The case for time alone, with art

[The painter] Delacroix [was] himself a proponent of alone time. (His former apartment and studio on the beautiful Place de Furstenberg is a museum as well.)

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“How can one keep one’s enthusiasm concentrated on a subject when one is always at the mercy of other people and in constant need of their society?” he wondered in his journal. “The things we experience for ourselves when we are alone are much stronger and much fresher.”

Research suggests this is true. One study, part of a project supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, found that visitors who attended an exhibition at a fine-art museum with other people found it significantly less thought-provoking, were less convinced by the exhibition design, and were less able to enjoy the museum space in silence than those who toured the museum alone.

Those who went with companions experienced the beauty of the artworks to a lesser extent, and were less able to experience a deep connection to the art. For the study, more than five hundred and fifty visitors to the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen in Switzerland were given an electronic data glove to wear as they toured the museum. The glove enabled the researchers to record the paths of the participants, as well as other information, including the time they spent in front of the artworks, their speed, heart rate, and fluctuations in skin conductance level, a potential indicator of emotional processes.

The subjects also filled out visitor surveys before entering the exhibition and after leaving it.

The study, published in the journal Museum Management and Curatorship, found that conversation interfered with visitors’ making a connection to the art. People who weren’t discussing the art with a companion were more frequently and more strongly emotionally stimulated by it. They were able to “enter the exhibition with ‘all of their senses open and alert’ to a greater degree.”

When I go to a museum with friends, I remember the outing. When I go alone, I remember the art.

Certainly, visiting a museum as a social occasion is a wonderful way to spend time with people we love. But there are also upsides to going by oneself, as the research suggests.

A person’s response to a work of art may be an emotional, private experience. There are paintings and sculptures you want to fall into, wrestle with, or simply sit across from in silence.

Indeed, while conventional wisdom holds that social interaction helps museum visitors learn by discussing what they’re seeing with fellow attendees, a study published in Curator: The Museum Journal, challenged that notion, showing that there is no meaningful learning advantage to going with others or going alone; both can be equally beneficial, just in different ways.

In the weeks after their visit, “solitary visitors were just as likely as paired visitors to have discussed the things they had seen or learned with family or friends,” researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, reported. For the study some forty solo visitors and forty visitors in pairs were observed and interviewed duringtheir visit to the Queensland Museum.

Four weeks later, 40 percent of participants took part in a follow-up telephone interview. When asked how being on their own contributed to their experience, the most common response was that it allowed them to explore the exhibition at their own pace.

Other reasons offered related to having greater choice and control, and freedom from distraction. Participants had responses like “I can look at what I want to look at,” “I can get more immersed in it,” “I can feel what I feel without input from others,” and “You miss more when you are in a group.”

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

To be, or not to be

About eating healthily, that is.

That was not the question today!

I’m not very proud, but it was a lark and very enjoyable!  Today I had a chocolate croissant from Riviore for breakfast, and, since I found myself near my favorite gelateria in the Oltrarno, I treated myself to artigianale gelato for lunch (with 2 flavors: buontalenti and chocolate [the chocolate was so rich and chocolately it was almost too intense]; the buontalenti was heaven on earth)!  There was a bit of a chocolate theme happening, and I’m not a chocoholic.

I didn’t take pictures, bc you know what both of these things look like. ;-)

Where ironwork meets horticulture

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I make a weekly walk through a lovely residential neighborhood in an outer area of Florence.  You see all Florentines and Italians here.  I’ve never ever seen a tourist in this area, which is kind of amazing if you understand the waves of tourists that swarm this amazing city.

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My weekly walk takes me by a very interesting front garden of one of the many villinos in the neighborhood.  The first time I saw this large cactus (I don’t actually know what the plant is, if I’m wrong, please leave a comment!) it looked like a caged animal to me, one that was trying to work its way out of the surrounding metal enclosure.

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Yesterday I walked through the area again and wanted to take more inclusive pictures to show how this front garden is organized.  Here they are:

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As you can see, the cactus has a fantastic magnolia tree behind it.

 

Here is how the entrance to the home is organized and decorated.  Very lovely to my eyes,

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And then, here’s that massive plant!  Love it!

