The sweet joy of lists

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Dear Artist,

Folks are always sending me lists. A born-again list-lover, I admit, I’m a list junkie. In a way, a list is like a chorus of microbes — they may make you itch with the need to get cracking. I’m guilty of inflicting a few on others.

One time a guy wrote and said he thrived in art by not paying any attention to lists, particularly mine. He has stopped writing to me.

Yesterday, Faith Puleston of Herdecke, Germany, sent me a list. This one (slightly condensed/amended) is the work of the British author Jeanette Winterson. Like a lot of lists, (the Ten Commandments come to mind) her list has ten items:

1. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.

2. Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write/paint/draw/create something else. Do not stop altogether.

3. Love what you do.

4. Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.

5. Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.

6. Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.

7. Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda.

8. Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

9. Trust your creativity.

10. Enjoy your work!

Fair enough. Number 10 and number 3 sound about the same. But it’s all good stuff, don’t you think? I notice as I’m getting older my lists are getting shorter. One of my own favorites, a totally golden one, first granted by me to the creative world on May 16, 2003, goes:

1. Go to your room.

2. Work regular hours.

3. Finish lots of stuff.

4. Fall in love with process.

Now I’m thinking I can go even shorter. There’s something to be said for brevity. This one’s short-listed for the world’s shortest list. If you think about it, you might just conclude it’s the best list yet:

1. Thou shalt make up thine own list.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Adam/had ’em.” (Said to be the briefest poem in the English language. Attributed to Strickland Gillilan, about 1900, the title of which is “Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes.”)

Esoterica: One of my all-time favorite lists is Hungarian/Canadian/British author Stephen Vizinczey’s “The Writer’s Ten Commandments.” He’s given permission to change the word “write” to “paint” — or to other words for that matter.

1. Thou shalt not drink, smoke or take drugs.

2. Thou shalt not have expensive habits.

3. Thou shalt dream and write and dream and rewrite.

4. Thou shalt not be vain.

5. Thou shalt not be modest.

6. Thou shalt think continually of those who are truly great.

7. Thou shalt not let a day pass without reading something great.

8. Thou shalt not worship London/New York/Paris.

9. Thou shalt write to please thyself.

10. Thou shalt be hard to please.



Voted best one word list
by Steve, WA, USA


1. Paint

(RG note) A Tsunami of lists hit this computer on Tuesday morning. Thank you all. There were lists too long, and lists with a lot of personal laundry hanging out. There were medium sized lists, and there were some very short ones. We include some of our favorites. The titles are ours. Some other great ideas, and lists, appear in the live comments below.



Lists…don’t make ’em
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA


Therapy linocut by Warren Criswell

“Therapy”
linocut by Warren Criswell

You should have stopped with this one:

1. Go to your room.

Some philosopher or comedian once said, “Most of the world’s problems would go away if people would just stay in their rooms.” P.S. 1. Thou shalt not make lists.





The good life list
by Jacki Prisk, Edgerton, WI, USA


1. Get up in the morning.

2. Eat a good breakfast.

3. Exercise.

4. Do the thing that makes your heart sing.

5. With the time left over, clean the toilets.



The better life list
by Nick Lastman


Get up.

Work.

Go to bank.

Go to bed

There is 1 comment for The better life list by Nick Lastman

From: Rose — Mar 12, 2010

I did that for 32 years and it was great !!!! But then I woke up… and now I paint and eat and sleep and travel and, and, and, and life is great in a different way… Please try it!!!





The practical life list
by Dave Chapple Cook, Cork, Ireland


1. Don’t let yourself eat in the morning until you’ve done something.

2. You won’t eat anyway unless you repeat 1 regularly.

There are 2 comments for The practical life list by Dave Chapple Cook

From: R.H. — Mar 12, 2010

I like it and will try it.Thank you. Have been a couch potato

From: john — Mar 16, 2010

enjoyment is in the brush of the artist. so do have a niceday and tomorrow and thereafter,have a wonderful life as we know life is like a roll of toilet paper. the closer it gets to the end the faster it goes





