Is there a best location for an artist retreat?

During the course of conversation with certain other interested types, one of the things that comes up again and again is that of the proposed location of this proposed mission mobilizing artist retreat.

Midwest or Great Plains

  • Contemplative (see Kathleen Norris’ Dakota: A spiritual geography)
  • Cheaper land and property, generally speaking
  • Central location (instead of obligatory coastal/metro location)

I touched on this in my last retreat related post, but it seems to be worth bringing up again.

I was clear in the last post that part of the reasoning for the Great Plains was possibly personal bias, although I’m still sticking to the reasoning above for the time being. My wife and I both find Norris’ observation very compelling. From her book Dakota:

Like all those who choose life in the slow lane — sailors, monks, farmers — I partake of a contemplative reality. Living close to such an expanse of land I find I have little incentive to move fast, little need of instant information. I have learned to trust the processes that take time, to value change that is not sudden or ill-considered but grows out of the ground of experience.

I suppose there is a chance I’m reading a little too much into Norris’ meaning here (the book is still packed and I can’t reference it beyond the above quote). I’d love to have the chance to ask her to elaborate on the tie between big skies and a contemplative life at some point, but I haven’t had the chance to do that. And in the mean time I will rely on my wife‘s certified super-power: reading comprehension.

I think I’ve said before that there are admittedly other natural settings that also foster contemplation, and that these places can be different for different people — which is the impetus for this post. I’ve chatted with several other people, artists and catalysts, who think the Rocky Mountains are the best place for artistic inspiration. Others suggest the wooded Ozarks, and we probably all know someone with an affinity for the beach. Is one place better than another?

Can there be a consensus? Or are multiple retreats, as I posited in the last entry, the best option?

Does there need to be a consensus? Or are artists simply eager for time and space to create regardless of location?

As an artist,

is there a particular natural setting
that best fosters a contemplative spirit for you?

What is it and why?

On a sidenote, I’ve probably dug myself a hole of sorts by using the word “inspiration” at all. Inspiration is not the same as contemplation. The point of this particular artist retreat, while in large part is to give artists the opportunity to have extended periods of uninterrupted studio time, is not necessarily to provide inspiration.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to Is there a best location for an artist retreat?

  1. Ann says:

    I will post here the same as FB: As one living in the Plains “forever” I am more “inspired” among the Ozarks… To paraphrase Harold Bell Wright from The Shephard of the Hills – “Take forty acres of Flat Land, and it’s just forty acres, but you take forty acres of Ozark country and God Almight only knows how much it would be if it were rolled out flat. It’s no wonder at all that God rested when he made these hills, He just naturally HAD to quit, for He had done his best work and was worn out” LOL – for me,the rolling hills, the bits of persistant rock jutting up into the sky, the crest of the horizon sliding down into a smoothasglass lack, the green which drains to goldenredorange in the fall…It just makes me feel at home…in my mind it’s Israel in Technicolor(the only place I would rather live) Now mind you, I have grown to appreciate the plains, find the Mountains aweing, and the Beach relaxing, but those are not places I want to be a permnant fixture in.

  2. BEACH!!!!!! the others don’t even come close for me. The plains remind me of drying out, dying, thirst, hunger, and well just about every other negative connotation I can think of. Plains=Death. Mountains=Struggle, Midwest=Lack of Innovation, Beach=life, rejuvination, cutting edge etc. Of course, that is just my personal bias. 🙂 Multiple Centers are probably needed. You work on the plains, I will work on the beach.

    • pcNielsen says:

      Beach front property is uber pricey though! Course, it might also be easier to raise money for the thing in more popular locations, evening out the odds.

      Interesting sidenote, chatting about the idea on Facebook with a friend this weekend he came to the conclusion that the Plains would be very contemplative. He hasn’t read any Kathleen Norris to my knowledge, nor has he lived on the Plains (NYC, Florida and Arkansas IIRC). But he still understood the reasoning, which was encouraging to me.

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