“Strategic patience,” is popular jargon these days. It’s the strategy of letting time take care of at least part of the process. It precludes running off willy-nilly in a knee-jerk reaction — a reaction that often does more harm than good. Artists should at least consider the system.
Half-finished paintings left deserted and grumbling in studio corners are often busy mending themselves. Pulled into the light, they re-boot the artist’s neural pathways. Solutions are often clearer, easier and less painful than originally thought. “All things come round to him who will but wait.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
You might imagine yourself as a big corporation. Big corporations regularly stop for bouts of strategic planning where they ask themselves questions like, “What do we do?” “For whom do we do it?” and “How do we excel?” These inquiries often result in better plans and future successes.
Artists need to pause and ask, “What am I doing?” “Who am I doing it for?” “What am I good at?” and “What do I need to work on?”
As you work on your art, you need to be thinking ahead. In other words, you take workmanlike actions that are setups for what is to come later. As you delay the gratification of the fun parts, patience is required. You may also need to wait to see what your work suggests. Just as in a game of chess, early minor moves prepare the way for later major ones. This is perhaps a more deliberate way of working than you might be used to — particularly if you’re a spontaneous, intuitive painter who works fast in the hope that things will work out. “Hope,” said Brian Tracy, “is not a strategy.”
Looking around among my limited number of acquaintances, I feel many artists need to shuck off the popular romance of inspiration and acting on the spur of the moment. They need, among other things, strategic patience toward making better decisions. The result will be higher quality work.
PS: “Many of our failures in life and art come about because of the lack of strategy. This is the facility which is needed to produce better than average results.” (P. Papadopoulos)
Esoterica: Strategic patience also applies to the business side of art. Getting work out of the studio and into galleries is basic to our business. What puzzles me is how some artists expect instant action from their dealers. I knew one guy who, as a young man, routinely sent a painting to a dealer and waited until it was sold before starting another. This is an example of the wrong kind of patience. When his paintings began to take a year to sell he had already forgotten how to paint. Artists need to think of galleries as places to store their productivity. When you do this, you’ll find yourself simply wallowing in joyous creativity. Get a million dollars worth of strategically placed art in storage, and you can go where you want and do what you like. This is a strategy you can eat.
The cruel truth?
by Judy A. Crowe, Spring, TX, USA
I needed this today. Feeling really like, “What am I doing this for?” My daughter was over on Sunday and she pointed to 2 unfinished paintings in the studio and said, “Wow, Mom, you are getting better.” Well, the funny (or not so funny) thing is that those were two older paintings that I was just trying to either cure or kill! At any rate, I can look back over the years and see that I have improved, but I still get so frustrated some days like I said before. I have been, in the past, too impatient and ‘hopeful’ and have been deliberately trying to slow down and think more about what I’m doing. Thanks for the reminder. It’s not over.
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The wisdom of going it alone
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
As I’ve progressed as an artist I’ve found I rely less on camaraderie from other artists regarding my work. I’ve also noticed that I have fewer artist friends or persons to take and give advice on my work. I’ve come to learn that I am the only one who can make a judgment on what and how to paint. There comes a time when you alone can determine your own path. More importantly, the advice of other artists may hinder your progress. Understand, I still socialize with artists but our conversations are not about my work in particular, but artwork in general. I have learned to rely on myself. Mistakes will be made, but I learn from mistakes and this is a better way to learn. With this attitude, patience becomes an asset. I don’t rush to judgment to get a new work out quickly. It’s a delicate balance between subjectivity and objectivity.
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The 80/20 rule
by John Barsness, Bozeman, MT, USA
Thank you for your excellent thoughts on strategic patience. Especially intriguing (and very good advice) was the conclusion in Esoterica about storing a million dollars of art in strategically placed galleries — which triggered a question. In many different endeavors I have found the retail sales “80-20” rule to hold true. In a nutshell: 80% of revenue comes from 20% of stock and 20% of revenue from the other 80% — and it is absolutely necessary to have the 80%, for customer choice, in order to sell the top 20%. My question is: have you noticed if the “80-20” rule also applies to gallery sales?
