My dad, 91 and still painting, used to be in the investment business. He gave me some good advice: “Pay yourself first.” What he meant was to set aside the first part of your income to some sort of savings plan. After a while this habit led to the pleasantness of watching investments compound and grow.
Having this backup results in a reduction of pressure. Similarly, in the painting business I have always preferred to pay myself first — that is do the work that pleases me the most. There’s nothing worse than having to produce what are essentially commissions to someone else’s standards that infringes on our own pure vision. An older artist told me recently that he can’t afford to stop, play or be blocked. That’s what happens. What I’m hearing from many artists is the satisfaction they receive from following their own true voices. Staying up into the wee hours is no problem when you love what you do. Doing what you love is easier when the pressure is off.
Here’s a pressure idea that comes from within and supercedes the outsiders. It’s worth gold. It’s called “Relaxed Pressure Scheduling.” I call it RPS for short. It’s sort of relaxed, sort of pressure, sort of scheduling. Sounds wishy-washy, but we artists don’t like to be told what to do. It’s also subject to sweet distraction and whim — but it speeds you around your studio as if you were possessed. In the long run it’s a lot more fun — and you might find it more lucrative, too.
PS: “I remember going to the Matisse show and seeing how Matisse had taken one of his own paintings, worked from it and transformed it, and that had led on to the next one and the next.” (Anthony Caro)
Esoterica: Never too late: Among other things, Dad makes what he calls “oysterart.” He paints miniature scenes, flowers and faces on the inside of oyster shells, gilds the outside, and mounts them on beach wood.
This letter was originally published as “Pressures” on August 4, 2000.
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