The divided self

Dear Artist, A couple of years ago a subscriber wrote, “You have really helped me with my procrastination. I apologize for taking so long to let you know.” Insight like this and a lot of other great items are in the Zingers section at the back of my most recent book. They’re also here. The game theorist and strategist Thomas C. Schelling suggested procrastination is not a personal weakness. It’s more a function of the selves within ourselves who are actually at war with one another. For example, your long-term self says you’re going to paint 100 paintings and get yourself a decent gallery. Next day your short-term self cuts in and has you alphabetizing everything in the spice cupboard or cleaning the lake. It’s not you, it’s your “divided self” that runs you off track and amok. Interestingly, the divided self also gives powerful creative input. Putting things off may not be all that bad. Getting a second opinion is certainly part of our game. A work of art well sat on may turn out better than one completed to a hasty schedule. While experts identify university professors as the top procrastinators, artists cannot be far behind. But I’m putting off getting to the point. This letter is about “the thief of time,” and how to beat him. Going by my own example, I’m an authority on procrastination. Recent studies tell us we need to get to know all our different selves. We need to make a list. FYI, here’s mine: Responsible Bob. Loves-painting Bob. Hates-business Bob. Daydreaming Bob. Irresponsible Bob. Strategic Bob. Fooling-around Bob. Birdwatching Bob. Imposter Bob. Loves-writing Bob. Old-car Bob. Analytical-guru Bob. Doesn’t-like-to-be-taken-advantage-of Bob. Helpful, loving Bob. Philatelic Bob. Lazy Bob. Leave-me-alone Bob. Knowing these Bobs helps Bob see when one Bob is caving in to another Bob or pushing another Bob around. Now here’s the crunch: The smarter you are, the more likely you’ll be to put things off. For smart folks, procrastination may be the norm. “It could very well be the most basic human impulse,” says psychologist George Ainslie, the inventor of “hyperbolic discounting,” the human tendency to plan practically anything as long as it’s sometime well in the future and not now. By taking active steps right now, artists may flourish and stand out simply by beating the norm. Best regards, Robert PS: “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” (Henry Ford) Esoterica: The Greeks called it akrasia — “Doing something against one’s better judgment.” The condition is of great interest and puzzlement to motivators because of its irrationality. Surely we should all be getting positive things done in a steady, rational manner. I’ve gone blue in the face telling artists to “steadily chip away at your statue.” But chipping isn’t always steady. There’s sweeping up to do. And birdwatching. And cleaning the lake.   The problem of passion by Michael A. Spronck, Bogart, GA, USA  

“Lonesome Pine”
acrylic painting
by Michael A. Spronck

I would add that all studies show that most people choose immediate, even small rewards over long-term or even greater rewards. This is true in all fields of endeavor. Artists have an additional problem that causes procrastination: Most lack real passion. They would “like” to be a great painter, but are unwilling to pay the price required. Bernie Cornfield, a financier, titled his book Do You Sincerely Want to Be Rich?And some wag said to musicians years ago, “How do you get to Carnegie? Practice, practice, practice.”       Deadline delivers for procrastinator by Jill Brooks, Manitoba, Canada  

“Painting the blues”
watercolour painting
by Jill Brooks

How do we reconcile and embrace our many selves? How many strategies for delay can we creatively come up with? There is a wonderful award-winning short film called Getting Started by Winnipeg (Canada) animator Richard Condie which is a hilarious take on the phenomenon. In this case it’s a composer who just can’t seem to get down to business. Could it be that animators employ the same vocabulary of delaying techniques as the rest of us? Must be. On a personal level, I was fortunate in having a large commission last year with a deadline. Having a deadline sure worked for me!   There are 3 comments for Deadline delivers for procrastinator by Jill Brooks
From: linda mallery — Nov 01, 2010

I am in awe of your watercolor! So lovely.

From: D — Nov 01, 2010

Your art is stunning. Thank you for sharing it.

From: Jan Ross — Nov 02, 2010

Remarkable painting! Thanks for sharing it!

