In praise of days


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Nancy Hall of Sandy Hook, Manitoba wrote, “As an artist, mother, farmhand, two-dog owner and a writer, I would sure welcome some organizational tips! I’m curious how you pack all you do into your life.”

Kitchen, 1991–1996 Beads, plaster, wood and found objects 96 × 132 × 168 inches by Liza Lou (b. 1969)

Kitchen, 1991–1996
Beads, plaster, wood and found objects
96 × 132 × 168 inches
by Liza Lou (b. 1969)

Thanks, Nancy. Early one morning when I was a very small kid, I was standing on some rocks at the beach below where we lived. The water was flat calm and grey to the horizon. I remember thinking what a remarkable thing a day is. I wasn’t thinking about a “special” day, I was thinking about an ordinary day — a day you could do things in. As I grew older I came to realize that days are golden units by which our lives are measured. As a self-anointed self-manager I realized that if I were going to get anywhere, I needed to bring good habits, joy and a certain amount of sacrifice to my days. By the time I was in my teens, I had figured out that habits were holy — I saw in habits the key to an independent creative life:

Kitchen (detail), 1991-1996Beads, plaster, wood and found objects by Liza Lou

Kitchen (detail), 1991-1996
Beads, plaster, wood and found objects
by Liza Lou

Work doggedly, one thing after the other.
Begin work early, finish many things each day.
Work on what comes to hand, what demands attention.
Have rough plans — work them daily.
Rest from the work — look at the water.

Regarding joy, Winston Churchill said, “It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.” I observed that all kinds of people worked at jobs that were distasteful to them. I didn’t want to be like that. Besides, I was struck with a peculiar disorder — I couldn’t concentrate on dull jobs. I was really lousy at everything except those things I wanted to do. I needed to have work that was some sort of automatic or semi-automatic joy. I wanted to be most often in “the joy mode.” I figured my work habits would take me there. By my mid-twenties I had discovered that work is not work when the work is loved. I had fallen in love with art.

Kitchen (detail) 1991-1996 Beads, by Liza Lou

Kitchen (detail), 1991-1996
Beads, plaster, wood and found objects
by Liza Lou

Regarding sacrifice, early on I found that my days were not long enough. I had to be more efficient in my use of the time allotted, and I was prepared to make sacrifices. It was okay to cut back on the time taken socializing, commuting and eating. One must not, I thought, sacrifice sleep, exercise, contemplation, love, family or dog activity.

Best regards,


PS: “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.” (Mary Jean Irion)

Esoterica: To be fair, a supportive partner and studio assistants go a long way toward fooling people into thinking that one is organizationally competent. Helpmates are above angels. The telephone and the computer, on the other hand, present special problems. I save some outgoing calls for the car — and actually look forward to making them on a relatively safe, hands-free (Bluetooth) system. A studio computer frees up, speeds up, and actualizes an artist. Around here, Tuesdays and Fridays are particularly full because there are so many Inbox friends. As I’m older, and perhaps more mature, this universal socializing is hard to resist. I’m eating better too.

Kitchen (detail) 1991 - 1996 Beads by Liza Lou

Kitchen (detail), 1991 – 1996
Beads, plaster, wood and found objects
by Liza Lou

This letter was originally published as “In praise of days” on September 12, 2006.

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“It’s important that art, especially visual art, defends itself without anyone there talking about it.” (Liza Lou)




  1. I can’t imagine working at a job that is/was distasteful to me. It has just never happened. I have always ‘worked’ but as I tell people, my ‘geriatric’ work now is mostly ‘play’ doing art and flower gardening. And I seriously don’t give too much attention to mañana. I also don’t ‘cut back on the time taken socializing, eating, contemplating, loving, and sleeping’. It is amazing what one can accomplish while sleeping!!! Lordy, how I adore this stage of my life, where my biggest worry might be if my pacemaker battery will outlive me!!

    • Lucky you! Most jobs have downsides built into them, and the trick is to balance good and bad so one is at least satisfied. When i worked (for a long time) at one these jobs I set my own standards and goals — tried to make it MY job as much as possible and to do my best at it. To reach for the balance was character-building. Most of us work within constraints. To do so is not less honourable than “not” working at a dream job.

  2. Thank you for this letter. Fitting things into a day is much easier when you are ‘retired’. I like to learn something new every day. So I keep a piano and French language study as side hussles. I also like to nibble away at gardening or cleaning. Then there’s a major goal or two, like a painting or a shopping trip. (Oh, and domestic duties like caring for hubby!) And social media fills the gaps. And this is all possible because I’m lucky with health.

  3. Thank you for this perfect post! In some ways, the pandemic has been a blessing for me in that it allowed me to reevaluate my entire life. I had lost my full time position as a digital marketing professional and was then able to throw myself into my studio full time. Sink or swim doing what I love. It’s been wonderful! And in reflection, I realized that so much precious time was spent just like you said, commuting (driving 2 hours per day), working full time – really giving all of best to a plastic world, only to come home to the people I love and give them the mere husk of who I was. Such a backwards place, the corporate world. I’ve realized that most precious resource on this planet is time. Thank you for all you do! I so much look forward to reading your newsletter!

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