Like a lot of us I get quite a few calls from beginning artists in need of advice. Sometimes it starts off with a technical question that leads to larger, more motivational questions. Yesterday a neighbour lady, Carmen, phoned and wanted “general, overall mentoring” leading to “guidance on what she wanted to do.” She had painted part of a painting that very morning and wondered if she could bring it over. I gave my usual: “Paint a hundred more and then bring them over.”
This letter is dedicated to the Carmens of this world. There’s a singular habit you need to develop. You need to build a regular productive rhythm that explores your own doing. It’s going to be a bit like chain-smoking — you use the last one to light up the next. But unlike a production line where all the products are the same, this conveyor belt will only exist in order to show development, variation, possibilities. Here are a few keys to a possible adventure in “one to another”:
Start up your line every day at the same hour.
Temporarily renounce other joys of your life.
Let no one and no thing interrupt your flow.
Supplement your imagination with books.
Let motifs and ideas grow out of themselves.
Keep asking yourself “what could be?”
Keep fresh — do not linger or anguish.
Be delusional — be full of “moxie” and “mojo.”
Let your processes become your governors.
Become particular about your tools and systems.
Take joy and optimism to your growing mastery.
Be always prepared to change your mind.
Fall in love with the actual doing.
Use your intuition to assess your progress.
Accumulate your winners and toss your losers.
If you do this every day, Carmen, you will find out whether you’re cut out for it or not. If you’re not, that’s fine too — you’ll be able to get on with another side of your life. Give it a try. It’s not like it’s a lifetime commitment. And if you do get to a hundred please give me a call and come on over.
PS: “He was a worker whose only desire was to penetrate with all his forces into the humble and difficult significance of his tools. Therein lay a certain renunciation of Life, but in just this renunciation lay his triumph, for Life entered into his work.” (Rainer Maria Rilke on Rodin)
Esoterica: Of all the motivational material that comes and goes for creators, a single insight is above diamonds — it is that our currency is what we are able to make. Ideas, words, knowledge and dreams are of course important, but more than anything we need to see ourselves as simple “thing-makers.”
This letter was originally published as “One to another” on September 17, 2004.
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“You must always work.” (Auguste Rodin)