Yesterday, Nancy Hall of Sandy Hook, Manitoba wrote: “As an artist, mother, farmhand, two-dog owner and a writer, I would sure welcome some organizational tips! I’m curious how you pack all you do into your life.”
Thanks, Nancy. Early one morning when I was a very small kid, I was standing on some rocks at the beach below where we lived. The water was flat calm and grey to the horizon. I remember thinking what a remarkable thing a day is. I wasn’t thinking about a “special” day, I was thinking about an ordinary day — a day you could do things in. As I grew older I came to realize that days are golden units by which our lives are measured. As a self-anointed self-manager I realized that if I were going to get anywhere, I needed to bring good habits, joy and a certain amount of sacrifice to my days. By the time I was in my teens, I had figured out that habits were holy — I saw in habits the key to an independent creative life:
Work doggedly, one thing after the other.
Begin work early, finish many things each day.
Work on what comes to hand, what demands attention.
Have rough plans — work them daily.
Rest from the work — look at the water.
Regarding joy, Winston Churchill said, “It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.” I observed that all kinds of people worked at jobs that were distasteful to them. I didn’t want to be like that. Besides, I was struck with a peculiar disorder — I couldn’t concentrate on dull jobs. I was really lousy at everything except those things I wanted to do. I needed to have work that was some sort of automatic or semi-automatic joy. I wanted to be most often in “the joy mode.” I figured my work habits would take me there. By my mid-twenties I had discovered that work is not work when the work is loved. I had fallen in love with art.
Regarding sacrifice, early on I found that my days were not long enough. I had to be more efficient in my use of the time allotted, and I was prepared to make sacrifices. It was okay to cut back on the time taken socializing, commuting and eating. One must not, I thought, sacrifice sleep, exercise, contemplation, love, family or dog activity.
PS: “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.” (Mary Jean Irion)
Esoterica: To be fair, a supportive partner and studio assistants go a long way toward fooling people into thinking that one is organizationally competent. Helpmates are above angels. The telephone and the computer, on the other hand, present special problems. I save some outgoing calls for the car — and actually look forward to making them on a relatively safe, hands-free (Bluetooth) system. A studio computer frees up, speeds up, and actualizes an artist. Around here, Tuesdays and Fridays are particularly full because there are so many Inbox friends. As I’m older, and perhaps more mature, this universal socializing is hard to resist. I’m eating better too.
‘I need a wife’
by Sandy B. Donn, Orlando, FL, USA
What Nancy Hall may suspect, but is being way too nice about, is that the “artist” profession is where the opposite gender has the advantage. I tell my friends all the time “I need a wife” because no matter how you slice and dice it, all the home chores, dog responsibilities, family obligations, etc. end up mainly in my lap! Having long creative blocks of time in the day is almost laughable, even when the intention is there and the so-called partner swears he understands. I see why Georgia O’Keeffe got herself off to New Mexico and all that solitude with just “help” in order to do her life’s work. I admire us women who, despite all the chaos, still make art.
Life with an ‘openly-horizoned’ brain
by Maxx Maxted, Australia
I have called myself an Artist since age 16. I am now 63, having come from an unconventional background of home birthing 2 sons, building my own home with no power tools, all from an ordinary life in the city but having the advantage of an ‘openly-horizoned’ brain. I wake up at 6 a.m. each morning and bounce out of bed, make a mug of coffee for my Belle-amie, roll a joint, have a bog and plan another marvelous day depending on what sort of sun creeps over the rim of the caldera. I have regular jobs, I tute a creative writing class in the village, write a bi-monthly article for the local Nimbin Magazine, I also broadcast 2 radio shows on local FM, a Blues show on Saturday and a Classical show on Thursday afternoon, plus I play blues harp and sing with a local band and have started to make stringed instruments from Coco-palm fronds. Life is just starting. There are so many things to do. I don’t have time to grow old. My partner is a 27 year old Australian indigenous academic, doing her Masters. I have taught her to slow down. She is now writing and painting. Ahhhhh!
