Many of the problems that plague artists can be traced back to common old garden-variety laziness. I’m an authority on the subject. Early identified as chronic, this malaise has plagued me for a lifetime (my grade three report card stated “Bobby has lazy habits”). I’ve also devised various ploys to cure it. People are always telling me I’m the most un-lazy person they know.
How have I managed to fool them? Some say I’ve programmed myself like a zombie. I go about my interests, they say, like an automaton. I tell them I’m contented in my zombiehood.
But that’s not the whole story. Like a lot of teenagers, I found myself wasting a lot of time. I had to teach myself respect for time. If you too feel you might have a touch of sloth, here are a few ploys you might find useful:
To become enthusiastic, act enthusiastically.
Retrain to the better habits you know you can have.
Keep track of time and pay attention to the clock.
Know that acquired proficiency breeds love of work.
Count your jobs completed, not your time spent.
Reprogram regularity into your life.
See the value in what you’re doing.
Be a loving collector of your own accomplishments.
Unfortunately, in spite of all this picker-upper stuff, its important to keep in mind that what appears to be laziness or lassitude may be the result of clinical depression. Depressed people can have trouble with willpower. This may call for professional help.
Recent research at the University of Miami indicates that religious people tend to score higher in the exercise of willpower. It seems that the regular act of prayer or meditation gives the brain a sort of anaerobic workout in self-control. It may not be the content of the prayer or even the particular deity involved that tunes people up. Apparently it’s the regularity of the act and the committed repetition. A good example is the Muslim ritual of facing Mecca and kneeling on a prayer rug five times a day. Reading a different encyclopedia article at proscribed intervals might do the trick for some folks. For many of us, it means the formalized and regular act of entering the cathedral of our studios and rebooting ourselves at the altar of our easels.
Esoterica: For many artists, particularly the overly thoughtful and imaginative ones, self-sabotage can be a big boo-boo. Procrastination, avoidance activity and general lying around are some of the symptoms. If you look at the big picture, you may see yourself as a minor player, but it’s also possible to see and hold dear the sacred value of each individual’s life and times, yours in particular. With this view, simply making a contribution lets work-effort seem worthwhile and even inevitable.
What about reflection?
by Mayssan Shora Farra
But …Is it really laziness if you need that time to rejuvenate? Are you shirking work if you are still on the outside with a churning inside looking for a solution or posing a question? Are you lazy if you rest long but when you work, you work twice as hard and fast? And what about mistakes? Do you make more if you do not take time to reflect? Or is this all an excuse for laziness?
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Do it, even when you don’t want to
by Donald Demers, Eliot, ME, USA
The topic of laziness is an interesting one. We as creative people are the bridge between the spiritual and the real. We are the link that takes an idea and makes it manifest in the physical world. I’ve run into people I knew in high school who have said to me “It must be great to be an artist and have a free life style and work when you’re in the mood.” As you know, that could not be further from the truth. I’ve been drawing and painting all of my life and professionally for 30 years and I know that, more times than not, I’ve gone into the studio when I didn’t feel like it. But when you make a move, and pick up a tool, and begin to make marks, the greater power takes over and you’re off and running. You are doing what you’re meant to. If you don’t, all of your ideas are nothing but “bar room talk.”
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Reaching for joy
by Stella Reinwald, Santa Fe, NM, USA
“Depressed people can have trouble with willpower.” Amen Robert. To put a finer point on it, the willpower you refer to remains potentially accessible, only the “spark” is absent. It’s as if you were a powerful car, all fueled up, engine tuned and ready to go. . . but the spark plugs won’t fire. In our depressed brains, the motivation or expectation for any joy of accomplishment goes missing. The longer it goes on the more likely it is to keep going on, a perfect feedback loop. To the rest of the world, we can muddle through our days, feeding the dog, going to our jobs and taking care of business. . . but those are all tasks done to avoid disaster, not invite pleasure. Avoidance of pain is not a great way to live. It is the same with any of my friends/family who suffer from this dread condition. Even when antidepressants work well to help keep you on an even keel and functioning, passion/excitement (of every kind) seems to be the price to be paid.
