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Alone & Together In Life & Art- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Alone & Together In Life & Art- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Alone & Together in Life & Art


Alone together in the Church of Blue

Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite places on Earth. I never get tired of staring at the improbably immense expanse of blue, constantly changing color by sun angle, wind, and reflections of clouds and surrounding mountains.

It is never the same twice, ranging through aquas and teals and cobalt blue and ultramarine.


Lake Tahoe, calm day


An old friend of mine and I swam almost three miles today, crossing our personal Rubicon. More than an homage to Julius Caesar because the shallow bay we swam across is called Rubicon Bay.

We first swam together fifteen years ago, and only did it one more time before today in all the intervening years. 

Independently, we have each swum numerous swims in the area, and we have shared stories of them so exuberantly that we were unable to accurately remember whether we did them together or not! The other person was so spiritually present that the physical presence was almost secondary.

Swimming is an example of an activity that is “alone together.”

You can’t really talk or you’ll drown, so there is just the comforting presence of your companion and knowing that he is enjoying it as much as you are. It is enjoyed fully in retrospect, shivering on the shore and drinking hot coffee. 


Cup of coffee

Cup of coffee


Swimming allows plenty of time for contemplation. The steady stroking and breathing sets up a rhythmical structure, a bass line of life’s sacrament. 

And there we were, suspended in a blue so deep and so pure it was as if we were living bubbles in a stained glass window of Chartres blue.


Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral



And while we were suspended an agoraphobic inducing distance above the bottom, I started thinking about “alone together.”

What else is like this?

Many creative pursuits are.


Alone Together in Art


Very few people paint in teams, but they are often part of an artistic community. They paint knowing that other people in the community value and respect what they do, and they receive encouragement and inspiration just knowing that others are doing what they’re doing,

And once in a while they’ll actually converse and share notes and then carry on, alone together.

But there’s yet another kind of alone together. When you create an artistic work, you might know what inspired you to create it, but an “experiencer,” an audience member, might find it very inspiring but for totally different reasons!

The artwork brought two different people together by allowing for the freedom of different avenues into it. Requiring that experiencers relate to a creation in the same way as the creator did denies this unifying force.

Without this transcendent power of Art, life is as lonely as Thomas Wolfe wrote about in Look Homeward, Angel,


He understood that men were forever strangers to one another, that no one ever comes really to know any one, that imprisoned in the dark womb of our mother, we come to life without having seen her face, that we are given to her arms a stranger, and that, caught in that insoluble prison of being, we escape it never, no matter what arms may clasp us, what mouth may kiss us, what heart may warm us. Never, never, never, never, never.”

-Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel



Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)



A few weeks ago, Nancy painted a bold and vivid painting on a large scale, wide arcing brush strokes, a study in blue. 

Bruce took one look at it and named it, “Tahoe Blue.” Nancy admitted that she wasn’t thinking about that lake at all when she painted it, but in retrospect it made sense.



Tahoe Blue, Dr. Nancy Hillis, 2022


Alone together, through art.

With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. We’re getting closer to releasing our newest book: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories of Artistic Transformation. Meanwhile, nab a copy of the first book in the series: The Adjacent Possible: Evolve Your Art From Blank Canvas To Prolific Artist.



The Adjacent Possible- Book Excellence Award Winner- Art

The Adjacent Possible– Book Excellence Award Winner- Art


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