Sooner or later the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It’s all very depressing. – V.S. Pritchett (art critic and writer)
I’ve worked for and with artists off and on for decades but I’ve never really considered myself to be one. Artists devote their entire lives to their art. They paint, or sculpt or write with a singular devotion to the task at least boarding on obsession and in extreme cases, insanity. But a few months ago I read a review of Mason Currey’s recently published book “Daily Rituals; How Artists Work” and was intrigued. I thought maybe I could learn something from these people that I could apply to my own writing projects.
The book finally became available through my local library last week, (I’ve been on the waiting list since February), it is clear that there have been a lot of other people interested in learning what makes artists tick too. I thought I was getting a book that gave some general descriptions of the way in which some of the greatest artistic minds work and possibly some instruction and encouragement on ways in which the rest of us mere mortals can learn from them. What I found instead was a collection of 162 vignettes describing the daily work habits of everyone from Francis Bacon to Stephen King with very little commentary or insight on why or how they work the way they do.
The more I read however the more I started to identify with these characters. Maybe I am an artist after all. Maybe in some weird way we all are.
For the most part the great artists Currey researched were/are driven by routines that are not at all dissimilar to my own. Many, like Mozart who made most of his income giving music lessons to debutants and other young members of Viennese society, were forced to hold down various day jobs throughout their lives in order to pay the bills and were only able to fit their creative efforts into their day at set times and in short bursts.
I do that. I’m up a 4:30am every day, I go out for about an hour and half to deliver newspapers in order to earn some extra income and am at my computer by 6:00. I catch up on the news and write for about 2 hours. Then it’s off to my day job and the routine of a fairly regular life.
Many others, like Mia Angelou and Richard Straus treat their art like any other job, they get up in the morning, go to work in a studio or other office like location for several hours each day and then head home. These are not the “mad scientist” artists I had expected to find. They’re business people who work hard at their chosen vocation and take time to relax in the evenings with friends and family.
Perhaps the life of an artist is best summed up in a quote from composer John Adams. Adams is best known for his 1987 opera “Nixon in China” and a choral piece he wrote to commemorate the victims of 9/11 called “On The Transmigration of Souls” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. In an interview around the time of the Pulitzer win Adams said;
My experience has been that most really serious creative people I know have very, very routine and not particularly glamorous work habits. Because creativity is very labor intensive.
So yes, maybe I’m an artist after all. And maybe you are too. What kind of creative routine do you have? I’d be interested to hear about it, write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org