  How long can you do it? by Mark Sharp, Invermere, BC, Canada  

“Lake Lillian”
mixed media
by Mark Sharp

I painted in the kitchen for the last 15 years. I worked in a setting with three young boys running around, my wife cooking and yakking, people dropping by and under only 4 small spot lights. Somehow I managed to stay in a quiet space and paint solid for two or three hours without stepping away from the canvas, even though outside of my zone I knew there was a lot of action and commotion going on around me. I have recently built a separate building for my studio /gallery on my property and it is well set up for work of all sizes. It’s mainly glass so it has tons of natural light, beautiful views and loads of quiet. But here’s the thing, I am not having trouble finding my groove on the canvas but I can’t stand at the easel for very long without fidgeting and wanting to keep taking breaks. I seem only to be able to focus for 30 minutes to an hour. Is it a matter of the motivation that is generated from the piece you are working on that keeps you glued to the easel for hours or is it the environment in which one paints even if it’s a good one? How long can you paint without having to get up and walk around? (RG note) Thanks, Mark. Barring severe ADHD, most of us have a finite time available for focus and concentration. A large number of stops and reboots may actually be good for your work. I generally note that the first few minutes of a return bout are most effective. But long term can be good too. Train yourself to get into automatic or “flow” mode where the work is taking care of itself. You may be thinking too much. There are 4 comments for How long can you do it? by Mark Sharp
From: K Neice — Nov 01, 2010

Hi, my take on this is that your brain became accustomed to functioning with noise and loved ones around you. Over a prolonged period of time, you created successfully in that environment, although probably telling yourself that one day you’d get a ‘proper studio’ and then you’d be really set up like a proper painter. But everything is relative. You obviously create perfectly with the balance of noise and loved ones around you; that perfect studio might be perfect for someone else but obviously it just may not be really YOU. Personally, if I were you, and the kitchen works best, go back to it and don’t force yourself to create where it just isn’t really flowing. We’re all different. Great art doesn’t neccessarily mean it must be made in the ‘perfect’ little room with bags of light and silence… some people have been known to create masterpieces in the middle of dirty, noisy Parisian streets… :)

From: Sheila Minifie — Nov 02, 2010

Yes, John Tavener the amazing British composer, composed in the kitchen surrounded by the natural chaos of his family – 2 or 3 young children with his wife …You’d never guess by his music.

From: Brigitte Nowak — Nov 02, 2010

For years, I worked at a fairly stressful, fulltime job, then came home, did chores, helped kids with homework, etc., then painted from 9 or 10 p.m. till midnight (during this time, I also had several solo shows, exhibited across North America, etc.). All the while, I was dreaming of retirement and being able to work in daylight, painting at the beginning of the day, rather than at the end, the luxury of spending eight hours a day at the easel… now, I still work at night, and find that it remains my favourite time at my easel, though I do paint during the day as well. It is possible that the myriad distractions encountered while painting in the kitchen helped Mark Sharp to focus intently on his painting. Without the extraneous noise in his new studio, achieving that concentration is more difficult. Perhaps he should try having a radio on in the background; if music doesn’t provide enough stimulation, perhaps CBC or NPR might do the trick.

From: Paul Taylor — Nov 02, 2010

Mark, I hear what you are saying. I was in a 9 x 12 room in my house. I would hear the vacuum cleaner, TV and phones ringing. And, I could get out of bed, walk across the hall and work in the mornings. I built a 20 x 10 studio to “get away from it all” and find myself “hanging around” the interior of the home. One thing I deal with is feeling guilty that I am isolating myself from the family for a short time. It’s a great new place to work. Orderly, fresh paint, all my work hanging at my grasp, and yet, I do not walk to the new space every chance I get. I really thought I’d go hide out there. Seems though, once I set some time aside and know what direction I want to go in painting wise, I can block out the fact that ono one is about. I also ask for undisturbed time. Unless my mom is on her death bed, or the house is on fire, don’t call me…well, maybe to eat dinner.

  Creative avoidance in ‘ShouldLand’ by Jo Byriel, Soldier, OH, USA   I never procrastinate, but, I freely admit to going into what I call creative avoidance! I can creatively clean that lake — and build a dock while avoiding the one 15-minute ugly or less tempestuous project that lives in “ShouldLand”! So next time anyone accuses you of procrastinating, free yourself to let go and just creatively avoid. It’s rather like my all-too-often claim “I never get lost.” I just find interesting ways of getting to the same point. That circuitous trip may inspire me, or someday I may hear myself say, “I recognize this place or road. I’ve been here before.” There is 1 comment for Creative avoidance in ‘ShouldLand’ by Jo Byriel
From: David Blanchard — Nov 01, 2010

I’m never lost, but I’m not always found.