(RG note) Thanks, John. I’ve noticed the need to have a range of work in each gallery. Large paintings on display help to sell smaller ones. And vice versa. Selection and choice are very important, I think, and while consistency is also important, I like to seed my deliveries with “mavericks.” Further, poor paintings do not help to sell your better ones. Recently, I tried putting some poor ones down the garburator. Unpleasant choking sound and a plumber visit.
Right track confirmed
by Sheree Rensel, St. Petersburg, FL, USA
I just read your “Strategic Patience” letter. It is so funny because my early morning Facebook update said, “This morning I jumped out of bed and put on my combat helmet. This is WAR. Right now, I am writing a BUSINESS PLAN.” As I started writing the PLAN, I realized it was making me think about the same things you speak of in your letter. “Artists need to pause and ask, ‘What am I doing?’ ‘Who am I doing it for?’ ‘What am I good at?’ and ‘What do I need to work on?’ Thank you for writing this letter. It confirms… I am on the right track.
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by Sally De Fazio, Watertown, MA, USA
Part of your useful interpretation of the “Strategic patience” involves a concept introduced to me by Robert M. Pirsig in his 1974 bestseller, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Pirsig, with reference to motorcycle repair, used the term “gumption trap,” and I am amused that this term, which was a life-changer for me, now has its own Wikipedia entry. A gumption trap is an event, or series of events, that cause you to lose patience and enthusiasm for a project. If you persist, guided by the old maxim, “Finish what you start,” your bollixed up project, be it a painting or repair job that is in the process of going wrong, will go from bad to worse. Steam starts to come out of your ears and a sense of urgency overtakes good reason. Parts of your motorcycle break off in your hand and nuts and bolts roll into inaccessible spots. You lay down a big blob of some un-liftable pigment on your watercolor painting.
The breakthrough for me when I read about gumption traps was two related realizations: first, that at a certain point, the best thing to do when working through a problem was to STOP. Just plain stop, and put the project aside until you could again look at it in the face with optimism; second, that there was nothing morally reprehensible about starting a second project (or third, or fourth…) before the first one was finished.
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Patience in preparation
by Kay Christopher, TX, USA
Your letter reminded me of what I learned as a professional speaker. People new to the profession often want to just “speak from the heart” without a lot of forethought, preparation and practice. It is the very highly skilled, seasoned, practiced speaker who gives the audience a sense that the speaker is absolutely effortlessly captivating the mind and heart of those in the audience. The master speaker makes it look so easy that anyone could do it. But it is not easy. It takes asking those same questions you wrote about and more. And it takes “strategic patience” — endless hours of work to make it flow like that. I guess that is true of the mastery of any art form.
by Leilani Squire, North Hollywood, CA, USA
I like to think of strategic patience as perpetual habit. In other words, I don’t wait for inspiration. I set my paper and pencils on my desk before I go to bed, so they are waiting for me in the morning when I awake. I’m a writer and I write. That’s what I do. I write. Whether it’s good writing or bad writing, I write. Whether I feel like it or not, I write.
pastel painting 14 x 14 inches
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 Dr. Edward Berkeley of Portland, OR, USA, who wrote, “In medicine there is a term similar to your “strategic patience,” when things sometimes get messy. It’s “masterly inactivity.” People fuss in a Brownian commotion during an emergency rather than stop, assess and avoid doing something in a rush.”
And also Lori Worby of Dadeville, AL, USA, who wrote, “I find your letters thoughtful, helpful and real. You speak to me as if you know my innermost thoughts. I liked the way you asked the questions… What am I good at? Etc… Your questions led me to three other questions. Where am I going with this? When will I become proficient? Why is this important to me? My second question to myself can frustrate me because I have so much to learn and want all the knowledge now! I believe I have the patience and I am not usually in a hurry to complete a painting but I come up with another question… Am I finished? It is good to hear I am not alone with unfinished work. I think unconsciously we can work on a painting so that when we pick it up again later we can SEE where to go or not! Anyways it is just really nice to hear you as my teacher of thoughts and encouragement.”
And also Michael Fantuz who wrote, “Wow! Great advice regarding approach to gallery inventory and “storing of productivity.” I never thought of it like that… it’s already had a positive effect on my thinking. Thank you.”
And also Kelly Medford, who wrote, “‘Hope is not a strategy’ really made me laugh! (maybe the laugh of recognition?”
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