When I was a teenager I read a book by a hugely successful baseball player. He hadn’t always been successful, though. Early in his career, reporters referred to him as “poky” and “slow off the mark.” While he was talented and capable, he was on his way to the bush leagues when he saw the light. He got the idea that if he just started jumping around and looking active, he might build enthusiasm and proficiency. Reporters started saying he had “ants in his pants,” calling him “Fireball,” etc. Fact is, his game improved when he started jumping around.
Recent research at the University of Central Florida in Orlando indicates that children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) may appear to be distracted by all that jumping and wiggling, but it’s really an effective method of keeping themselves focused. Teachers are now being advised to let the ADHD kids fiddle. While only about 3 to 5 percent of kids have ADHD, lots of others have it to a mild degree and many creative adults have it in spades.
While I’m a guy who mostly sits at an easel, I’ve always recognized the value of standing. Standing gives a painter more kinetic opportunity. Body movement and physical action become part of the creative act. At the same time, even an easily-propelled rolling chair can add to the art energy.
Artists’ studios may be sanctuaries of soft music and prevailing peace, but artists themselves need to be whirling dervishes within them. A little calmness is a dangerous thing. Elbows out and flailing, back and forth, here and there, the active artist keeps the adrenalin flowing, the ideas evolving and the work falling from the easel. Curiously, the artist who jumps around is less likely to fiddle with his work.
Teddy Roosevelt, late of the Rough Riders, advocated “the active life.” He had the idea that mankind needed sheer movement to thrive and evolve. Not just a matter of jumping on the horse and riding off in all directions; human action also needed self direction and self management.
In their observation of remote cultures, anthropologists often find wild action and compulsive movement to be the precursors of skills and proficiency. It stands to reason this might work in our relatively sedentary culture. We may get better at what we do when we keep moving.
PS: “Everything is in motion. Everything flows. Everything is vibrating.” (Dr. Wayne Dyer) “Learning is movement from moment to moment.” (Jiddu Krishnamurti) “It is difficult to steer a parked car, so get moving.” (Henrietta Mears)
Esoterica: The physicality of plein-air work is a good example. Getting the equipment out of the car, dragging it to the location, setting up and fighting the elements are all part of the action. In a way, every new set-up is out of the comfort zone. I’ve found that simply moving around magnifies the sense of event and stimulates quicker thinking. Last summer in the Rockies, we spied a young woman who was jogging in a tight circle around her easel. “It clears the brain,” she told us later by the fire. “We have to keep moving. Otherwise we’re slugs.”
This letter was originally published as “Keep moving” on April 21, 2009.
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I wish each and every one of you well during this global health crisis and encourage you to flatten the curve by staying at home with your creative materials. I hope our Painter’s Keys community can be a source of friendship and creative inspiration during this time and always.
In friendship, Sara
“It whirls, it whirls.” (Alexander Calder)
A 3 day Non-Objective Painting Workshop with Cat Tesla and Julie Schumer
in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Explore and develop your personal voice in the inspirational environment of Santa Fe. We will explore composition, color, value and how to work on multiples at the same time. Find your own signature with different mark making tools and learn how your marks enliven your paintings. Learn how to harmonize any palette, move from analysis paralysis to painting success and to trust your artistic choices. This intensive 3 day workshop is perfect for the beginning artist who has some experience using acrylic paint.
August 14, 15, and 16
9 am to 4:30 pm
$950 Bring a friend and save $50 each
I am a landscape painter exposing the mystery in an ordinary day.