Recently, Ed Kissane of Wantagh, New York wrote, “I’m constantly fighting a flood of paper that comes into my life. I have a bedroom and a studio and I try to keep the areas clear but it grows every day like a giant amoeba. I try to downsize but I’m losing. The piles of paper diminish my time at the easel. (Magazines, book reviews, etc.) There is always something to read and once again the creative moments lose out. Any suggestions?”
Thanks, Ed. Whenever I hear this one I think “avoidance system.” I once knew a painter who subscribed to all the magazines, including ones in foreign languages he didn’t understand. His wholesale subscriptions kept him easel-free for several decades. One day he thought he might paint, but it was too late. That night he subscribed to the big bundle in the sky.
For self-employed artists, desire needs to trump distraction. Even regular cheques in the mail shouldn’t hinder an artist from his self-appointed rounds.
There’s something else as well. Too many art magazines may be bad for you. It’s great to keep informed of the latest trends in New York, London and Paris, but what about the trending of your own creativity? Too much awareness of what’s out there can give an artist a dose of, “What’s the use? If everybody else is so wonderful, what chance is there for little old me?”
How does one act against these common self-destructive tendencies? Taking into account that personal progress may have something to do with available talent or ego-drive, here are a few ideas:
Begin work before you’re fully awake.
Name and claim your own creative processes.
Fall in love with your daily work habits.
Take time for creative novelty and exploration.
Teach yourself the arts of multitask and multi-track.
Alternate energetic activity with relaxation and calm.
Live in the work of your own making, not that of others.
Pencil in projects and set the unconscious mind turning.
Have your magazines delivered somewhere else.
The story of individual progress is largely one of moving from the business of being entertained to the business of entertaining yourself. Blessed are those whose main entertainment is their work.
PS: “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” (Henry James)
Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from Yu Yuan (Garden of Peace and Comfort) in Shanghai, China. Koi circle among the yellow and white lotus as a rhododendron drops petals, forming a miniature fleet that moves slowly away on the stillness of the pond. A green heron waits for my thoughts from a nearby rocky ledge, and I’m remembering a kiosk just outside the dragon wall hawking magazines and newspapers printed in Mandarin and Cantonese. Alone in this inner fragrance, I’m considering the nature of passion.
Step into the 21st century
by Pesach Ben Levi, Fayetteville, NY, USA
My suggestion is to step into the 21st century and get yourself an e-reader tablet. Change all of yoursubscriptions to digital. Throw out all the paper magazines and book reviews. There are two major benefits: First, it will help remove clutter and (and barriers) to your work. And second, it is a lot easier emotionally to ‘delete’ a digital issue than to physically throw out one in your hand!
“There is always something to read…” Of course! There are over 328,000 new books published in the US (UN 2010 estimate, Wikipedia). I have realized that if I manage to read a book a week, and live 20 more years (I’m in my sixties), then I only have about 1000 more books left to me. So I try to make them ‘worth it.’ Are all those magazines and book reviews ‘worth it’ to you?
A dealer of stuff
by Lynn Walker, Wichita Falls, TX, USA
Once, a most admired artist sent me a postcard with the admonition to “Beware of Stuff” but, being contrary by nature, I have instead become a dealer of “Stuff” and often wonder, as I wander, about the relative value of things… things are not encouraging for the unproven older working class stiff who has always been an artist dead or alive… regular cheques in the mail?… no don’t think that would prove a hindrance… but of course I am not speaking from experience.
One thing at a time
by Susan Cushing, Viroqua, WI, USA
I sincerely disagree with the points about learning to multitask and sending the magazines to another address. In another time multitasking would be considered a form of insanity. The ideal of being focused, clear and able to find one’s own creative voice cannot happen when a plethora of information is demanding attention every moment of every day.
Sending the paper to another address keeps the energetic connection pulling one back: “I have to go get that mail,” “I have to read that huge pile of magazines that are now in that other mailbox,” etc. Putting them at a distance but still owning them is pretending to be free of the investment.
Do one thing at a time. Breathe. That is the way out of the paper mess and all the other twisty places the current culture gets us into.
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Regular studio hours
by Cecelia Cox, Chattanooga, TN, USA
It’s not only magazines, but the Internet, which can be a deadly distraction. I’m treading that fine line (not always successfully) of trying to keep informed on what other artists are doing so that I can learn from and be inspired by their work, and a bad case of, “If everybody else is so wonderful, what chance is there for little old me?” as you so accurately termed it.
