Reality Check


Dear Artist,

It was evident from the response to my last letter — “The Golden Stations” — that many creative people do not have the freedom to follow their nose on an hourly basis — let alone monitor it. What’s to be done where someone holds a nine-to-five, or even manages a home and family? Here are a couple of suggestions:

The first is to engrave in stone an hour or two out of every day where your private work-space is sacrosanct. Before or after your main job you enter this zone with the habit of going to work immediately. When you embark on a project such as this you win the respect of others and reap self-esteem for yourself. You actually have an advantage with the system — your mind has a chance to grind away on your plans while absent from the creative cockpit.

The second method is to work toward setting aside enough security to be able to go to work on your dreams for a period of time — I feel a month is generally too little — six months or a year is reasonable. You may win or lose in the experiment, but you will have given yourself a decent chance. I’ve found that both of these systems work when artists put real character into the project. There’s no room for drifting off, avoidance activity, or too much direction. Contract with yourself and focus on what you want to accomplish – and go for it. You can always go on another tangent later.

Many roaring successes got that way by one of these routes. In order to accomplish either the artist may have to temporarily give something up — a social life, a hobby or sport, a clean house, eating. While eating is a major joy and life-focus for many it’s also time consuming. Much can be said for cutting down and simplifying the eating process — often with the parallel benefit of better nutrition. Gourmet kills. It seems we humans work better and live longer if we simply snack the right stuff.

Best regards,


PS: “The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.” (George Eliot)

Esoterica: Mary Roberts Rinehart was a full-time nurse with young children and an unemployed alcoholic husband. She wanted to write books. She set up a plan to arise in the early morning before her responsibilities began. It didn’t kill her. Thus she wrote her first novel.


Interference with creativity
by Joyce

You note in your last letter (see above) that one “should set in stone an hour or two…” This would be great, but you also have to be in the mood for creativity and if you have too many things that have to be done, might not this interfere with your freedom to create? I find that when I go to my studio to paint and I am really rushed to do so, those things left undone seep into my brain and interfere with my creativity, solitude and meditation to create.

(RG note) There are a couple of things to watch out for here: One is that the “interference” may be just an excuse or an avoidance activity. The other is that the interference is terribly genuine and must indeed be dealt with. Getting a clean slate off-studio before entering is necessary for a lot of artists. Some nagging guilt or interference of things undone can drag an artist down — sometimes for years.


Empty stomach
by Steve Bloom, Wye, Ashford, Kent, UK

Immature male orangutan drinking, Borneo. Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus)

Immature male orangutan drinking, Borneo
Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus)
photograph by Steve Bloom

Your comments about cutting down on eating reminded me of an incident which happened a couple of years ago in the rainforests of Borneo. As a wildlife photographer I was totally immersed in my project to photograph orangutans. When I am fully absorbed in the image-making process it is often to the exclusion of many other things, such as awareness of time and eating. I was having a successful day photographing the orangs when, towards the end of the day, the local man I had hired to help carry my equipment began to look more and more unhappy. When I asked him what was wrong he pointed to his stomach (as he spoke no English). It was then that I realized that we had not stopped to eat during a full day in the intense tropical heat. I felt guilty that I had neglected him, but I was so absorbed in my work that I was totally oblivious to the existence of food! We immediately stopped to eat from our food box and I think he forgave me. It made me realize how all-consuming image-making can be, and how those assisting us are unlikely to be obsessed to the same degree!


Demanding stations
by Peter Collier

If any of my days were filled with notations of dreaming, dreaming, walking, dreaming, painting, I’d surely think I was either retired, a lottery winner, an asylum resident or maybe just blessedly simple. Or rather, simply blessed. Or maybe, simply blissed. Our society has a fetish for monitoring and measuring every minute, every thought, and every action. All our productivity tools were supposed to be enable us to do more in less time; however, we seem to be doing more in more time. In the good old days, a letter would come onto my desk I’d read it, put it down; reflect on it for a time, move onto other things; reflect on it some more. Finally, a few days later, I’d compose a well thought out response; after all, it took a week or two to get to you, why rush the reply? Then fax machines came along, and the letters arrived the same day. Usually they could be answered with only a day or two delay. Now emails come instantly, seemingly demanding an immediate response and as if the correspondent was standing directly in front of you, drumming his fingers while waiting for your reply.