  Dealing with the many of me by Susan Knight Smith, Powder Springs, GA, USA  

“Yellow Vineyards”
original painting
by Susan Knight Smith

My many selves form cliques and gang up against each other. There’s Ms. Bossy, the executive me, who likes to control everyone else. Self-righteous Me and Spiritual Me support her by telling her she knows God’s Will so knows what’s best for everyone. There’s Good Little Girl who needs Ms. Bossy to love her so tries hard to obey her but often fails because Creative Me, who loves new things, loves playing, and hates schedules, teams up discreetly with Passive-Aggressive me (who wears a Cooperative Me disguise and never admits his real agenda is rebellion) to convince her to quietly thwart that hateful Ms. Bossy by finding something more interesting and colorful or “important” to do than what’s on Bossy’s schedule. ADD me, while a close friend to Creative Me, is also a friend of all and, being easily distracted, can switch sides when the occasion calls for it, the balance needs adjusting, or the competitive stress gets too great. And, of course, when something Ms. Bossy is demanding really does need to be done, the outside world intervenes with that demon saint, Deadline, who works magic by bringing all my selves to attention and banishing confusion and procrastination. There are 2 comments for Dealing with the many of me by Susan Knight Smith
From: Anonymous — Nov 02, 2010

I can relate! I will add Ms. Efficiency – don’t waste time, just do”it” even when I do not consciously know what ‘it’ is, and Ms. Spendthrift -stop wasting materials!… her fun side of course, is she LOVES art supplies on sale!

From: Mary Lewis — Nov 04, 2010


  Fatal Faith by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany  

original painting
by Faith Puleston

Faithless Faith. Faithful Faith (most obvious and most fatal), fretting Faith (after procrastination has done the damage), fortuitous Faith (when I get away with it), flamboyant Faith (in remembrance of operatic days), fruitful Faith (on days when I actually get something done), fractious Faith (when I don’t get my own way), flattering Faith (when it’s the only way forward???) fabulating Faith (my creative self), furious Faith (less often these days). If I’d been named Hermione I’d probably be a different kind of procrastinator.         Report from the procrastination zone by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA  

oil painting
by Dorenda Watson

I adore procrastination! There, I’ve said it! I have a feeling that procrastination (for some) is just a tool that aids creativity and a path (albeit a “side-street”) to the process of art. I have found that after a good bout of procrastination I do my best work. I am filled with ideas… I am ready to paint… I am rested and revived. The art brain needs time to conceive fresh ideas just like the body must rest to perform at the highest level possible. The artist is not meant to live on his or her work alone… you must have some down-time to allow for whatever you believe keeps you going in this adventure to enter into the process. I am off for a night-hike now… looking for owls… procrastinating… and loving every minute of it! (aka: Painter Dorenda, Teacher Dorenda, Hiking Dorenda, Birder Dorenda, Quit-Bustin’-My-Bubble Dorenda, etc :) There are 2 comments for Report from the procrastination zone by Dorenda Watson
From: Peter Neilsen — Nov 01, 2010

Your raccoon is just great!

From: B. J. — Nov 02, 2010

A perfectly wonderful painting!

  Laughs here and wisdom too by Richard Gady, Lakewood, CO, USA  

mixed media
by Richard Gady

I enjoyed the remarks about your letters immensely. My favorite part was showing your dog in front of the laptop. Now we know who the “real” Bob is. I had the most fun snickering and laughing as I read many of the comments. I am a woodworker and teacher of artistic woodwork (marquetry) and have been correlating many of the principles you write about to this field. If it weren’t for my ceaseless procrastination I might apply many of these tips and actually get some work done and sold, and like one of the funny comments, “I need to get some money around here!” Thanks for your refreshing letters, and your honesty and humor about the artist’s life. I need to apply what Henry Ford said about building a reputation.   There is 1 comment for Laughs here and wisdom too. by Richard Gady
From: Susan Kellogg — Nov 02, 2010

I find what I call “Rogue imagery” in a lot of painting; both in well known works and in my own work, it can be sometimes disquieting, sometimes amusing and, sometimes, even profound. In your painting of the glass on the left, will you allow me to ask if am I wrong in seeing a wonderfully drunken grin?”