The short life list
by Jean Fournier, San Francisco, CA, USA


Sea Peace 1 oil painting by Jean Fournier

“Sea Peace 1”
oil painting by Jean Fournier

1. May I spend the next 24 hours living fully.

2. May I engage in creative activity as though it is the last day of my life.







There is 1 comment for The short life list by Jean Fournier

From: Anonymous — Mar 12, 2010

nice painting! Janet Morgan





The evolved life list
by Donna Mason


1) Show up

2) Pay attention

3) Tell the truth

4) Don’t be attached to the outcome

There is 1 comment for The evolved life list by Donna Mason

From: Barbara Reid — Mar 17, 2010

That’s my Artist’s Statement!





The ‘get out of jail free’ short list
by Victoria


Untitled original painting by Victoria

Untitled
original painting by Victoria

1. Remember there is gesso. (“I ache for the return of dysfunction. Dysfunction had its problems, but at least dysfunction has function in its title.”)











There are 2 comments for The ‘get out of jail free’ short list by Victoria

From: susan canavarro — Mar 11, 2010

I love it!

From: Patricia Carmichael — Mar 12, 2010

This is my favorite list. Not so much about the dysfunction…just gesso!!!:):) Gesso has allowed me to be “wild and crazy” because if I don’t like it, I just gesso over it and stat anew!





Lists hard to follow
by Lynn Arbor, Pleasant Ridge, MI, USA


Convergence oil painting by Lynn Arbor

“Convergence”
oil painting by Lynn Arbor

I think the final word is the final words: (note edits)

1. Thou shalt paint to please thyself. I think this is extremely hard to do.

2. Thou shalt be hard to please. This is easy but can defeat you.







The spiritual list
by Yvonne Rosetti


Silent List’en:

1. moving into sacred

2. moving out of scared

3. moving out of scar(r)ed

4. embracing earth

5. embracing heart

6. keeping what’s dear

7. read

8. begin being

9. be silent and listen



The ‘wonderful life’ type of list
by Katherine Lakeman, Calgary, AB, Canada


Here are my 10 commandments/beliefs. Who needs commandments? I prefer suggestions, or axioms, or affirmations.

I shall be childlike to wonder

I shall be generous to all

I shall be creative in problem solving

I shall love the artist’s struggle

I shall be happy to be alive

I shall be truthful when it counts

I shall be wise when wisdom is called for

I shall be funny when levity is required

I shall be kind to those less fortunate

I shall live long and free.



Lists as a method of processing ideas
by Max Elliott, Banff, AB, Canada


F is for Fish mixed-media illustration by Max Elliott

“F is for Fish”
mixed-media illustration
by Max Elliott

As a fellow list junkie, I can appreciate the value in organizing one’s thoughts and activities this way. My observation amongst my artist peers is that most of us have far more ideas and desires than time…. I find my list making has become a process of editing ideas. There is generally a larger project or two to tackle (at the moment planning the launch of a new book, and starting book #2); these are ideas that stuck over time. Satellite ideas that relate to the larger project are next on the priority list. Unrelated ideas are further down the list, and will make their way up as they survive the editing process. I have found as an artist, designer, business woman, friend, lover of the outdoors, and member of a vibrant community that prioritizing is essential to staying sane and productive.



The ‘Ivy Lee’ type of list
by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK


The American “Father of Public Relations” Ivy Lee (1887-1939) advised Walter Chrysler when his company was failing once before. He arranged for all the managers in Chrysler to list, every day, their top priorities and work on each task in that order until that job was completed. Any task then not done at the end of the day was not a priority and should not be carried on to the next day’s list. ‘That way’ said Lee ‘you will not be cluttered up with work not finished and causing stress and problems. My wife and I followed Ivy Lee’s advice to the letter. Every day my wife and I do an ‘Ivy Lee’ list even if it only has

1. Be creative do writing

2. Buy cornflakes and

3. Walk the dog on it.

So, artists, writers and all creative people – think about Lee’s advice. Reduce that awful feeling everyday of panic; simply make an Ivy Lee list and stick to it whenever you can. And get on with your pleasure in creative work.