Rigorous efficiency pays off
by Sam Hunter, Simi Valley, CA, USA
I completed my BA last year while working full time and single parenting my son through a challenging time in his life. I often get asked how I “find” the time. I don’t find it, I make it — it is an active commitment rather than a passive possibility. Rigorous scheduling of chore time opens up lovely blocks of art time. I, too, catch up on the phone while driving or dusting. I cook big and freeze the leftovers for easy reheating. I delete most of the jokes people email me. I streamline errands into one driving loop to ease time as well as gas. I’ve given up on having a perfectly clean house all the time… I clean big once a month – and if you stop by during week three you get dessert and an apology. When I’m with friends I play hard. And most of all, I only hang out with people who truly bring good things to my life. It’s easy to give up a lot of time to people who see you as a faucet and you see as a drain – don’t do it. Art is far too important to short-change.
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
I stay organized by making a ‘to do’ list every Sunday night for the next week. I keep it on my computer desk and check chores off the list one by one. I try to make sure everything gets done before the next Sunday night. I also keep three-hole notebooks for every project I have, which keeps my paperwork organized at all times. Lastly, I never procrastinate on anything. As projects come in like exhibitions or gallery projects, I take care of them immediately. Everything gets inventoried and boxed up, ready to go.
Something good in every distasteful task
by Earle Smith, Grande Prairie AB, Canada
Your philosophy has worked for me in many ways. In my late 70s, long retired (twice), I’m currently president of a national volunteer organization, regularly drive 14 and 18 wheelers around Alberta and BC, travel, take lots of holidays, etc. I’m still left with lots of time to enjoy family and friends, photography, etc. Whether we like it or not one must sometimes take up a dull or distasteful task. I learned long ago, from my wise father, that one could always find within that task the wherewithal to gain a sense of some kind of positive feeling. A matter of reorienting one’s feelings, I suppose, however it has always worked for me.
by Lauri Svedberg, Minneapolis MN, USA
I agree with all of your important life-components above, but the reference to “dog activity” really hit home! Once, in my zeal to paint, I got irritated with my white shepherd’s nosing for attention. Okay, I thought, we’ll go to the dog park and get you really tired. Then you’ll leave me alone to paint! That outing turned into one of my favorite pieces, “Dog Park.” Once there, I realized that I had gone into selfish mode back at the easel and whatever I would have produced couldn’t compare to the joy of the dogs romping on a late autumn afternoon…
Fill in your rut
by Ed Pointer, Wichita, KS, USA
You write many good letters but this one was particularly helpful. I have this rut I keep under my easel and once in awhile I get it out and get into it. Sometimes I think I enjoy my rut a little too much because I find it comfortable. As I get older I’ve added a nice lamb’s wool lining to it to ensure I will have a higher comfort level; being comfortable in my rut is important! Ah, but today I got your little treatise on work–I noticed the wool in my rut had become rough and sticky and thought perhaps those things you said could be of value (they usually are). My rut began to fill with “As I grew older I came to realize that days are golden units by which our lives are measured” and “Work doggedly, one thing after the other” and “Begin work early, finish many things each day” and, well, you get the picture. Soon my rut was so full of good advice I was displaced and found myself on the floor! So, thanks Robert for helping me out of my rut, it is very much appreciated!
Career not seen as a chore
by Collette Renee Fergus, New Zealand
A normal day… just what is that, especially to an artist? I myself was only just contemplating organization today as it isn’t one of my strong points. Now time management I’m a whiz at, but I can tell you, sometimes even I wonder how I find things, never mind sort my time to make sure I get everything done that I need or wish to do. I create ‘To Do’ lists that are as long as my arm and I work tirelessly to get all the jobs done on them, knowing that some days it’s impossible to do all the things listed, hence the need to be more realistic sometimes, especially if there are things like ‘complete such and such a painting’ because, as we all know, it’s only completed when it wants to be completed, not necessarily to any time limitations and certainly not in between all the other jobs one needs to do. A typical day for me also involves children, housework, a part-time job in a gallery and of course all the less exciting stuff involved with being a professional artist… bookwork, meetings, commissions, mentoring, plans etc.