  Lucky you? by Jenny Baillie, Rossland, BC, Canada  

“Gimli on my mind”
original painting
by Jenny Baillie

How have you managed to be such a prolific painter since ‘whenever’? I recall from an earlier letter you said, quote: “I have always earned my living from painting,” (I remember thinking ‘lucky you’) With a family to support a home to look after, how could you put in 60 hours a week painting time brush in hand? I can only assume that you had a family inheritance, a wife or partner with a healthy salary – and kids that stayed out of your way. Have you ever had to mow the lawn, put out the garbage, cook the dinner, do the laundry or fix things? (you will get the drift).Thank you for all the Painters Keys Letters from which I glean many a helpful hint on life and painting… however, oft times it becomes somewhat overbearing to read that you really do have all the answers. (RG note) Thanks, Jenny. Yes, never had a regular job. No family inheritance. Home-attending wife Carol with no salary and no independent income. In the early years there was some financial pressure. I was blessed with Obsessive Compulsive Painting Disorder. Three terrific kids (David, Sara and James) in and out of the studio all the time. Gardeners mow the lawn. I put out garbage (no problem), hopefully not from the studio. Fix things occasionally — most fixing around here is done by high-priced specialists. Definitely don’t have all the answers, but I do have a bit of curiosity, and I do know that “starving artist” is a fine myth and lots of other painters will testify to this. Right now I’m gonna carve a pumpkin with Beckett my grandson.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The divided self

From: Richard Smith — Oct 28, 2010

Well there’s one for the synchronicity books. Bob writes about the various styles of procrastination while I’m engaging in my own version of painterly putting-off. Glazes. Thin glazes. Really, really, thin glazes. So thin as to be almost inconsequential. Ah the fear of actually laying down some thick paint that actually says something. But instead I’ll thin out another dollop of paint to a window like clarity and lay it on by waving my paintbrush at the canvas from a distance of not closer than 12 feet. [four meters metric]But at least I can claim I am doing something, not that I fool myself. We all know it’s just another way of procrastinating the inevitable need to actually PAINT!

From: Marvin Humphrey — Oct 28, 2010

My short-term self rules. There are so many things that call out to be done. My persistent nagging thought is: “Am I doing the absolute top priority activity at this very moment?

From: Jolene Monheim — Oct 28, 2010
From: Tara Juneau — Oct 28, 2010

Love this article! To help out smart procrastination I list everything I need and want to do in a day. As it gets done, it get crossed out and if it isn’t crossed out by the end of the day it gets moved to the next day…. However, not giving in to the urge to procrastinate seems to be an on going battle.

From: Dave C. — Oct 29, 2010

There is no one, and I mean no one, that is better at finding things to do rather than getting started on a project than I am. I am the master. If there is a 24×36 canvas sitting on the easel, ready to go, I will find myself reorganizing my bookshelves. I don’t have a lake, but I do have a pond. That needs constant cleaning. Now about that canvas on the easel. Oh that’s right, I need to read and respond to Bob’s letter.

From: Meagan R. — Oct 29, 2010

“It’s more a function of the selves within ourselves who are actually at war with one another.” RG letter Michael Kinsley, a former student of Schelling’s, summarizes Schelling’s Reorientation of Game Theory as follows: You’re standing at the edge of a cliff, chained by the ankle to someone else. You’ll be released, and one of you will get a large prize, as soon as the other gives in. How do you persuade the other guy to give in, when the only method at your disposal — threatening to push him off the cliff — would doom you both? Answer: You start dancing, closer and closer to the edge. That way, you don’t have to convince him that you would do something totally irrational: plunge him and yourself off the cliff. You just have to convince him that you are prepared to take a higher risk than he is of accidentally falling off the cliff. If you can do that, you win. Conservative vs. the Unconventional

From: Nancy Bell Scott — Oct 29, 2010

Great: smart = likely to put things off, and who doesn’t want to be smart? (Excuse my intended faulty logic!) No, I’m making good headway in avoiding spending time being overwhelmed by images on the Web, which must have had procrastination as a side benefit. Thanks for more insights on the historic procrastination phenomenon, Bob. That it is historic, per Ainslie, is comforting, but I won’t be getting too comfortable with it. And, thankfully, I cannot clean the Atlantic Ocean.

From: Claudia Lorenz — Oct 29, 2010

Happy news for procrasty artists though; the subconscious does not indulge, only the conscious mind seeks diversion and entertainment. Meaning that at least on some level, we are still working on projects even while consciously avoiding. The internal dissonance of course produces a lot of stress which you simply cannot procrastinate with… it’s here now, eating at your sanity.

From: Chris Cantu — Oct 29, 2010

How timely your letter on procrastination proved to be for me and a loved one. My son is struggling to finish his PhD in Law at Durham University in England. As we all know, writing the dissertation is never easy, and his various Procrastinating Personas have been wreaking havoc with the process, and discouragement sometimes sets in like a long spell of gray weather (why not, it’s England after all). I have forwarded your comments in hopes it will give him a much-needed boost. I love the way you always leaven your advice with a big pinch of humor (OK, sometimes it is sarcasm) and your advice has helped me as a painter, not so much technically but more so on a spiritual level. In my mind, you are a mixture of a wily old fox and the Philosopher Painter. I hope you continue to write for a very long time.

