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.”
Jump on it
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
As a sculptor the work process is slower than for painters but the idea development is not. When I am running dry, after an exhibit or a longish period teaching without much studio time, I go home early in the evening, fix a good dinner with a fresh bottle of wine and a second in reserve. I put on some good lively music; jazz, Greek folk music, Balkan dances, get out the roll of brown paper and the thick pencils. I spread out the paper, let myself start to dance, drink more wine, dance and let myself draw and draw. Sure, most of it will be crap when seen the next day, but the jewels are that and I am loose again and rolling again. I do usually do this on nights when my wife is staying over at her father’s.
Plein air and ADHD
by Bonnie Butler, VA, USA
I had a personal revelation recently when I wrote a summary about my art — en plein air in pastel and oil — and described it thusly: Working en plein air dovetails with ADHD, because en plein air demands both decisiveness and quick action while encouraging a lack of focus and detail, all perfect for my right-brained inclinations. Painting en plein air there is no need to labor over the minutiae when color and value will capture mood and emotion efficiently.
Creative energy of the Universe
by J. Bruce Wilcox, Denver, CO, USA
Dear God In Heaven! May I never be so boring as to have nothing but soft music and prevailing peace as the only background for my art creation experience! My studio is on a street that handles emergency traffic several times a day — sirens and horns blaring! Certainly, I sit while doing certain aspects of what I’m doing — at a sewing machine or hand-stitching something. But I must be one of the folks who decided that dancing my talent and art into creation was a far more interesting way of BEING. All of my creative processes became states of meditation over the years, but my meditation is standing and dancing, not sitting on my ass. So even when I AM sitting on my ass, my Being is dancing. The music is LOUD. My First Friday Open Studios are a Party! The PARTY is a celebration of Life. Am I hyperactive? ABSOLUTELY! And proud of it. Do I have an attention deficit disorder? Absolutely NOT. (And our school systems that continue to try to make ALL CHILDREN behave using their definition of ‘normal’ are doing some of the children a great deal of harm.) I have a musical attention span that’s at least 8 hours long, and an ability to focus my attention into my creation experience for many hours at a time. So keep moving! Prove to yourself you’re actually alive. Keep dancing until you can’t dance any more. Keep evolving. It is actually possible for us humans to consciously evolve until we are in fact the EMBODIMENT of the Creative Energy of the Universe. And IT is dancing. And really — what are we all waiting for anyway? Something outside of ourselves to motivate us? Wake up! Get up! And dance! Or just sit there until you devolve into nothingness from non-action — bored to death.
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Daily jogging pays off
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Each weekday morning the alarm sounds at 5:15, and I proceed to jog around nearby Lake Harriet, arriving back at my studio by around 6:45. When I began this regime a few decades ago, I felt resistance to using up that time for exercise when I thought I should be working. But then, I just told myself that I was “taking the long way to work.” That helped in several ways. It got me up and moving, and not only did I get exercised, but I actually got into my studio earlier than usual.
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Stand up for it
by Nancy Christy-Moore, Glendale, AZ, USA
I’ve been painting/drawing standing up for the past 28 years! All the professionals I’ve had workshops with and followed closely always stand while working and I’ve adopted the posture. Not only do you feel actively involved in your painting by your constant movements, you have a much better viewpoint on what’s taking place on your paper or canvas in front of you. I always keep a chair in the studio for resting should my back be a problem, but I never stay seated very long. I realized long ago that the minute I sat down in front of my art my focus became too restricted to parts of the painting; trying to perfect areas, while the rest of the painting suffered. Standing allows you to see the whole picture while it’s evolving and to step back and get an even better perspective. Not to mention allowing beautifully satisfying movement in your work to develop. I can’t even imagine sitting down and painting!
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Freeing the soul
by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France
I’ve been painting en plein aire for 30 years and getting there, sometimes halfway around the world, driving, hiking, even trekking on horseback is such an exciting and soul-releasing part of the process. When I’m in the studio I listen to loud music of many styles depending on my mood, and dance alone like a wild maniac. It is relatively easy to learn to paint or draw. The real challenge is to set your soul free. The energy has to flow through your whole body. If not, it is just a mental exercise.
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Ideas flow with constant movement
by Linda Harbison, Flatwoods, KY, USA
I have two sons, ages 19 and 15, each of whom compulsively paces in circles around the back yard. There is actually a path worn in the lawn. Both of them are creative. One writes fantasy fiction and the other writes fan versions of video games. Both of them have told me that they pace when they get ideas, and the constant movement helps keeps the ideas flowing. Both have also been diagnosed with ADD. Knowing this, I have tried not to discourage the activity, though it does cause the neighbors to think there is something “wrong” with both of them. A few days ago one neighbor went so far as to tell my older son that if he was so bored he needed to pace, he should mow the lawn instead. The neighbor just doesn’t understand. My son wasn’t bored, he was in fact, the opposite of bored. If my sons were athletes, and spent their time obsessing about “handling a ball” they would be heroes. Instead, they are both considered to be rather odd.
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Four miles a day
by Terry Mason, Sarasota, FL, USA
I have a rule. No walking, no painting. Four miles a day. It makes me feel better. It makes me paint better. But if you are an artist that stands, you are walking more than you think. A grocery store cashier averages 4-5 miles a day (in my other world I am a behavioral scientist and our company provides high risk and disease management counseling to employees in 16 states… and five of those states are grocery store workers. So yes, I measured). The cashier walks back and forth between the cash register and the easel. The artist walks back and forth too in a small space. If you stand at your easel you may be moving more than you think.
You may want to try a pedometer to see what you really do. Plein air artists will definitely be thrilled to see what they do. What is recommended? The Japanese did a study that showed that if you walk 10,000 steps a day you won’t get heart disease unless your family portrait shows heart attack below 50. The Americans did a study that said adding just 2000 steps a day… that’s 15 minutes of ACCUMULATED exercise… will stop weight gain. The data is pretty profound but most people think you have to do all your exercise at one time. That’s pretty old information. The US federal guidelines are 30 minutes of accumulated exercise on most if not all days. Walking the commercials of a one hour television show gives you 15 minutes of exercise.
The best news is that movement feeds creativity. It’s like steroids for your art. Adding movement is free. And if you think that taking time to walk is stealing from your painting time, think again. What movement gives back to your painting, and to your body and mood, more than compensates. The best way to boost creativity that I know of is simply to move.
Although I love my studio, I am a sucker for plein air. Adding 40 or more pounds of gear to my hike also boosts movement, and there is no better teacher than mother nature. Summer’s coming. The weather is turning. Hey, exercise costs nothing. Moving more is definitely my own stimulus package. Works for me.
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 Dan Spahn who wrote, “Teddy Roosevelt did not advocate ‘the active life,’ but ‘the vigorous life.’ ”
And also Marjolein Witteman of Okanagan Valley BC, Canada who wrote, “I’ve done a silly ‘painting dance’ ever since I began painting seriously around age 18.”
And also Linda Keaford of Flagstaff, AZ, USA who wrote, “I love to take walks in nature or I jump on the rebounder to stay fit in body and spirit.”
And also Sy Rosefelt of Longwood, FL, USA who wrote, “Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes.”
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