I strongly believe that having it down in writing with a-b-c categories prioritizes your workload and makes you more efficient and often leaves you with time to stop and smell the roses. After all, enjoying some time out is also really important isn’t it? When I do finally get time to paint… it’s heaven! The best thing of all is that this doesn’t seem like a job and therefore makes me feel complete. I’m just pleased I have the chance to follow my dreams and enjoy the career I don’t see as a chore!
The purposeful life
by Diane Overmyer, Wakarusa, IN, USA
Finding your passion and taking risks or making sacrifices in order to live doing what you were created to do is what it is all about. Sometimes the business of life gets in the way of our goals, but that is where planning and purpose-filled living comes into play. I recently met a man who shared with me how even though he has an incredibly great paying job, he and his wife are living in a 100 year old home that has not been remodeled in over 50 years. He said that people are always asking him why they live as they do, when they could have so much more in terms of material possessions. He proceeded to share how he is working and socking money away now, so that he will be able to retire at a fairly young age. He will then have time to volunteer with relief efforts around the globe. My summary: Have a purpose. Have a plan to achieve that purpose. Practice good habits to see the plan through.
The Pareto Principle
by Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA
I recommend the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, especially Habit 3 – Put First Things First. He suggests a Time Management Matrix consisting of activity Quadrants to deal with, and where the most effective focus of your time should be. It involves minimizing deadline driven projects, unimportant activities, trivia and time wasters. Getting into the frame of mind to realize what is important and following through is what is important. It is called the Pareto Principle–80% of the results flow out of 20% of the activities. When I followed suggestions from this book, they worked. I was more creative, having more exhibits, sales, museum acquisitions, and artistic satisfaction.
(RG note) Thanks, Carol. The Pareto Principle is named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1948-1923) who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the population. Stephen Covey’s book is one of my favorites. I quote him shamelessly in The Painter’s Keys.
The art of travel
by Cynthia Wilhelm, MI, USA
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton is arranged with reference to great artists, writers and philosophers as guides and companions on a journey. One chapter featured the poet Beaudelaire. I was interested to find out more about him and “did a google” on him. That is what linked me to all the quotes on your website! Here is what I found at the Painter’s Keys Resource of Art Quotations:
“The whole of visible universe is only a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination assigns a place and a relative value; it is a kind of nourishment that the imagination must digest and transform. (Charles Beaudelaire)
Terrible childhood experiences
by Leonard Niles, Lincolnshire, England
Without the accompaniment of violins, many painters have experienced life threatening events that leave them traumatised, some experience poverty-stricken childhoods, or crippling diseases, or grievous losses, cruelty and abuse. Yet the successful people constantly remind them that such things should have little consequence to successful achievement, even though these painful childhood incidences leave ineffaceable scars on them. “But can they really expect a bird to soar majestically if it is tethered to the ground?”
Formative years that should be inspiring and the springboard to knowledge and success can just as easily be consumed by bitterness and regret, which in time saps up every bit of confidence. Terrible childhood experiences destroy the very foundation of self-esteem and self-worth, and directly affect many painters at the crucial stages of their lives. Yet the urge to paint is just as infinite in them, and drives them just the same!
Do men focus better than women?
by Vernita Bridges-Hoyt, Spring, TX, USA
I have often wondered if it is easier for men to focus on tasks than it is for women. Of the men in my life, they seem able to focus and stay with a project, blocking out everything else until it is finished. Most of the women I know are multi-taskers doing a little bit here, a little bit there. I wonder if the multi-tasking is a result of years of child and home care, household accounting and management, etc. Although in this computer generation, multi-tasking has been promoted as the way to accomplish a lot, it seems to postpone the completion of projects. If I could just focus on my painting, then the artwork would be completed.
