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Loneliness Awareness Week

“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.” So writes Olivia Laing in her 2016 more-than-memoir The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Feelings of loneliness are personal, and everyone’s experience will be different, but its effects can be profound and wide-ranging. 

Life changes, mental health conditions and low self-esteem may all contribute to feelings of loneliness or make social interaction difficult, and one in four adults report feeling lonely some or all of the time (according to the Mental Health Foundation and recent surveys). However, as this year’s Loneliness Awareness Week theme -  ‘Random Acts of Connection’ - highlights, increasing those simple, everyday moments of connection that help enhance our sense of belonging, and identifying (and acknowledging) the times that we have personally felt and experienced loneliness, are crucial first steps in managing our emotions.

This chimes with Laing’s observation in her rigorous and poetic book that although art may be generated by loneliness, it also has a significant “capacity to create intimacy”. Drawing on biographies, interviews, oral histories and archival material, Laing sensitively explores the connection between loneliness and creativity in the lives and works of artists such as Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, reclusive Chicago hospital porter Henry Darger and multidisciplinary practitioner and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz. Her description of Warhol’s work patrolling “the space between people, conducting a grand philosophical investigation into closeness and distance” and analysis of the artist’s cultivation of a machine-like aesthetic, is carefully explained in terms of his state of loneliness: “Terrified of physical contact, he rarely left the house without an armoury of cameras and tape recorders, using them to broker and buffer interactions: behaviour that has light to shed on how we deploy technology in our own century of so-called connectivity.”  

Similarly, unpacking Hopper’s signature images of urban isolation, Laing writes that what he captures “is beautiful as well as frightening. They aren’t sentimental, his pictures, but there is an extraordinary attentiveness to them…As if loneliness was something worth looking at. More than that, as if looking itself was an antidote, a way to defeat loneliness’s strange, estranging spell.” It is this idea of creatively challenging feelings of loneliness that makes the OCA community more important than ever, because (as Laing reminds us) even though “there are so many things that art can’t do”, it does have “some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives”.  

Image Credit:

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, via The Art Institute of Chicago

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