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Process of isolation often inspires great art

Dedication to the art of music is demonstrated to perfection in the form of indie folk band Bon Iver. Their album, titled “For Emma, Forever Ago,” was based on inspiration found by lead singer Justin Vernon during a period in which he isolated himself in remote woods in Wisconsin.

The alleged purpose of this isolation was to recover from personal issues and agonies, including, but not limited to, breaking up with a girlfriend and a former band. Whether or not you enjoy their music, it is impossible not to admire dedication like that.

The quality of the music is top-notch and supplemented by unique lyrics, such as those in the song “Blood Bank.” Its opening line is: “Well I met you at the blood bank/We were looking at the bags/Wondering if any of the colors/Matched any of the names we knew on the tags.” These words could be perceived as a tad gruesome, but at least it’s unusual.

According to an article on, Vernon said, “I just knew that what I was doing was extremely honest. It was all the things I wanted my music to be.”

What is it about isolation that provokes great art? I would imagine being at the heart of a community would inspire the best work since there are so many influences in daily life, such as conversations and interactions. But perhaps the nothingness of living in a forest could be inspirational in an alternative spectrum where you are going slightly insane and experiencing the worst loneliness man has ever encountered.

Scriptwriter Barbara Nicolosi wrote in her blog “Church of the Masses,” that “To make art, one must disconnect and retreat into isolation. An artist will never get past the struggle with isolation, insofar as they do war against themselves 8212; their fear and sloth.”

A literary artist who could parallel Bon Iver is Henry David Thoreau, who also entered a self-imposed social exile. Thoreau spent two full years in the woods of Massachusetts and created a piece of literary history: “Walden.”

Maybe there is something to be said about gaining an introspective view from living outside of society.

In “Walden,” Thoreau wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

This quote is fascinating and perhaps pertinent to us as college students who are at least, to some extent, searching for our passions and purposes. I don’t think any of my friends or I have enough spare time in this crunch period of exams to enter into full hibernation mode, but maybe come summer break I’ll look into living with the black bears and mosquitoes.

Sammy Key is a junior English and Spanish double major from Tulsa, Okla.

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