From: Lawrence Klepper — Oct 29, 2010

You missed my favorite quote. “I don’t know what apathy means, and I could care less.”

From: Diane Overmyer — Oct 29, 2010

The title of this letter really got my attention, because I have quite literally been divided, artistically speaking, for the past 4 1/2 years. I have been feeding my artistic inner being and draining my creative energies at the same time, by devoting time to developing and running a large art gallery and also continuing to build my own art career. I had a museum director tell me that my role as a gallery director was really shaping our region’s art community and that I should think about giving up my own art career, just as he had done years ago. I did seriously consider doing that, because running the gallery and helping so many other artists was extremely satisfying and gave me a wonderful sense of purpose and place. But ultimately my own art has won out. I am now in the process of closing my gallery, and even though this is a very bitter-sweet time, I can hardly wait to get to a point in my life when I can totally devote myself to pursuing my own art work! I know there will still be times that other demands will require my attention, but it will be good to have more freedom to at least schedule the timing of some of those activities and to be able to devote uninterrupted blocks of time to my work.

From: Ray Collomy — Oct 29, 2010

I’m Blanche’s husband. I read some of her mail because she has no self esteem as far as her painting and drawing ability so I try to convince her that she has some talent. When I read your letter saying Old Car Bob I had to send you this picture of my 1953 Ford I got last fall. I’ve been hoping she would do a work using it as a model. Yes, it is as nice an original old Ford as you probably will see around here. Anybody is welcome to use it as a model. Just contact Blanche at . At my age and with the cancer I’ve been fighting for 12 years The Ford is as exciting as a nude model to me.

From: Claudia Roulier — Oct 29, 2010

Wow you have a lot of Bob’s, do they take sides and fight amongst themselves???? I’m curious as to why IQ has anything to do with procrastination…..or maybe the conclusion of the psychologist that smart people procrastinate is in fact a way of patting himself on the back while justifying HIS procrastination…lol.

From: Carol — Oct 29, 2010

I have nothing profound to say about this latest newsletter. I just feel moved to say thank you for doing what you do. I laughed out loud at the intro, which is a wonderful way to start my day.

From: Mary — Oct 29, 2010

To avoid procrastinating, I’m not going to respond to this letter, except to say it is so true! I must get back to labeling my spices now!

From: Angela — Oct 29, 2010

I’m fairly good at procrastinating (I think). BUT, when a planned job doesn’t get off the ground right away (as planned), you are doing something else. If procrastinating is putting off a planned event, what do we call the unplanned job that takes it’s place? Now I don’t feel so bad about all my planned jobs not getting done right away because I’m so busy doing all the things that aren’t on my list. I’m confused. LOL

From: Joani — Oct 29, 2010

Comforting to know we are all so much alike. Thank you for your weekly letters — they are often the nudge I need. :O)

From: Joyce Cavanagh-Wood — Oct 29, 2010

And what about Airedale-loving Bob? A most worthy procrastination!

From: Divided Linda — Oct 29, 2010

Are we squandering out time or are we just weaving a richer fabric? That said I see that those who are making work, making progress, are possibly making a variety of blankets to be admired by the world, quality fabrics that warm our souls. There really is no one way unless you are absolutely purpose driven. We awaken and contribute, sometimes silently and sometimes out loud. Our work is important, it can be our contribution, and star gazing may give a wider view. Thanks generous Bob! ;)

From: Brian Fox — Oct 29, 2010

I have been receiving your twice-weekly letter for some time now, and I have to say they have been right on with where I am at lately. Its nice to know (as I am locked away in the studio day in and day out) I am not the only one with these mental wars going on, LOL!! Thanks! Very refreshing and insightful. This email is one more thing to do in my procrastination of my many deadlines…LOL!

From: Sharon Wolff — Oct 29, 2010

Thanks, Robert, for NOT putting this topic aside for another time … it was a fun read and I couldn’t agree with you more. Although I am not a professional artist, I am a professional gallery owner/business women and appreciate your wisdom, wit and insights. Now I have to go alphabetize the liquor bottles in my cabinet and sort some paperclips.

From: Wendy Shalen — Oct 29, 2010

I love your letters and find it fun to see you with your Airedale painting. I have Molly, my 6 year old Airedale, by my side daily. I would love some advice on how you are able to work next to your friend without having to chase squirrels, listen to him/her bark at all animals etc.?

