Intentional Ignorance: how the artist preserves her studio time

We’re way too busy! Who ever said that technology would make our lives simpler and allow us more leisure time was seriously wrong. Past the laundry machines and the dishwasher, it’s only made our lives more frantic and at this point we’re all racing along at an inhuman pace. But, in the midst of all this madness, the artist is expected to protect her creative time. Yes, it’s true that all our new technology and communication tools have made us only a click away from information and anyone who might need us, and it also means we’re expected to do everything by ourselves and to do it fast. But if I cater to the pressure to do more, how can I keep my energy focused on what matters the most to me – creating artwork?

The orange cat, acrylic, 40″ x 40″

Of course the younger generation has discovered a pretty effective strategy for dealing with the information onslaught. I call it ‘intentional ignorance’. They only reply to texts and emails when and if they feel like it. It’s irritating to the older generation, but I see their point. It’s too much. Too many emails, too many social media posts, too many texts. There’s only so much anyone can do in a day and each of us has to select what deserves our attention. For me, it’s creating my artwork. Everything else, (except for walking my dog, of course), can wait.

Jess and Blair, who run Blogging 4 keeps; an interesting site dedicated to helping would-be-bloggers figure out how to be good bloggers, recently sent a newsletter titled Be More Ignorant Please.   They write about the overwhelming amount of ‘important things’ that we must deal with to be present on the web so we can promote our business. (And yes, it’s subject that concerns artists as much as any other business person.) They say “… allow yourself to be intentionally ignorant on certain things, even if people are telling you that it’s important to be an expert. Pinterest is important. Instagram is important. Email is important. Photography is important. Networking is important. But you can’t do it all, and if you do, you’ll be overwhelmed.”

Last week, a friend of mine generously volunteered to organise the details of an artistic group event. Others in the group had unintentionally neglected that project, perhaps, simply because they put their own priorities ahead of it. This meant that my friend was spending the best and most productive hours of a few days on this project – which also meant she wasn’t in her studio working on her art.

As we talked I realized once again that, for me, my job is to be in my studio creating. Yes, promoting my art on the web is important, yes being available to help organise artistic events is important, yes seeing my friends is important, but none of it is as important as the time I reserve to be in my studio. And I need that time every day for a number of hours.

Cisco on our morning walk in the forest

Some artists give themselves a rigid schedule to make sure this happens. I have a friend who’s in her studio by 8:00 am and doesn’t leave until noon. No matter what. Me, I try to be aware of how much I can stand of each distracting chore. Mornings are best for me, so I get up early. I dedicate the first hour and a half to writing, researching and thinking things through for my various art projects and marketing my work. Then Cisco and I go for our walk where the forest re-centers me and puts me in the right mood for my creative work. By the time we get back, Cisco’s ready for his nap under my work table, and I’m energized and alert, ready to be creative until it’s time to teach my after-school painting classes. Of course some projects will inevitably compromise that schedule, but I’m pretty conscientious about sticking to it.

Art Work Archive recently posted a blog titled How to create more time for your art: a worksheet where they share a handy printable “little exercise in self-reflection that can help you figure out how to gain more time back for your art.” Through a short series of pertinent questions, they encourage us to look at where we spend our time and to question if it is where we really want to spend it.

Our crazy world is frenetic! More than ever we need to discipline ourselves into choosing where we want our focus to be. I want to concentrate on creating inspired works of art. As to the rest? I try to cram what I can into the not-so-productive hours of the day. That often means I don’t get it all done, but I’ve made my peace with that. The funny thing is, though, nobody seems to notice what I don’t get done – or care, for that matter.

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In the Moon Again: the power of daydreaming

As my young students were finishing their art lesson last Wednesday, one of the moms arrived at my studio to pick up her daughter. We chatted as the kids collected their belongings and trickled out the door but, as her daughter stayed focused on her artwork, I could hear the impatience in her voice when she said “Can you please pick up the pace a bit?” She laughingly explained, “No matter what the occasion, my daughter is always the last one ready to leave.”

Photo credit Jean Wallace

Yes, I thought, this kid really does live in her head and she’s perfectly happy there. But she’s also one of my most focused and clear minded students when it comes to painting with intention and finishing her artwork. Watching her at that moment, however, reminded me of my own childhood, and I could hear my mom saying “t’es encore dans la lune”!  You’re in the moon again – a poetic French expression perfectly describing that peaceful daydreaming state of mind. I must confess I was very good at it.

 

But then, of course, I grew up. I learned to ‘make the most of my waking hours’, and put my brain to ‘useful tasks’. Now though, I wonder. Am I really doing myself a favour? What if daydreaming offers powers of its own? Shouldn’t I tap into that?

Business Insider, in their blog called Here’s How To Daydream Your Way To Success, say that “History is full of high-achieving daydreamers: Einstein, Newton, and the Bronte sisters all lived much of their lives in their imaginations.” But there are right and wrong ways to daydream. They go on to explain the different styles of daydreaming as defined by Scott Barry Kaufman in “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” at Psychology Today:

First style: “Poor attention control daydreaming. It’s characterized by easy distractibility and difficulty concentrating on either the external environment or an ongoing train of thought,”

Second style: “Guilty-dysphoric daydreaming. It features unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, guilt, fear of failure, and obsessive, hostile, and aggressive fantasies about others.”

Neither of those styles is constructive, and both can have serious negative impacts in most aspects of one’s life.

Third style: “The best kind of daydreaming is Positive-constructive daydreaming. It’s associated with openness to experience and reflects a drive to explore ideas, imagination, feelings, and sensations. Good daydreaming is linked to happiness, success and creativity.”

Daydreaming, as long as it’s done right, is a place where we can rehearse scenarios about our lives without any real consequences. But one must have a clear goal in mind, make sure to focus on positive thoughts, and brush away the obsessive and negative thoughts.”

Details from Longing for lazy days. Acrylic painting

As an artist, I believe that daydreaming is an important part of the process. It’s a place where I can plan a work of art without wasting materials. I can imagine new ideas. I can move subjects around in my mind. I can effortlessly visualize colours and movements. I can make changes without spending a dime.   And best of all, I have access to this tool anywhere and almost any time. I can daydream as I walk my dog, or when I’m in a boring meeting, or loading the dishwasher, or shovelling the walkway. It is my most powerful, portable and accessible creative tool and I use it as much as possible.

Detail from recently finished work

The subconscious mind is willing to go where our controlled thinking refuses to. While daydreaming, I can turn my project over to my subconscious brain and let it do its creative work. When I relinquish control and let my mind wander, suddenly the answer to whatever was blocking the process just shows up and all that’s left to do is to run with it.

This is what Brain Pickings, in their blog called A 5 Step Technique for Producing Ideas, call the “seemingly serendipitous A-ha! Moment. Out of nowhere the idea will appear. It will come to you when you are least expecting it — while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night. But for this moment to occur, the stage has to have been set up during daydreaming.”

“T’es encore dans la lune?” Good for you!

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