Taking out the personal implications
by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA


I like a lot of these, but have to say I’ve got a problem with #4. There’s a world of difference between “you’re no good” (ouch) and “the work you’re doing is no good.” In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman points out the three “P”s of pessimism. The problem at hand is felt to be Permanent, Pervasive and Personal. Interrupt that three-headed error anywhere and things look a lot better. If you’re “no good” at what you’re doing, you can get better. If you’re “no good,” well, you’re no good. Hopeless. Defeated. Gah-bage. Let’s be confident enough in our own “good”ness to reject something that’s not working out, without generalizing it to who we are.

There is 1 comment for Taking out the personal implications by Bobbo Goldberg

From: Susan Shore — Mar 13, 2010

Well said! We are nothing without hope.





Fear of lists
by Jeri Lynn Ing, Red Deer, AB, Canada


Mountview Pathways Abstraction No.3 original painting by Jeri Lynn Ing

“Mountview Pathways Abstraction No.3”
original painting by Jeri Lynn Ing

I fear lists. The mention of the word LIST really does bring a jolt of fear to my heart. Why? I think it is because my brain does not work in sequence. I scramble about with my thoughts and when approached to make a list I crumble. Just like a batter with not enough liquid to help it bind and flow- that is my mind when asked to make a list.

I really do not want to be this way – I know that lists work and that they make things easier but I still feel a blank space in mind when asked to offer my meager list. Words like “Do you need anything from the grocery store?” bring me nothing but “No, I am good.”

There is good news regarding lists for me- I can follow a list. Just present it to me and bingo I am off. I rather enjoy the ticking of the list, the accomplishment that it brings, and the sense of closure when it is complete. Rather like producing a good painting. I guess you could say that I am a follower of good list makers.

I only wish my mind could do the job and make my own elusive list. My life would be a breeze. It would take me half the time to do the things I do and I could easily ask for help by offering a list of things that need to be done. I could be more successful. Maybe. But would I be happier?

P.S. This is coming from a girl who is known to hang wallpaper without a plumb line and without matching the patterns….

There are 3 comments for Fear of lists by Jeri Lynn Ing

From: Gillian — Mar 12, 2010

A few years back I was introduced to Mind Mapping tapes by Michael J. Gelb. For a creative mind it teaches a great way to get ideas down without resorting to a linear list, allowing ideas to flow and once on paper, sorting into a priority. Who knows what is available now…..but might be interesting for you to look into.

From: Terry Rempel-Mroz — Mar 13, 2010

I have been using mindmaps for about 6 years now – for work and for home. There are free software versions out there, but the best is software (and the one I use) is purchased – it is MindJet MindManager. You can downlopad a 30 day trial for free. I don’t think linearly – what creative person does? – and mindmaps are a picroial way to see the big picture. They’re liberating and amazingly useful for planning trips, exhibits, everything!

From: Jeri Lynn Ing — Mar 19, 2010

Thanks for the helpful hints, I will look into the mind mapping. It is great to have such a wealth of like minded people to draw from, this is a great community of artists.





Further thoughts on lists
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany


How about

1. Do it!

Let’s have an end to all those procrastinations, all those time-consuming jobs that have the knack of pushing what’s vital aside, and all those musings that have no place in your life unless you fight for the space they need. Short lists also come in useful for that kind of clean-up.

But maybe I do need a second list to express what I also tend to advise myself to do when (seriously) challenged:

1. Sleep on it!

Which reminds me of a gardening programme (gardeners’ question time – still running half a century later) my parents used to listen to when I was a kid. A very countrified expert with a Cornish accent (rolled “r”s and dragged vowels being dominant features) usually gave this advice, whatever the gardeners asked: “The answer’s in the soil!” Next list imminent:

1. Dig your patch (metaphorically speaking, of course).

There is 1 comment for Further thoughts on lists by Faith Puleston

From: Faith — Mar 12, 2010

I forgot to mention the garden expert’s name. It was Percy Thrower, but we called him Fred Flinger, But as he said: The answer’s in the soil!