From: Bill — Oct 29, 2010

Thank you for writing about all the stuff all of us artists think about all the time and never seem to get time to give wings to. Of course, I find some topics more relevant than others, but that just makes you all the more generous for providing the range of topics that you do. You have become an integral part of my life and I’m pleased to share it with you. It is good to know that I’m not alone in so many of my creative perambulations or, as some may have it, BS sessions.

From: Bill — Oct 29, 2010

OOPS! BTW, Bob, I wrote what I did in response to seeing the link of comments about your newsletter-rather than criticize, I wanted to state the fact that I do not take you for granted-not that I believe you should be nominated for sainthood, but just how good it is to have someone write about this weird aberration called art in such a down to earth, day to day manner.

From: doris — Oct 29, 2010

I loved the “Zingers” I am also a great procrastinator. Spent the morning reading..all art related, and head for the studio when I know I only have a limited time for real light. Am I out of bounds trying to explore too many avenues of art? I want to do it all. I really look forward to all of your letters and set aside a time in the evening to read and reread all of the comments. Keep up the great work..a dictionary is some time a very good thing as you do use words that boggle some of our minds.

From: Dorenda — Oct 29, 2010

I decided that my procrastination issue is just my art-brain catching up to my analytical brain…when they sync, I paint! :) Here is a pod-cast for all the procrastinators out there…you can listen to it while you are procrastinating ;)

From: Elihu Edelson — Oct 29, 2010

Attention deficit disorder is a terrible thing for an artist to have. The distractions exacerbate the procrastinations.

From: Jim W — Oct 29, 2010

Interesting title – The divided self – possibly its more than just playful procrastination, which can be an endearing quality that keeps us connected to all kinds of things. Here’s what passed through this cranium wall of mine; sanity and madness. Don’t you ever wonder just a little, where exactly that line is drawn that separates the two ? I was twigged and followed up and found the following of interest and so pass it forward. Creativity and Irrational Forces: Eccentric Artists and Mad Scientist “Observations and beliefs produced during mild depression are closer to ‘reality’ than those produced in ‘normal’ states of mind. That this naked confrontation with reality should be accompanied with such a large dose of pain supports T.S. Eliots’ observation that “human kind cannot bear much reality.” ” “Poet Anne Sexton explained how she used pain in her work: “I guess I mean that creative people must not avoid the pain that they get dealt…. Hurt must be examined like a plague.” An honest encounter with pain can result in healing and growth. The healing properties of art are widely acknowledged across many cultures. Creative people can use their personal pain to help others find wholeness. Clearly our existence as a human community would be diminished without the “genius” responsible for scientific breakthrough and for what we respond to as great musical, literary, and visual works of art. If this genius sometimes grows up in suffering, it seems that the pain of a few is of benefit to all of us. “One goes down into the well and nothing protects one from the assault of the truth,” – Virginia Woolf

From: Gerry Pariseau — Oct 30, 2010

Yup, I can identify. I have the cleanest lake in town!!! I have paintings that I have procrastinated on for 10-20 years. Glad I did, my procrastination had to do with my insecurity at trying certain things with paint, i.e. painting fur or a hand, etc. Now that I have had more experience, I can do it far more easily, however, I took the paintings out but have not yet finished them and that was 1 year ago!!! LOL Thank you though for letting me know I am not alone in this idiosyncrasy. Somehow, that is very comforting.

From: Michael S. — Oct 30, 2010

Procrastination: pro- (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow), and means “put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done” Is procrastination a habit of choice, or is it caused by a medical condition as was previously brought up by a fellow commenter? Impulse control, planning, and attention to detail is not what I would perceive as one of Robert Genn’s small suits – Procrastination has a following: fear of failure fear of the unknown fear of steps to be taken fear of the inability to follow through with a perfectly wonderful idea that is bigger than expect. Antidotes: Balance, intuition and success – gets the job done every time!

From: B J Adams — Oct 30, 2010

You have hit on a very enlightening description of many of us. While I find myself immediately paying bills and answering good friends E-mails, I find the dreamer/thinker in me does otherwise. I can plan an entire series complete with variations of color and theme, only in my head–and it is so complete I never have to do it. It would have been such a great series and it sold well, too. Not a total procrastinator, then, the other self returns to other creative activities that have been sitting around and need to be completed –some day, sooner than later for that next show. As you suggest, I need to get my divided self back on track. Washington DC

From: Judi Martinez — Oct 30, 2010

What a fantastic article! Not only have I discovered that I am supremely creative, I am intelligent, too! Although this reply should really be left to gel and possibly gather some dust (easily done with my housekeeping methods) it had better be off to you today. I have 103 selected e-mails that I MUST read—sometime in the future, and this article runs the risk of joining the others, thereby really proving your point.