I’ve found that a routine is important. Regular studio hours. And as an introvert, I have to have that time alone to paint. I used to paint with others on a regular basis and, fortunately, several of them were quite wonderful artists who were very giving of their knowledge. There came a time when, to create my own true work, time alone in the studio (and lots of it) to “name and claim my own creative process” was what I had to do, to go to that next level.
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Lazy slob at heart
by Catherine Stock, France
I subscribe to the notion that the more you do, the more you do. A few years back in New York, I filled in for an art director on maternal leave, a full-time job, illustrated seven books, and took both French and Italian classes (with homework) once a week each. Now I am living full time in the French countryside with nothing to do but paint, and it’s just amazing how much time I spent pottering in the garden, shopping, cooking, reading, taking the dogs for walks, etc. I thought work would be pouring off my easel but it’s not. I have lots of excuses, but suspect that perhaps like water eventually finding it’s true level, I am discovering that I am just a lazy slob at heart.
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Donating to the library
by Jean Kiegerl, Merritt, BC, Canada
I love art magazines too, but I found a way to keep them from taking all my time and shelf space — and evensave money by not impulsively buying single issues at full cover price. I made my art magazine addiction into a community project. I donate multi-year subscriptions (average of $100/year for five subscriptions) to the local public library via the local community arts council. This year we have two more magazines in the collection thanks to two excellent art galleries in the region.
Everybody wins! I get to select the magazines and get a charitable donation receipt for income tax. The community arts council promotes the project at its events and can add it to their credentials on grant applications. The public library budget barely covers general interest magazines, so they get good current art resources. Local artists here have easy access to even the most expensive art magazines to enrich our practice and maybe our clients broaden their artistic interests to match. The arts council is considering adding performing arts magazines to the project next. It is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to reach and enrich the community.
I still get to read the magazines but without constant temptation in front of me. Bonus – the library not only keeps track of them when they are borrowed, but stores them and dusts them too!
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Multitasking improves outcome
by Kate Jackson, Merced, CA, USA
When I’m not distracted by computer, household and outside obligations and projects, I still do sometimes paint as part of a multitasking day. Since I began using alcohol inks with other inks on drum heads, I found the multitasking actually improves my outcome since I don’t OVERpaint… I actually allow things to blend, dry and set, them come back to them and add what’s needed instead of play play play, oops, overdone! This piece is done on two bass drum heads given me by the music store… “Do you think you could do something on these?” Giant Sunflower is actually done on two heads, one behind the other! It was so much fun, and felt so creative. I’ve done a few more on other sizes as well.
by Lynda Bass, Cambria, CA, USA
I loved this newsfeed. It may not be magazines for me, but it’s shopping for art supplies, or reading all the manufacturers newsletters on how to use the myriad of mediums and tricks and magic bullets out there available to us curious procrastinators.
Well, it’s all so true. Just Paint… is written over my desk and my work table, and whenever I feel a shopping trip coming on to get that latest tool to create “texture” I look at that sign… Sometimes it works, and sometimes the urge is just too strong and I relent and go buy that new fabulous video I just saw on painting the Rakuku beach or whatever it’s called over there in New Zealand.
Glad to see I’m not the only one.
Struggle and ecstacy
by Olinda Everett, Matlock, Derbyshire, UK
Every work is the first. I guess I engage in a continuous experimentation — I am a potter — and therefore the chances of being satisfied with the results are low. I am squeamish about ‘clever tricks’ and so the physical sense of regret is constantly part of my work. It takes a long time to go from concept to fired piece and while that is going on, I am learning and improving not just my techniques but my ability to SEE. Therefore it feels like struggle and ecstasy follow each other remorselessly.
watercolour painting by Anne Duke, Needles, CA, USA
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 June Rose of Bowling Green, KY, USA, who wrote, “Having lived in Hong Kong for many years, I have always been under the impression that everything printed in China is printed in Standard Beijing characters, but that readers throughout China and beyond China will read those publications and pronounce those characters according to their favored regional language.”
And also Michele Caplan of Westchester, NY, USA, who wrote, “My hands and feet have turned Orange. I don’t have jaundice according to my doctor and my blood tests. Any idea what chemical from my paint might have caused this? I often paint barefoot. Any help would be greatly appreciated.”
(RG note) Thanks, Michele. Your problem probably has nothing to do with your art materials or your barefoot-painting habit. I spoke with a Chinese herbalist and it’s much more likely that you are taking in too much beta-Carotene via carrots, yams, sweet potatoes or pumpkins. I sincerely suggest you get a second opinion on this matter as orange feet and hands are not currently something that I cover.
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