 



  World of Art Featured artist Brad Michael Moore, Dallas, TX, USA  
'Lost Dream by Brad Michael Moore, Dallas, TX, USA

Lost Dream

digital painting by
Brad Michael Moore, Dallas, TX, USA



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Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The sweet joy of lists

   
From: John Ferrie — Mar 08, 2010

Dear Robert, Good Lord, I guess the older you get the list of 1000 things to do before you die gets shorter. Making lists is just navel gazing for obsessive compulsives. I actually use to keep a day finder. Leather bound thing that was supposably “my life”. Phone numbers, bills, receipts, endless lists of things I had to see and do, doodles, a pen and even coupons for A and W hamburgers (Im rolling my eyes as I write this). The events of the day would be check off, scratched out or hi-lighted. If I actually did everything on my list, I would deem that day a success! Sadly, I always seemed to not get something done, was obsessively late and was forever searching for my forgotten and beloved book. I couldn’t do or commit to anything until I checked the book. All the list making was all quite ridiculous. Then I turned 40. I cared less about not only what people thought of me, but also my waste size and did I have it all together. I seem to have let go of it all, all that “organization”. I have a routine and I am happy. I have a simpler life, I am never late. Anything really crucial I seem to remember. If I have appointments, like the dentist, he seems to send me a reminder card. My phone rings far less and I just enjoy my life much more. The painting I do is never under a dead line and I enjoy my work more than ever. Then again, that is just me. John Ferrie

From: Dan Cooper — Mar 09, 2010

Shortest poem (by Charles Ghigna) titled “I” “Why?” Scholars argue that “Fleas” (Adam/had ’em.) was first written by Paul Engle, Ogden Nash or Shel Silverstein. I grew up believing it was Ogden Nash. But some claim “On the Antiquity of Microbes” is by Strickland Gillilan. And then there is Muhammad Ali’s untitled poem delivered during a Harvard graduation speech, “Me. Wheee!”

From: Debbie — Mar 09, 2010

Amen to the list……….. I love the list, ever changing with accomplishments along the way.

From: kate Beetle — Mar 09, 2010

Well, Gene Kelly once told a younger dancer in rehearsal “Do it better”. I think that is a list unto itself. (it also pre-supposes that the other dancer knew what “better” was. So I suppose we could say: 1. Understand “better”. 2. Do it. Referring back to a previous post, the late great Kate Hepburn said “Please yourself. Then at least you’re sure somebody’s pleased”. Add your own yankee drawl.

From: Rene — Mar 09, 2010

It seems like almost everyone has a list or a number of different lists. Some people that have collected lists have them published. A search on the web comes up with over 54,000 books related to lists. Now that is a lot of lists.

From: Darla — Mar 09, 2010

I’ve found lists to be helpful when my ADD mind can’t think what to do next. But the making of lists is poison to a procrastinator like me. It’s seductive to sit down and write everything you should be getting done under the illusion that making a list is progress by itself. So my list is, 1: “Do it!”

From: Judi — Mar 09, 2010
From: Jackie Knott — Mar 09, 2010

Your writer’s #8 could be the beginning and end of every artist’s “list.” Thereafter, the rest will take care of themselves. The only thing lists are good for is pre-travel checklists and the grocery store. If you have to remind yourself continually of those positive things …. geez.

From: Ann — Mar 09, 2010

Yeah I love lists! I make mine in the evening ready for an early start the next day. A tiny example: 1. Hoover and tidy 2. Change sheets and wash them 3. Clean the windows What I invariably do the next morning is: 1. Get up, have coffee 2. Peep round studio door just to check on current progress 3. Decide to just finish off that bit… 4. 4 hours later, go get more coffe, see list. Decide might as well ignore it and continue. The list jobs aren’t vital and it wouldn’t do to lose the flow now it’s flowing…!

From: Louise Christy — Mar 09, 2010

Heard this list from a friend. It works for me in pretty much all situations: 1) Show up 2) Do your best

From: Sharon Cory — Mar 09, 2010

I’m in the chronic list-maker’s club. In fact, lists are my last tenuous grasp on sanity. I posted this short one in my Gallery when I opened a few years ago: 1. Be nice. 2. Do the right thing. 3. Give it some punch.