From: Laura Brocklebank — Oct 30, 2010

Many years ago I attended a lecture you gave in Sidney British Columbia. At that time I did not know who you were, as I was from, and still am, Ontario. But, I did listen and pay attention, and now I do know who you are and I love your letters. They provide a lot of fodder for my brain on my morning walks. By the way, I like your dog – he/she is very stately, nothing like the Airedale I look after!

From: Phyllis Tarlow — Oct 30, 2010

I am often aware of the many parts of myself and watch with great interest when one of them overrides the other. It’s sometimes quite a struggle to get back on course with something I know needs to be done and yet there are other things I’d much rather be doing. As an artist who has two halves to my career–portraits and landscapes–the war is often between doing the many steps required to get a portrait commission going and the more spontaneous action of working on my oil landscapes. Financially, it’s not possible for me to turn away all portrait commissions, nor would I entirely want to, but, oh the lure of those landscapes, even when I know there’s a deadline to meet. What I find works for me sometimes is stopping what I’m doing and talking to myself about what’s making it so hard to get the work done. If I can make the atmosphere a little more fun, like remembering to put on music I really like to sing along with, that sometimes turns off the reluctance. Another helpful step is promising myself that when I do the next few steps needed to get several commissions going, I can break for a day or two of solid landscape painting as a reward. Sometimes, once I get over the hump of starting, I get into the painting or drawing for a portrait and all reluctance flies out the window.

From: Sandra Mell — Oct 30, 2010

Recently heard the following quote from Dr. Phil, which I thought was apt for this subject: “The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished.”

From: Reg Shewfelt — Oct 30, 2010

“There’s nothing to it but to do it.” (A.E. Beasley, 1986)

From: Sam S. — Oct 30, 2010

With all due respect Ms. Sandra, but me thinks Dr. Phil is trying to drum up business. Can you imagine the stress in trying to finish all the things you’ve started but never finished for the sake of inner peace? When would it ever end? — and then there’s the “nothing new gets started” syndrome because you’re too busy trying to finish up.

From: Mary T. — Oct 30, 2010

Jolene Monheim contributed a poem by Jeni Couzyn – House of Changes – which I found somewhat of a comfort.

From: Susan Sjoberg — Oct 30, 2010

I’ve always been a procrastinator. Sometimes when I have a really productive streak I think I’ve overcome it but then there I am again, fiddling around with aimless projects while the real work waits unfinished. However, I am beginning to suspect it serves a purpose. Because I am so disorganized I find I keep on day after day in my studio, trying to complete those endless lists and “catch up” from all my dithering. But what happens when I just take a day off and do nothing much? If I can allow myself such a luxury guilt-free I find such a day (or two) is followed with a period of focused productivity. So maybe that sense of unwillingness to buckle down is really the message I need a real break. I’m testing this tomorrow by being a real slug and doing nothing whatsoever!

From: Malcolm Macdonald — Oct 30, 2010
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Oct 30, 2010

Bob- you’re too nice. Probably why everybody mostly likes you. But for a PG rating I’m sure- you left out sexual Bob- cause that self is a huge part of all of us- and can’t be denied. Our creative energy is profoundly similar to sexual energy. (And no I don’t care how old you are.) I’ve got an outraged Bruce- and a tell-them-the-truth Bruce even though you know it will piss them off- as well as a kiss-my-ass Bruce. Hate me if you will- I don’t care. We are in a time of such great change that it is possible to do the personal work we all need to do- simply for our own sanity- in an insane world that still believes in war- and change our own personal paradigm by becoming an INTEGRATED SELF. First I integrated all my this-lifetime selves- both male and female- and then I found that as I worked further on and with the SELF- I started to integrate all my other-lifetime selves as well. And no- I’m not actually schizophrenic- but there’s a whole lotta folk in here… I’m about to let that self out- publicly- and we’ll see how that all goes! Letting work rest as needed is not a criminal act. When we ‘procrastinate’ we’re putting a negative spin on it. I’ve said this before- procrastination is really a going into resistance- at a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual level- and you have to heal and/or release and/or simply allow the resistance to dissipate in order to move through it. Learning to complete is essential to this process. My personal end result? I’ve got a lot of signed work. And a lot of work that is constructed but not finished. But it’s ready to go. And a lot of other work in progress. These are all very good things. Stop the wasting of time being an acceptable thing. And stop working when you need to.