Remarkable publishing opportunity
by Marvin Petal, Oxnard, CA, USA
It has been several years since I entered a “poem” in The International Library of Poetry Contest, intent on submitting the most ludicrous garbage that my sorry mind could contrive. I did so, under the name of Mae B. Spurious (as in May Be Spurious). I was rewarded with effusive praise and promises that my poem would be published in a handsomely bound volume if I purchased the book in advance of publication. In the hope of exposing this as a scam, I wrote an article about the experience and it was duly published in a national magazine.
Earlier this year the thought occurred that I ought to give the self-esteemed International Library of Poetry another chance. Perhaps they had found religion, seen the light, cleaned up their act. This time, under the pseudonym of Hugh Morris (as in Humorous), I submitted a few lines which I plagiarized from a newspaper advertisement. It had become obvious that I was incapable of concocting anything so egregious that it would be rejected by these scoundrels. Thus, the decision to plagiarize. Alas, it turned out that the varlets were not laughed out of existence. They are still abroad in the land, bilking poor, unsuspecting hopeful “poets.”
I have received this very day a letter from the Owings Mills, MD headquarters of these keen-eyed literary judges who have stamped my plagiarized work with the simulated handwritten words, “Excellent poem.”
A few more quotes from the effusively laudatory notification:
“After carefully reading and discussing your poem, our Selection Committee has certified your poem as a semi-finalist in our International Open Poetry Contest. Your poem will automatically be entered into the final competition held in September 2006.”
“Before going any further, Hugh, let’s make one thing clear… your poem was selected for publication, and as a contest semi-finalist, on the basis of your unique talent and artistic vision.”
“In celebration of the unique talent you have displayed, we also wish to publish your poem on its own page in what promises to be one of the most highly regarded collections of poetry we have ever published.”
“Immortal Verses, scheduled for publication in Fall 2006 will be a classic, coffee-table quality hardbound volume on fine-milled paper specifically selected to last for generations. It will make a handsome addition to any library, a treasure family keepsake, or a highly valued personal gift.”
“P.S. Hugh, you should be genuinely proud of your accomplishment. Of the thousands of poems we read each year, only a fraction can be published.”
The book is offered to me at $49.95 plus $8 for shipping and handling. For you, non-poet, it would be $69.95. I am also offered a range of discounts, able to get a dozen for $369. Of course, just as before, I can’t hope to become a finalist until I prepay for one or more of the books.
Well, by now, you must be curious about what my unique talent and artistic vision hath wrought. The brilliant editors at Poetry.com have made the first three words the title of my semi-finalist offering in the competition for enshrinement in Immortal Verses. Remember, I do admit plagiarizing this from a newspaper ad. Following is the “Artist’s Proof” they sent back to me for editing. Note that they have assigned me a copyright and note that I have highlighted the words that would need editing and which I thought I had stolen correctly). Here goes.
Do You Suffer?
© Hugh Morris
Do you suffer from constipation,
Bloating, excess gas,
Or painful hemorrhoid?
Do you wish you could put an end
To your suffering without resorting
Too harsh laxatives,
Bloating fiber therapy
Or messy ineffective creams?
Now you can.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.
That includes Eileen Phillips of Comox, BC, Canada who wrote, “If I ran the world, there would be a time bank and all those people who don’t know what to do with their time or are bored would have their hours deposited into a time bank. Those of us with never enough time could go and withdraw extra hours. Boredom is a self-inflicted wound.”
And also Paol Serret of Australia who wrote, “Sacrifice is in the daily routine of an artist’s life, without it the artist cannot embrace the essence of creativity.”
And also Charlene Marsh of Nashville, IN, USA who wrote, “I would put food preparation and eating in the ‘must take time for’ category. Food and eating are the basis of health, and health is the basis of being able to live and function and enjoy each day. Good food is the foundation of a good life.”
And also Dave Dunlap who wrote, “I have lived so much of my life looking for a better tomorrow that sometimes I am oblivious of today.”
And also Martha Deming who wrote, “I recommend The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel. I’ve come to deeply treasure ordinary days. We don’t have enough of them.”
And also Donn Curry of Portland, Oregon, USA who wrote, “The War of Art, Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield has changed me. What an eye opener! Every painter should read it.”