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by Karen King, Bakersfield, CA, USA
When I retired two years ago I announced to everyone I was going to set aside four hours a day just for painting. Besides, how hard could that be? I’d been putting in eight hours a day at my job and squeezing in painting times whenever I could.
Well, as you can imagine, it didn’t happen. Yes, I did make time to paint more often, but still not nearly as often as I had hoped. Yet, anyone who knows me would never call me lazy. I’m almost super organized and plan each day to accomplish as much as I can. Still, the days seemed to melt away with a lot accomplished… but little or no painting.
I finally got an “aha moment” and realized what the real problem is. It has been my expectation that I would find three- or four-hour segments of time to do this a day, and that rarely happens. But when I look for half-hour segments of time, there are plenty of those; just not all strung together. So now, my goal is to find half-hour periods to paint in daily. Frequently, (as you might imagine), those short segments seem to become one hour or more, but even if they don’t, I know that I can find more of those half-hour pieces throughout the day. Why did it take me so long to figure that out?
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
Ah laziness. It has many faces. And we are easily fooled and seduced by it. When you say others think you “un-lazy” and you fool them is something we all do to some extent. I’m productive in the areas I choose, but say promoting, No! I sure can be classified as lazy. Painting, I don’t have time in the day for that.
I’ve been writing an art instruction book — five years now. I just can’t make myself sit at the computer and get it finished. Prepping canvas — twice a month religiously or more as the need arises. Gallery hunting No! Lazy.
I think we all suffer selective “lazativity” (my word). My productivity is very high, but do I do things around the house that my wife needs doing? No! Lazy. I don’t beat myself up too much. I guess this goes to the previous letter regarding passion.
Too much to do
by Terry Mason, Sarasota, FL, USA
I suspect that having too much time on one’s hands might make one lazy. But there are always children to care for, bills to pay, homes to tend, and relationships to be kept meaningful because I love the people I love. Then there is my dog who in exchange for total love does want to be fed, walked, and played with every day. There are the rituals of life. Cooking meals, taking showers, washing clothes, tending the home and car, tending the living plants around me. And, oh yes, I have to walk four miles a day. I am strict about this. No walk, no painting so that walk gets done!
When I do get to lounge with a book that is not about art, languid in the sun, half sleepy, and rested, I am happy. The easel does not glare at me from the summer studio on the lanai. It is imbued with no human qualities. And I know that most every day the easel will accumulate one more smear of paint and my paintings will continue to emerge.
No time-clock artist
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
I think depression plays a big part in artistic laziness. Many artists struggle with depression. I know I have. It can be a serious matter. Fear and depression go hand in hand. Inactivity is a breeding ground for these troublesome twins. Artist block can set in and you wonder if you can or will ever produce another halfway decent painting. For me the inactivity seems to fuel a frustration which builds to an explosive release of painting energy at some point. A blitz of painting clears the air like a good thundershower and I am back in action. A doctor buddy of mine labeled me a “manic depressive lite” due to the cyclical nature of my productivity. I can’t seem to be a time clock artist who heads out to the studio at 9 a.m. every day. Such a routine might be noble but I know that I would produce a bunch of lousy paintings with this routine. It’s like the fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare. The plodding tortoise might win the race but I have learned to live with my bunny-like nature. I run hard, then nap, then run hard again. When napping, I can sure look like a lazy bum!
by Jolene Monheim, Great Falls, MT, USA
I’ve also identified myself as lazy…. and it can’t really be true based upon my artistic production, the development and refinement of my other loves – dance, reading, dog training, yoga, motherhood, grand motherhood, wifehood… watching clouds move. The order and priorities switch around, which keeps me stimulated and happy. I don’t think it’s depression. I blame it on my ancestry – I’m at least a quarter German. And like my cattle dog, who struggles with not having a herd to round up, I have this gnawing feeling that I’m just not doing enough. I’m not organized enough, and I hate cleaning my messes. Like body dysmorphia, I have production dysmorphia. Or some weird perverted work unethic. I resist routine, but feel best when I have structure. In my case it may be that the productive and passive parts of me gyrate much like the ongoing balancing act that we all have with our desire for connection and the concurrent desire for autonomy.
