Today I was supposed to leave the studio at a specific time but just before walking out, I saw something on a painting that I just had to fix. It took a couple of minutes. Now I am sitting here after coming home 4 hours early to meet the cable television guy who was supposed to install TV connection. My window of time was 2-4 pm. I missed him by 3 minutes. That was about the time it took to add that one extra green shape on that painting back at the studio. This happens to me all the time.
What is it about this line of work that can make you so obsessive?
I am told endlessly that I am always working. I can say that “everyone” probably is right. I do call my art “work”. It certainly feels like it sometimes. When my painting is not going well I definitely call it work. And I usually say it in this sentence: “So I have to go to work now”. When there is more spaciousness in my life I usually call it “painting”. The difference is subtle but palpable. Work seems to have fewer choices, but painting has plenty. Painting is unexplored and is indefinite. However, you can overly fill your life with Art, just as you can with work. How do you balance your art comfortably in your life?
How do you do Art part time? How do you kind of go for it? You’re either in all the way or you are not. At least, this is how it seems to work for me. I sometimes feel I don’t have balance in my life. Actually I know I don’t. If I had a job that was only 30 – 40 hours a week that started and stopped at a specific time every day, it would be so easy to then plan out and balance all the other things such as relationships, domestic things, volunteering, personal and cultural things. I am quietly jealous of those who can consistently tune in every Sunday at 6 pm to watch a TV series for 40 weeks in a row. That is just not how I have structured my life. Everything seems to ebb and flow around my art making. I work hard for several months then have a show, then slip into unproductiveness then start up again. It even goes this way as I am working on several paintings. Some just stay kind of marginal. I then have to push harder at it – become even more focused to move them towards something more compelling. I think the issue with treating Art like a regular job, or the disparity between work and Art has to do with the degree of learning and the required uncertainty in Art making.
In art, you are constantly pushing up against things you do not know, you do not understand and as a result, there just is always a degree of uncertainty present. When you are at work, at a job, you generally want to lessen unsureness. But in art, if you are perfectly rehearsed, perfectly sure all the time, then for some reason, the work ends up looking a bit stale. Good art is risky. So if there needs to be uncertainty in art to make it interesting then I just never really know how and when the painting will turn that corner. It is, by its very nature, an uncertain enterprise. It is not formulaic. It usually does work itself out – sometimes quick, sometimes more slowly – but it always requires such focus. So much so that it can be kind of hard transitioning or really getting interested in doing much of anything else. If you’re stumbling blindfolded along in the dark and are just reaching, feeling something that is understandable, it is just damn hard to stop what you are doing, sit down and wait till the next day. At least for me.
This art business is just not like regular work. I see how much it affects everything I relate with in my life. It is a bit like herding cats. You want to put this all in a nice tidy box but it doesn’t fit. It is a roller coaster; it is so wonderful, is sucks so heavily sometimes, it is admired, then sometimes people feel pity for your plight. I still don’t know the answer. I do know I am way too in to change things now. I cannot imagine getting a regular job. The more art I make, the more curious I become. What would I make – what could I make if I spent my life trying? Each attempt at a piece of art is a clue as to this outcome. I don’t think this should ever be called “work”. Maybe it is better to just call it Art. Work is a part of your life, but your Art, if you’re willing and able, is more like your life.
Does your Art feel like work? Is it?
In balance, Nicholas
the founder of Art2Life.
With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.