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Do you like alone time?

Audrey Hepburn took to her apartment. “I have to be alone very often,” she told Life magazine in 1953. “I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Thinkers, artists, and innovators from Tchaikovsky to Barack Obama, from Delacroix and Marcel Marceau to Chrissie Hynde and Alice Walker, have expressed the need for solitude. It’s what Rodin has in common with Amy Schumer; what Michelangelo shares with Grace Jones.

Philosophers and scientists spent much of their lives in solitude, including Descartes, Nietzsche, and Barbara McClintock, the Nobel Prize–winning geneticist who resisted having a telephone until she was eighty-four.

Countless writers, including Shakespeare, Dickinson, Wharton, Hugo, and Huxley, mined solitude as a theme. Symphonies and songs, poems and plays, and paintings and photos have been created in solitude.

For the creative person, “his most significant moments are those in which he attains some new insight, or makes some new discovery; and these moments are chiefly, if not invariably, those in which he is alone,” Storr wrote in his seminal book, Solitude: A Return to the Self. While other people can be one of our greatest sources of happiness, they can at times nonetheless be a distraction.

Their presence may also inhibit the creative process, “since creation is embarrassing,” as the writer Isaac Asimov said. “For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.”

Monet slashed his paintings before the opening of an exhibition in Paris, declaring the canvasses unworthy to pass on to posterity. Robert Rauschenberg flung his early works into the Arno.

Yet just as alone time can be important for creation (and possible subsequent destruction), it can also be necessary for restoration. Some of the latest research has found that even fifteen minutes spent by ourselves, without electronic devices or social interaction, can decrease the intensity of our feelings (be they good or bad), leaving us more easygoing, less angry, and less worried.

Studies led by Thuy-vy Nguyen, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggest that we can use solitude or alone time as a tool, a way to regulate our emotional states, “becoming quiet after excitement, calm after an angry episode, or centered and peaceful when desired.”

Alone, we can power down. We’re “off stage,” as the sociologist Erving Goffman put it, where we can doff the mask we wear in public and be ourselves. We can be reflective. We have the opportunity for self-evaluation, a chance to consider our actions and take what Westin called a “moral inventory.” We can also take inventory of all the information that has accumulated throughout the day. We can organize our “thoughts, reflect on past actions and future plans, and prepare for future encounters,” as the psychologist Jerry M. Burger wrote in the Journal of Research in Personality.

Even Bill Clinton, exemplar of extraversion, acknowledged that as president he scheduled “a couple of hours a day alone to think, reflect, plan, or do nothing.” “Often,” he said, “I slept less just to get the alone time.”

This notion of reflection harks back to an ancient Greek principle known as epimelesthai sautou. The philosopher Michel Foucault translated it as “to take care of yourself,” and though it was once “one of the main rules for social and personal conduct and for the art of life,” Foucault observed that there is a tendency, particularly in modern Western society, to view caring for oneself as almost immoral. And yet alone time has the potential to leave us more open to others.

And yet alone time has the potential to leave us more open and compassionate toward others. John D. Barbour, a professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, has written that while solitude involves the self, it’s not necessarily narcissistic. He’s suggested that the solitude sought by biblical prophets helped shape their perspective and may have made them more sensitive to the suffering of people who were less powerful or outsiders. “Solitude at its best,” he wrote, is not about “escaping the world, but toward a different kind of participation in it.”

Unfortunately, there’s a tendency in our own age of scant nuance to conceive of solitude and society as either-or propositions: You’re either alone on your couch or you’re organizing dinner parties.

That’s an unhelpful (and often wrong) distinction. The psychologist Abraham H. Maslow found that self-actualizing people—those who have attained the highest tier of his hierarchy of human needs—are capable of being more than one thing at one time, even if those things are contradictory.  They can besimultaneously individual and social; selfish and unselfish.

Burger wrote that people with a high preference for solitude don’t necessarily dislike social interaction, and aren’t necessarily introverted. They probably spend most of their time around others, and enjoy it; he said it’s simply that, relative to others, they more often chose to be by themselves because they appreciate the reflection, creativity, and renewal that solitude can offer.

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.