From: Frankie Robinson. — Mar 09, 2010

Your letters make me realize there are hundreds like me out there, striving. Have never done anything I really like – feel so humble when I go round exhibits. But must tell you that having you pop up in my computer gives me the feeling of really conversing with you – and solving problems! Thank you!

From: Lois Jones — Mar 09, 2010

I’ve read Faith’s list for today. I don’t agree with #5. A painting may be a poor one, but I always ask myself, “Can this painting be saved?” Like all of us there is something redeemable to be salvaged from the original creation. The work can be put aside and pulled out later to be resurrected into something better. The painting my begin as a 2′ x 3′ work and end up a bookmark or becoming a part of the bigger picture as a piece of a collage; it may need cutting and pruning away of the undesirable, however you choose to use what is good, it is still a work to be looked at, reflected upon and enjoyed.

From: Sharen Baker — Mar 09, 2010

One of my favorite lists is my PACKING LIST. Whenever I plan a trip, I pull up a past list that I have stored in MY DOCUMENTS. Then I edit it according to destination, weather, and other circumstances of the trip. It makes packing a whole lot easier. That said, I am in my fourth day of NOT making a DAILY TO DO LIST. I am doing this as a spiritual practice. It has resulted in a bit of anxiety, but so far, I have not forgotten or neglected anything that needed to be done. When the week is up, I will be right back to my DAILY TO DO LIST!

From: Mary Pyche — Mar 09, 2010

I’m wondering what one should do if #4 applies? What’s next? 4. Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.

From: Jo Vander Woude — Mar 09, 2010

Lists make my life simpler and I love them. When I read your letter I immediately started to form a list incorporating brevity entitled Why We Should Have Lists and came up with the following: 1) Accountability (I will admit I have added things to a list that are already accomplished just for the satisfaction of checking it off as finished.) Sioux Falls, SD

From: Alana Cullen — Mar 09, 2010

I date my watercolors on the back and keep the bad ones to remind me that I did get better and how long it took. The paintings that I damaged trying to repair bad choices, I shredded- a fitting end. I am fond of writing lists when I have so much to do that I am wasting time trying to envision an action plan. Write it down, number in order of importance and scratch off as you eliminate the most important.

From: Wendy Strauch-Nelson, Ph.D. — Mar 09, 2010

When I am especially stressed, I find I make a list of the lists I need to make. (I got list making from my father and have since passed it on to one of my two offspring.)

From: oliver — Mar 09, 2010

On Vizinczey #6 I understand you can’t worship London/ New York/ Paris or perhaps to paraphrase the “salon” or even the art establishment, but I believe that Renoir said something like, we ultimately need the Salon. (I’ll note that he and the other Impressionists in their later years largely became the Salon.) Not worshiping I understand, but also following Renoir, I believe you must respect and work with the Salon. Which then makes Vizinczey #9 (work to please thyself) and Vizinczey #10 work (be hard to please), but depending on what pleases you, you may have more work and expense (those expensive habits) to market your work – while not being vein and not modest.

From: Bryan Dunleavy — Mar 10, 2010

Frankly I am in favour of shorter lists. 10 is too long, even for highly intelligent creatives like ourselves. Three should cover it: 1. Work regularly. 2. Do the best work you can. 3. Be true to yourself. or if you want to reduce the list to one, do what David Hockney did when he started out, and paint these four large letters on the wall – WORK

From: R Hassell — Mar 10, 2010

1. Get up 2. Start writing your list for today 3. Begin working on your list 4. Get distracted 5. Do something else

From: P C Richards — Mar 10, 2010

My favorite is John Ruskin’s list, which consisted of one word engraved on a sign on his desk: “Today” Pcrichards23@aol.com

From: “Dustbuster” — Mar 10, 2010

1 Get up 2 Read Robert’s writing 3 Go to studio 4 Go back to bed

From: Dorenda — Mar 10, 2010
From: Kathi Crosby — Mar 11, 2010

I agree with you about the list making. At times, they can be quite helpful and other times the shortest list may do… refer to: Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor[1]), is the meta-theoretical principle that “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” and the conclusion thereof, that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. my list 1. Listen to my heart.

