone. But many people spend time alone in a room on a regular basis — to study, to paint, to make furniture, to watch television, to repair watches, to sew, to meditate, to read. We writers shouldn’t pretend that we’re the chosen few who can enjoy or suffer solitude. Music, painting, and gardening can be done alone and can also reveal your soul. The talent for being alone and being creative is not reserved for the gifted few. There is an artist in all of us.
Ventura suggests that we meet “the demands of solitude,” that we pull away from people to confront the truth about ourselves. He’s right, to a degree, but we also have to connect with people. If we are not connected, if we are wholly within ourselves, we can be among people and still feel isolated. Conversely, it is possible to be alone and feel connected. I am alone writing this letter, but three individuals are with me at this instant because I have their concerns in mind. My writing opens me up and connects me to people in an intense way, and that is what can be so scary about any creative act. (Perhaps Ventura is right that a writer’s psyche is more at risk, that writers bare more of their souls; I don’t know. Ask Mozart. Ask Danielle Steel.) It’s scary to take an honest look inside ourselves precisely because there are so many people in there offering us gifts and making demands.
Art has the power to connect. It requires that you reveal yourself in front of the world. It is not an isolating activity per se. If I feel isolated while creating, if I feel lonely, my art will suffer unless I use it to reconnect. I’d be better off talking to someone.
In his essay “The Talent of the Room” [January 1994], Michael Ventura describes the room as the place where the writer’s creativity emerges. But the room doesn’t belong only to writers. It belongs to all artists, whether they create writing, music, painting, or sculpture. It is the process of creativity inherent in all art forms. The courage, the pain, the ability to move out of the way so that real inspiration can come through is what art is about.
I disagree with Ventura that working with words is unlike working with color or sound or stone or movement. Each art form is full of secrets that are revealed as you go more deeply, and each leads to the same destination. For Ventura it is the soul. I see it as truth.
Ventura says that locking yourself up in the room is called being a writer. I say it’s called being an artist. What Ventura describes is called elitist.
Give in to the temptation. We love getting mail.
(Of course, we reserve the right to edit.)