Nothing Can Be Accomplished Without Solitude

Pablo Picasso? Apocryphal?

solitude08Dear Quote Investigator: To accomplish an arduous cerebral task it is necessary to avoid quotidian interruptions and achieve a deeper form of concentration. The remarkable painter Pablo Picasso has been credited with the following perceptive adage:

Without great solitude no serious work is possible.

This quotation is popular, but I have only been able to find it on websites and in recent books and periodicals. Are these the genuine words of the modernist master?

Quote Investigator: In 1989 the prominent Spanish writer Camilo Jose Cela told a newspaper reporter that the remark above was spoken to him by Pablo Picasso. Yet, the conversation between Cela and Picasso must have occurred many years before because the famous painter died in 1973. A detailed citation is presented further below.

A similar statement was made by Picasso in 1932 as reported in the newspaper “ABC” based in Madrid, Spain. The news story was obtained via telephone while Picasso was in Paris. The artist emphasized the pivotal importance of solitude to his work. But his description suggested that solitude was a psychological state that he was able to enter without the knowledge of others. Below was the original Spanish text (English is further below): 1

No se puede hacer nada sin la soledad. Me he creado una soledad que nadie sospecha. Pero el reloj dificulta hoy la soledad. ¿Ha visto usted algún santo con reloj?

Picasso’s thoughts were translated and published many years later in 1960 in “The New York Times”. The text consisted of a single paragraph attributed to Picasso in an article section titled “Ideas and Men”; no source for the words was specified: 2

Nothing can be accomplished without solitude. I have made a kind of solitude for myself which nobody is aware of. Today it’s very difficult to be alone because we have watches. Have you ever seen a saint wearing a watch?—PABLO PICASSO

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The paragraph from New York paper also appeared in an article titled “What Life Has Taught Me” under Picasso’s byline in 1962 in the periodical “Music Journal”. The journal article was considerably longer than the text fragments published by “ABC” and “The New York Times”. QI believes that another source text in Spanish probably exists. Below is an excerpt showing some additional remarks from the artist: 3

Nothing can be accomplished without solitude. I have made a kind of solitude for myself which nobody is aware of. Today it’s very difficult to be alone because we have watches. Have you ever seen a Saint wearing a watch?

If more people could only comprehend that an artist must create because he has to create, because he is possessed by his art! The artist is only a very tiny part of the universe and should not receive more attention than anything else on earth that gives us beauty, joy and replenishment.

In 1989 the Spanish novelist and essayist Camilo Jose Cela was awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in literature, and he was contacted by a journalist from the “Los Angeles Times”. Cela recounted to the reporter an insight he had been given from Picasso. Quotation marks were not placed around the words, and one would expect some inexactitude due to human memory and translation: 4

“Picasso once told me that without great solitude no serious work is possible. Since the news, I haven’t written anything, except to answer a few telegrams.”

The “news” was that he had been awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 1998 a guest columnist writing in the “Orange County Register” of Santa Ana, California referenced Cela’s version of the saying while discussing a book: 5

Quotation buffs and loners will delight in “The Wonders of Solitude,” a book of quotes chosen by Dale Salwak, extolling the virtues and blessings inherent in being alone. There are two kinds of aloneness — one is loneliness, a painful condition. The other is that salutary state of being called solitude. This book deals with the beneficial aspects of being alone.

Barbara Powell, an American psychologist says, “Every kind of creative work demands solitude and being alone, constructively alone; is a prerequisite for every phase of the creative process.”

Pablo Picasso agreed. “Without great solitude,” he said, “no serious work is possible.” And solitude refreshes body, mind and spirit.

The saying continued to circulate in 2012 when it appeared in an opinion piece in “The New York Times” that warned about the dangers of groupthink: 6

Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said.

In conclusion, QI believes that Picasso can be credited with the words published in “ABC” in 1932 and transformed into English by 1960. Cela’s testimony about the statement he heard from Picasso also has substantive support because it was consistent with the 1932 commentary although there exists some uncertainty about the precise phrasing.

Image Notes: Portrait photograph of Pablo Picasso circa 1908 via Wikimedia Commons. Cave with human figure from Unsplash at Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Isaiah Brookshire whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1932 June 15, ABC Diario Ilustrado (Madrid), Informaciones y noticias del extranjero: ABC en Paris, (Telephone conversation with Pablo Picasso), Start Page 35, Quote Page 36, Madrid. (Online archive of ABC at hemeroteca.abc.es; accessed December 11, 2015) link
  2. 1960 July 17, New York Times, Opinion of the Week: At Home and Abroad: Ideas and Men, Quote Page E9, Column 6, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. 1962 January, Music Journal, Volume 20, Number 1, What Life Has Taught Me by Pablo Picasso, Start Page 34, Quote Page 35, Published by Music Journal Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1989 November 21, Los Angeles Times, Spain’s Cantankerous Nobel Laureate by William D. Montalbano (Times Staff Writer), Quote Page E1, Column 3 and 4, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  5. 1998 December 12, Orange County Register, Edition: Morning, Guest Column: My Christmas gift list is all booked-up by B.D.L. Weide, Quote Page G02, Santa Ana, California. (ProQuest)
  6. 2012 January 15, New York Times, Section: Sunday Review, The Rise of the New Groupthink: Collaboration is in. But it may not be conducive to creativity by Susan Cain, Quote Page SR1, New York. (ProQuest)