From: Theresa Bayer — Oct 31, 2010

Great letter on procrastination–just now got around to reading it. I was going to read it away, but I decided to wait until I had put in some studio time instead.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 31, 2010

“Procrastinators are the painters of tomorrow.”

From: Anonymous with hat — Nov 01, 2010

I used to be a big procrastinator. That stopped abruptly after a friend of mine (younger than I) suddenly died. That event changed me profoundly. It’s as if a time waster switch got flipped off in my brain. I think it’s the fear of death that’s chasing after me. Memories of my procrastination are pleasant, as remembering that safety cocoon of oblivion when I felt invincible. I recently went to a craft store and bought bunch of craft materials which I know I will never have the time to use — felt great, like a kid, or like a therapy.

From: Camille LaRue Olsen — Nov 01, 2010

One of my favorites of yours ever. Thank you!

From: Karen R. Phinney — Nov 02, 2010

Procrastination is one hot topic! But I love the pictures of Bob painting at the boat yard. So much the gentleman in his little hotrod. And the ever present and patient pooch. He makes it look so effortless……for him, I suppose it is, he has done it for so long. I love the way he sketched in the darks and lights, as he describes……..will try that, too! (When I get around to it…:)

From: Susan S Graham — Nov 02, 2010

Glad to see you still have Airedales! Your Airedale was what made me pay attention to your work a long time ago! OOPS, the work was important, too! Love the photos of the two of you in your little red car. Susan Graham

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Nov 02, 2010

I’ve found that the best way for me to break out of procrastination is to put everything in my studio away. Brushes, palettes, paint, canvas. It drives me nuts until I can mess it up again and have two or three paintings going.

From: Jan Ross — Nov 02, 2010

I’ve read and found many of these comments insightful and amusing…however, there are SO many, I’m going to read them later…now I have to paint.

From: Susan Kellogg — Nov 02, 2010

One more thing. My father was a going to be a founding member of the Procrastinators’ Club, but he never got around to it. This was one of the best letters and exchanges I have read yet!

From: Judy Silver — Nov 02, 2010

As much as I enjoyed your letter, Robert, I really loved all the replies to it. Thanks everyone for aiding and abetting this procrastinator!

From: LA Colbeck — Nov 02, 2010

Check out this youtube video about “getting my stuff done.” Enjoy!

From: Rick Rotante — Nov 03, 2010

Robert, I don’t know if you read this far down but your boats picture is one of the best I’ve seen from you. All design elements are at work here and is lesson for all. Your color, pattern and execution are spot on with this one. I generally feel your work has been getting too “cookie cutter”; “fill in the squares” lately, but this picture gets my applause. Hoorah!

From: Carolynn Wagler — Nov 05, 2010

Dear Robert, I have really been enjoying your letters. The wisdom and especially the tips on how to ‘think’ about art are invaluable. But you won my heart when you started showing yourself painting plein aire with your dog..What a great art companion

From: Walker — Nov 06, 2010

Dear helpful/lazy Bob, I remember long ago reading a quote from Gertrude Stein that artists simply need more time than others to sit and stare at the wall and how reassuring I found it to know that it wasn’t just me but naval watching without constructive action does not an artwork make so it is, as you so aptly describe, a perpetual process of recycling our “selves” in the most beneficial way….(adjective mutually complicates the process exponentially and requires sorting out…this comment is for analytical bob) which is an art form unto itself. Thanks helpful bob for sharing.

From: Dorenda — Nov 09, 2010

I will now be calling procrastination “incubation” :) Thought this was a really good article and wanted to share: DEMYSTIFYING THE CREATIVE PROCESS “He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away” -Raymond Hull

From: Pam Flanders — Jan 24, 2011

As always your letters and the comments are worth saving (and/or savoring the anticipation of the next book!) Thanks!

     Featured Workshop: American Academy of Equine Art 102910_robert-genn American Academy of Equine Art The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa   102910_bob-mcpartlin

The Back Bay

acrylic painting by Bob McPartlin, BC, Canada

  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 Robert Johnson of San Miguel de Allende, Guanjuato, Mexico, who wrote, “Not only is it helpful to know all the clowns in our makeup, it’s also helpful to love all our clowns.” And also Cynthia Wick of The Berkshires, MS, USA, who wrote, “A dear painter friend emailed me, “I dare you to paint something you’ve always wanted to paint.” That stopped me procrastinating. Connecting with other artists who share the same ideas and help is huge.” And also Don Kruger who wrote, “The list of Zingers (remarks people have made about the Twice Weekly Letters) stroked with our pleadings and daubed in our foibles, may be your best work yet. Certainly, it’s the funniest.”