Friday, December 12, 2008

To Do or Not To Do

Heading South
20 x 20 oil on linen
Private Collection

It seems much that I read these days on artist blogs and Twitter is about getting organized, marketing and the all important To Do list. Its natural I suppose with the year coming to a close and the anticipation/anxiety about what the new year will bring for working artists. But, as usual, I seem to be swimming against the tide-or at least paddling in the opposite direction. This post is about one artist's fight against the tyranny of the To Do list.

First a disclaimer. I have been writing and using To Do lists for many years. In my previous life, they were indispensable. I still use them, although I try to compartmentalize them as much as possible. I have even perfected the art of the Honey Do list according to my husband. Unlike some artists, getting into the left side of my brain has never been a problem for me- its getting out of it that's tricky. In fact, one might say it took me almost twenty years to get out, and I'm not going back!

Truthfully, when I became a full time artist, I tackled my lists with new ambition. In fact, To Do lists were much more my comfort zone than the studio was. My analytical, problem solving background and training put to use in service of my art career- what could be better??!! So in those years, I taught workshops and participated in plein air events and other shows all over the country, wrote and published articles, built a 1200 name mailing list from scratch (and this was before blogging was even a twinkle in my eye), started a plein air group that grew into a 250 member state wide organization, organized a huge plein air invitational at a prestigious gallery in Santa Fe, and oh, did I forget to mention...... painted full time. But, the more I did, the more I began to feel completely disconnected from my real work- painting. My painting became more about show deadlines and submissions than about building a cohesive body of work. Finally a series of gut wrenching events forced me to take stock and to make significant changes in just about every area of my life. And that was a good thing....

What I know now, is that my work requires large amounts of R&D- research and development. This means for me, lots of reading, thinking, looking at and noticing things, and most importantly, just painting. I allow myself to wander around, both outside and in the studio, and in my head. The shift in both the technical and aesthetic focus of my work over the last 18 months has been, for the most part, completely the product of simply following a thread of thought and visual ideas and finding a technique which would best express those ideas- without a preconceived notion of where it might take me. Goal oriented thinking or activities simply won't get me where I want to go in the studio. So if it takes me ten minutes to walk the fifty yards from my studio to the house in late afternoon because I am watching the light flicker behind the trees or if I pull off the road on the way to town to see the clouds move across the horizon- its more important to my work as an artist than a check mark on my list ever can or should be.


Suzanne McDermott said...

First off - love the painting. Secondly - I'm with you. The frantic chase of to do lists and marketing oneself is antithetical to the head space required to really connect spiritually for work on painting. That being said, the way that I keep myself on track working for myself is to write long hand for 30-50 minutes in the morning, leaving one page free to jot down the stuff I must do that day. Then at the end of the day, or whenever I need a boost, I check off what I've managed. And what I don't? Well, tomorrow is another day for tasks and chores. But today is the only day that I can make the painting I'm destined to make today.

Thanks for the thoughtful post. Oh, and by the way... my posts these days are all about painting, not marketing or to do lists. I like it that way.

sarahfburns said...

This is a very interesting post, Deborah. (I found your blog through Tracy Hegelson) I'm just starting out as a full time painter and am trying to balance the to do list with the reason I want to paint in the first place.

Your work is very beautiful, by the way.

Deborah Paris said...

"But today is the only day that I can make the painting I'm destined to make today."

What a perfect way to put it! I have just copied it in my journal and tomorrow it goes up on my studio wall. Thank you!

Hi Sarah. I enjoyed reading the post on your blog about Maynard Dixon. He is one of my favorite landscape artists- much can be learned about design from looking at his work. Thanks for stopping by and welcome!

Robin Pedrero said...

Dear Deborah,

Thank you. I am a list maker too. Yet your final paragraph rings the truth for me. I need that R & D, it sustains me. It is to me the major part of being an artist. I would like to reference your post in my blog.

Deborah Paris said...

Hi Robin. I'm glad the post resonated with you- and of course I'd be happy to have you mention it in your blog. Thanks very much for visiting!

Janelle Goodwin said...

Great post, Deborah. I need to keep this in mind, since this is the very essence of making art. It does all come back to observation, inspiration and execution. Also, the indirect painting method you use is so beautiful. Your paintings seem to glow from within. But how do you manage to wait out the drying times between glazing?

Casey Klahn said...

First, thanks for posting a photo of yourself - now we know you better.

I have been on low ebb this year, with chronic physical issues. I have a feeling that the nexus of a down economy and my own re-start in the studio will be good in a lot of ways.

Thanks for sharing your directions. Wrestling the whole studio life is not the simple matter it's taken to be!

Peggy Montano & Paintings said...

Deborah, I would like to say thanks for the photograph of you also. We have talked on the phone(I ordered the beautiful frames) and I check your blog often.
thank you for sharing your wisdom.

bwphoto said...

Beautiful post...any visual art is about seeing and interpreting what you see. In order to do so you need to let yourself wonder, stopping, examining, learning and feeling. Combined they all lead to your vision of the world something that can't be forced or organize by linear thinking.

Frans Johansson in his book "The Medici Effect" describes research on creatives that points to the importance of always following new paths, pursuing angles and ideas that were artifacts from our wanderings. T.S. Elliot wrote many variations of "The Waste Land"

Your writing is wonderful and your painting shows the depth of your wandering R&D.

Nancy Moskovitz, artist said...

Deborah, thank you for this one. I'm on the cusp of a shift in emphasis and find your words supportive.....not to mention Suzanne's poetic version.
Beautiful painting too.