So far, so good
by Carol Costa

In the past ten years, I have published six books, all while having a full time job… Last March, when I was downsized out of my job, I decided to take the freelance route… so far, so good… and… I’ve also been painting almost every night and on Saturday mornings… Of course, my children are grown and my responsibilities are not as heavy as some other people, but I also think that it is possible to have the time to ‘create,’ if you want it badly enough.


To fulfill a dream
by Christine Nicoll Parson, Washington, DC, USA

I am fortunate enough to be able to both work at my art and to work to pay the mortgage, pay the bills, feed the family, etc. But there is no way I can save enough to take off six months to pursue my art alone. Many of us are in this position. I am blessed by being able to schedule days for art and separate days for work; but if work calls I must go in order to pay the etc. I take the week I allow myself and for which I can pay, to renew, revive, retreat. I also take another week for renewal at the beach. But that is all I can afford. I look forward to a time that I am able to take six months… a dream to be fulfilled.


Juggling possible
by Lawrence Buttigieg, Attard, Malta

I work as an architect and an artist. It’s no joke trying to perform adequately in both professions. Besides this I have three young kids and a wife who also has a full time job with lots of responsibility. Any free time I have I dedicate to painting. Frequently I sacrifice my sleep to painting. My average daily sleep is seldom more than five and a half hours. Still, with all my limitations, I manage to produce a decent portfolio of work throughout the year.


Listen to inner voice
by Monika Elseroui, Graz, Austria

It is true that painting is such an absorbing artistry that eating can be forgotten and there have to be on daily basis done the adjustments: cleaning the house or painting and then cleaning. So it depends. Painting wins for a certain amount of hours starting in the early morning. But what I want also to mention is the so-called “good stroke” for painting has always a certain amount of time. There isn’t the whole year when the ideas are flowing and the painting process goes with ease and in conformity with the mind and thinking process. Most of the times it lasts only for a maximum of two months with me and then it goes away. So I have learned to listen to my inner voice and as soon as I feel an urge for painting I start.


Media friendly
Name withheld by request

All this business about taking an hour or six months here and there is nonsense. If the object is to survive as an artist you have to realize that art nowadays is media driven and not so much to do with quality. The idea is to get the television cameras and the reporters in your studio or gallery. In order to do this you must give them a job to do — like sorting out what it is that you do that is new, different, shocking, visual punning, etc. Unless your work has the built-in appearance of importance and is media friendly you may as well forget it.


A good day

(RG note) We’re going to send a free copy of “The Painter’s Keys” to the most insightful or interesting hourly report of “The Golden Stations.” Today’s winner:

(Saturday) Packing car, driving toward Trout Lake, having breakfast at Wendy’s, setting up at Fillmore’s cabin, painting facing northwest, painting facing south, warming up in car, reading in car while listening to Elgar, painting at the other end of the lake, gassing up, visiting at Sell’s farm, doing a sketch of Sell’s barn, driving, Wendy’s for dinner, setting up wet paintings around studio, having a drink with Louise and taking it easy. (Frank Jamison)


You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since October 31, 2000.

That includes Kelly Borsheim of Texas who plans to “jump off that cliff to a life as a full-time artist in early 2001 — I am nervous, but excited,” she says.

And Carol Allison of Arlington, MA, who writes, “Your letter reminds me of something the painter Siegfried Hahn says, “As painters we are compared to everyone who has ever painted before us, unlike a lawyer or doctor who is only compared with their peers. This makes it tremendously demanding and we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and pretend the Great Masters don’t exist.”

And Nils Olsen of Aarhus, Denmark, who says, “If I cut out my day job for six months I would be having a break also from eating.”



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