Frank Partnoy in his book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, tells us that procrastination is a winning formula. The idea that procrastination is evil came along with the Protestant work ethic and the Puritanical era, he claims, while most of the greats in ancient times sat around delaying decisions until they became obvious. Wise folks throughout history have waited until the last second, he says. As artists, perhaps we can take some wisdom from this.
The art-vetting process: Delay tactics around the secondary easel — the place where finished works are gathered and contemplated. If you’re like me, with more than a dozen galleries handling your work, there’s fair pressure to deliver. I’ve learned to be absolutely positive about the quality before shipping. Many a time a major boo-boo is picked off the FedEx truck just in the nick of time. Further, collectors are known to hold onto works for generations, while we creators look at our work for relative nanoseconds. We need to look well and hard right up to the last minute.
It’s also good to delay the commercial decision as to which works to send where. Many artists take into consideration geography, personality, and buyer sentiment. Fitting specific art to specific agents can be an art in itself.
Creative delay is when you look at your work-in-progress and are unable to decide what to do next. While audacity and “seizing the day” can be valuable, also acknowledge times for prolonged reflection and consideration. During this delay the mind subconsciously continues to sort options and devise ploys. A few hours — or days or weeks — can be needed to disclose a solution. The beauty of delay is that solutions are often simpler than you originally thought, making it possible for direct and cursive flourishes that often triumph over unsure noodling.
What to do with yourself while being delayed by others: I’ve found it particularly valuable to go prepared with basic materials. Ferry lineups, airport delays and the annoyance of dawdling companions can be turned into creative bonanzas. “An inconvenience,” said Confucius, “is an unrecognized opportunity.” Car-based canvases languish in the trunk calling, “Choose me, choose me.” It’s also one of the great principles of life: Keep busy while you’re waiting for something to happen. Keeping busy is not something you want to delay.
PS: “Wait for the last possible moment to make a decision.” (Frank Partnoy)
Esoterica: Delay is one of the great negotiating techniques. The controller waits patiently until his adversary has shown all his cards. If you, as the artist, are controller, then your work of art might be the adversary. “Let the painting tell you what it needs,” says Charles Reid. Unfortunately, most of us find that sometimes a work is not always ready to let you know what it needs, and you must postpone. This waiting game can be one of the great joys — when the work finally speaks, it often does so loudly and clearly and in a way that is both beautiful and motivational.
This letter was originally published as “Managing delay” on July 24, 2012.
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“It is never too late to be what we might have been.” (George Eliot)
Join Ellie Harold for “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Paint Expressively,” designed especially for mature women artists of all skill levels who wish to explore this medium for soulful exploration. The retreat provides attractive accommodations (your own room!) along with lightly structured activities for centering, relaxation and low stress art-making. You’ll have plenty of free time to muse, paint, write and reflect while enjoying the colors, textures and flavors of San Miguel. This Retreat has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for further creating. Details at www.EllieHarold.com.
Shawn’s paintings evoke the feelings of the West Coast, its shores and islands, ponds and lakes.