Anonymous said...

Very well written post!
I often get caught up with the business of art side of things, and this has a way of taking over your painting time if you are not mindful. Sometimes (for me a t least) it is OK to spend lots of time on organising….It clears the path for painting.
I think because us women multi task with the blink of an eye, we function as artists on all different levels all the time. I don’t think about anything other than painting when I paint (in silence), but I do think about painting when driving, grocery shopping etc…especially driving through some fantastic light filled landscape. It is all a balance and each artist has to make their own path and find out what works for them as individuals.
It’s great to read a lot of other artist blogs about making lists and goals and marketing plots and plans…., very positive and affirming………but in the end it’s the individual artist who has to work out what works best with a PINTING schedule as well as living life.

Unknown said...

Hi Deborah,
what you wrote in your post sounds very familiar to me and I must say I find a lot of parallels between you and me. Being a very organized person myself I have realized that the only possibility to escape the "tyranny of lists" is to leave the studio, get on the bycicle, take the camera and look what's happening outside. Getting off the track has "saved" my life more than once.
Lately - with the illness of my mother - much more of what's life is all about has become clear to me. When you watch someone's else's entire life and world being reduced to one room and the space of a bed, when nothing counts any more, not what you are wearing, whether your hair has a nice cut, whether your skin is smooth and shiny, when no entertainment besides the voice of someone comes near to your comprehension if at all, then you realize how precious life itself is, how any moment has its significance and how important it is to ignore what's on your lists - because it does not make any difference at all whether you mark it done or not.

I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful Christmas time,

Deborah Paris said...

HI Janelle. I try to keep a couple of pieces going at a time so that they are in different stages of drying or work needed. Also, the medium I use helps to dry the paint a bit faster. Thanks for visiting!

Casey- I hope you will have an abundance of good health and time in the studio in the coming year!

Hi Peggy-its good to hear from you. Thank you for visiting and all the best in the New Year.

Deborah Paris said...

Thank you bwphoto. I'll definitely look into the book you mentioned. I very much agree with your statement about linear vs creative thinking. Creativity- whether its in art or even science- requires putting ideas together in unexpected ways. Thanks for your kind words about my work.

Hi Nancy- I'm glad you found it helpful. Best wishes for a wonderful creative New Year!

Deborah Paris said...

Hi Maggie. I agree with you- everyone has to find their own path. I can only say what works for me (I gave advice for a living for many years so I don't do that anymore...) )

Deborah Paris said...

Hello Petra. We have exchanged emails about your mom so I know what a difficult time this is for you- I wish I could say something to take that pain away, but having gone through something similar with my parents, I know I cannot. But, the lesson we take from this experience is important and continues to inform what we do for the rest of our lives. You and your mom will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

Deborah, First apologies for the spelling mistakes in my comment earlier. I really appreciate hearing your point of view and what works for you as an artist. I always enjoy your blog posts and looking at your lovely paintings.
Petra's comments moved me and I Just wanted to comment …my thoughts and prayers are also with you at this time. When my husband passed away suddenly at age 46, it was indeed a time for reflection and re-evaluation of all the things in my life that I ‘thought’ were important. I totally understand where you are coming from.

Ed Terpening said...

Sounds thoughts, Deborah. I sometimes think I should paint 1 one full month without blogging or other interruptions, and then later do all the other stuff (updating my blog, website, galleries, etc). Something to think about in the new year.

Marian Fortunati said...

A fascinating post...
The quality of your work speaks to the success of your current working style!!!
TO DO or not TO DO...
I think whatever it takes us to help us reach our personal goals, beit to do lists or lust for life or discipline .. or all of it.. is what it takes.

Linda Blondheim said...

I couldn't agree more Deborah. Well said.

tlwest said...

"So if it takes me ten minutes to walk the fifty yards from my studio to the house in late afternoon because I am watching the light flicker behind the trees or if I pull off the road on the way to town to see the clouds move across the horizon- its more important to my work as an artist than a check mark on my list ever can or should be."
Amen! profound! and I seem to be walking the same road... lol! This is what I have discovered these last couple of months. I have come almost to a dead stop on all my extra curricular activities and lists etc... so I can see what it is that fascinates me - the reason to paint in the first place for me:)

Deborah Paris said...

Hi Ed. I think anything that puts the focus on painting is a move in the right direction. Thanks for visiting!

Thank you Marian and thanks for stopping by!

Linda- one of the things I admire about you is your ability to focus on painting while always coming up with new and productive ways to market.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post Epiphany Artist and welcome!

Adam Cope said...

happy dawdling, day-dreaming & just-being


Yes, the importance of experiencing before creating... of taking time to find in nature, in the world, the objects of (our) meditation.

notes from (my)studio wall:
'quality of mind = quality of art'

paint on
& dawdle as you will

Deborah Paris said...

Hi Adam- sorry I missed your comment up until now. I so agree- one must experience before creating. Thanks very much for visiting!

Anonymous said...

Deborah you have spoken well....very well indeed. And Petra's comment seals it all.

Having a long list of things to do only makes one miss the joys of the moment. I firmly believe in living for the moment. I have seen lives cut short at the peak. I have stood by people who struggle to hold on to life but simply can't. I have watched people take their last breath and all that's left is a long list of "what they would have done"

Our understanding of the brevity of life should not make us want to live a more organized life but should rather make us more determined to enjoy the little unplanned moments of joy and happiness that exists all around us.

The artist who paints better is not the artist who plans better but the one who lives taking in every little moment and expressing it spontaneously.

Happy New Year.