From: Linda — Mar 11, 2010

1 Take boys to pre-dawn hockey 2 Take cat to vet 3 Take boys to school 4 Groceries 5 Tires rotated on Toyota 10.30 6 Dentist 1.15 7 Pick up boys 8 Boys to violin 9 Pick up cat 4 pm 10 Cook dinner 11 Check homework (Science project) 12 Get George to look at towel racks online 13 Paint

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Mar 12, 2010

the watercolor painters list: 1. coffee on the left 2. water on the right

From: Jan Milner Cole — Mar 12, 2010

Thank you for your artistic inspiration. Lists tho, while helping to discipline our daily lives and help us to prioritise they don’t help with artist expression.

From: Susan Hotard — Mar 12, 2010

Quit reading lists. Paint.

From: Tinker — Mar 12, 2010

Lose the lists. It’s all about being creative.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Mar 12, 2010

Some of this sounds like folks need lists just to get up in the morning. Really? Beyond working every single day in my studio- I am an events creator. That can be a house/studio party or a gallery installation/show opening. Only when it comes down to the last few weeks before an event do I start to make lists. Well before that the clock in my head reminds me to stay focused on creating as alarms will go off as I get closer to my deadline. The day of the event- I was finished yesterday. Only the few last minute things that need to get taken care of at the last minute are on a list. I’ve occasionally tried to work/interact with people who never get their shit together until it’s too late. Once I see that behavior pattern I never work with them again. EVER.

From: Dianne Middleton — Mar 12, 2010

I agree with Susan – Paint & NO excuses !!

From: Bill Hibberd — Mar 12, 2010

Mary Pyche, Look at your work and ask yourself how can you improve it. What are the strengths and weaknesses. Ignore other peoples advice and consider what is important to you. Then you can search the web and bookstores for technical advice. Overcome one weakness at a time and give it your best. Figure out your strengths and play to them. FWIW

From: Suzy Melors — Mar 12, 2010

1 Do something. 2 Don’t humor bores or boors. 3 Let others worry about their own expectations. 4 Don’t be constrained by history, instructions, or lists. 5 Show up when there are no lines.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Mar 13, 2010

I find that lists are useful for tasks, but not really for life. I have lists (grocery lists, errand lists, chore lists, BD reminders, etc), but those morph regularly, depending on what needs doing when, how empty my larder is, when I’m going to town, etc. I adapt them readily, as needed. They are just reminders. Life done by lists does not appeal to me. Those get into the realm of values and the priorities of life. If those needs lists, then someone is in trouble. I paint everyday as long as nothing gets in the way. Some days I can’t paint. That’s ok. It’s not a permanent condition. I finished a series (at least I think it is finished) just before your post about doing 100 little quickies in a month or so. That seemed to meet a need of mine. So I am approximately half-way. It took me a while to remember to be four years old, but I think I finally caught on. And your observation about starting tight and progressively loosening up looks to be on the mark. I am having fun, and finding out some things at the same time. Thanks.

From: Wendy Christensen — Mar 13, 2010

1 look around. 2 see what needs doing. 3 do it. 4 repeat.

From: Janet Badger — Mar 14, 2010

The saddest list I just read has “Paint” last on the list. That’s putting one’s Self last.

From: Alar Jurma — Mar 14, 2010

I`d like to add my own list to this already rich collection : 1. Stop thinking (unless absolutely necessary) 2. Cancel cable 3. With the time left over,create lots of silence in yourself

From: Rick Rotante — Mar 14, 2010

The main problem with lists and listmakers is they don’t follow through or the list is more important than the doing whats on your list. Making a list for lists sake is time ill spent. “Just do it” is the familiar slogan. Lots to be said there.

From: Albert Beck — Mar 15, 2010

Tiger Woods made a list and said “just do it.”

From: Reginald Filler — Mar 21, 2010

I agreed with Linda’s List… Red Deer Dentist

   
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