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What is the hurry?
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
May I submit a few words in defense of laziness? The idea that the go-getter, Type A personality, is some sort human ideal is quite misguided. What is the hurry? Laziness is often the mother of invention. Slowing down can be very good for the soul.
What is wrong with goofing off? A lazy, rainy, Sunday in bed with crossword puzzles and pillow talk with a couple of cheesy old science fiction movies on the tube, is perhaps “wasted” time, but I would not trade those hours for studio time, or a more tidy home environment.
Naps are very healthy, as well. This idea that we must be ever so, and constantly, industrious and hardworking is a crock. Life is far too short to squander it with being always busy. On that final deathbed, who regrets that they spent too much time looking into a lover’s eyes, or just staring at the stars or clouds, or just listening to the rain fall?
Moderation in all things. Hard work is good in its place. But sloth also provides many rewards. Obsession and compulsion are a disease and it is epidemic in the Western world. The idea that I must show up at my easel on a certain schedule turns art into a mere job. And, the idea that my paintings are more important than my grandson, or my sweet wife, is an egotistical delusion. The world will survive without another painting by Peter Brown, but some things are truly much more important, like lavishing time doing little with the ones you love.
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by Ann McRae, New York, NY, USA
I hate the word lazy. As a child it was often used by authority figures as a term to describe what THEY thought I OUGHT to be doing. In fact, the fear and insecurity that is part of being human (and I imagine particularly for artists) and manifested itself as “frozenness” (laziness to others) was exacerbated by this shame-inducing criticism.
Eventually I adopted the belief system others used to describe my fear and anxiety (the knowledge of which I was completely oblivious) and used it to beat myself up on a daily basis in every aspect of my life. Shame, frozenness, shame, frozenness, etc…
The fear and insecurity I experience(d) in my work may not be real to anyone else and it may seem to others to be the perfect excuse for doing nothing at all, but to me it is an important part of my process/progress as an artist and as a human being. It is a tender place which everyone visits occasionally and where I personally connect to other artists and humans. It is where I find the courage so necessary for me to work with and through to take another step forward in my work and in this beautiful journey called life. If a successful (however that is defined) artist says to me they relate to my fear and self-doubt (the roots of my ‘laziness’) and to keep on keeping on, then THAT’S where I find my encouragement — not in their success and certainly not in being called lazy by myself or anyone else. Part of what makes the process so beautiful is the gentle, self-acceptance and self-encouragement that follows and that hopefully/ultimately will be shared with someone else who feels the pain and shame of the ‘laziness’ label. And while all work doesn’t have to spring from the place of encouragement, it is no doubt the feeling I must occasionally have or I would surely abandon the entire process altogether.
Acedia and Me
by Colleen Taylor, Duval, SK, Canada
I recently picked up a new book by Kathleen Norris: Acedia and Me: a marriage, monks, and a writer’s life. She gives tremendous, contemporary insight into this long-lost word, acedia, linking it to both sloth and work-a-holism, differentiating it from depression (acedia is a temptation, depression is a disease), reflecting on its place in her own life and the lives of many others, and suggesting antidotes. Only 3 chapters in (and several websites browsed), I’m enthralled and convicted. Highly recommend it.
The War of Art
by Wayne Leidenfrost, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Once upon a time we met. When not working as an artist I am also a photographer with The Province newspaper (no, I don’t expect you to remember me!). You and Toni Onley have always been a good standard to say, “Yes, you can make a living as an artist.” Your high profile only contributes to this. Your letters are wonderful, inspiring, and sometimes a wake-up call. Being creative is a wonderful gift. And sometimes a curse. Your thoughts on “managing” it make me think.
Having just read your piece on laziness, I feel I can offer something. I have two jobs, and yet often feel I am lazy! So, I offer you a wonderful book to read — The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It is funny, brilliant, and full of good ideas to keep the motor running.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Alex Nodopaka who wrote, “Except for depression it is all meditation. I know. Capablanca knew. It’s not laziness to think one move ahead in chess as long as it is the best move of all. And for that it takes years of practice. One brush stroke, one line at a time.”
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