Through the years, I’ve recognized that the works I’ve been most happy with often took the longest to achieve. Although some of these favored works seemingly just happened, in time I’ve come to see that there is a lengthy series of events that facilitate even the most serendipitous of pieces.
I sometimes find myself slipping into laziness when I am working. My marks become looser or I start to oversimplify a form the more I rush to be finished – especially when it feels like what I’m doing is taking forever. These works are never what I want them to be; I can quickly point out the mistakes and notice where I failed to keep myself on task.
While teaching full time, I generally chose the quickest and most assured outcome when deciding what personal project to do next. I don’t like feeling that the amount of time I’ve invested is for nothing, after all. But this hasn’t always been the way I work.
When I first started my 10 years as a student in art school back in 2001 I didn’t use the internet to locate references or see other artists work – I went to the library, to galleries, and I took hundreds and hundreds of photos on an SLR camera and got the film developed at K-mart. I spent hours layering imagery and building 10-15 paintings at a time, cycling through them as they dried and as I continued to do research and improve my skill.
Obviously, the internet had resources available but it wasn’t as accommodating as it is now (and RIP K-Mart, do they even exist anymore?). The point is that this process took time – time in which I had to think about the composition, what I wanted to say, and cultivate my ideas – sometimes over several months. This enabled me to create more studies in the meantime and to practice with my media and refine my concept before I ever started the final work. (At this point in my story my husband would probably tell me I’m a little old lady yelling at clouds…)
It wasn’t anything we, as students, complained about. Everyone was in the same boat and I think we all took a bit of perverse satisfaction in how we managed to go about this task. I for one had a pretty bulky image morgue of photos collected from magazines and photocopied from books as well albums of personal photos that I could pull out when I needed inspiration. Just the act of putting these resources together took considerable effort. With Pinterest, I pin my finds quickly into boards and only occasionally take a glace at the collection (and sometimes forget I’m in my own board and try to pin something I’ve already pinned…)
Now, I can think of an idea and google images and within 2-3 hours find everything I need to help piece together my vision. I spend a few minutes working through compositions, break for lunch, and then am able to both start and complete the work in one day. Compared to the works I once created, this new work is as instant as a Polaroid.
This is a really prolific change to the way that I and others make art and there is a lot of benefit to the time-saving aid that the internet and various programs can provide to artists in general. For one, it allows me to process a lot of different ideas more quickly. It also ensures that I can keep costs of this work down making it both more affordable to a patron but also more lucrative to make a living as an artist.
However, in my own practice and in the classroom I’ve noticed that this desire for something to manifest almost instantaneously – as if by magic – can also create complications that impede the creative process.
Each day in the studio classroom, I converse with multiple students about the need for additional idea development or media practice. It is such a consistent theme that I can provide the entire spiel while simultaneously composing committee emails and my grocery list in my head.
I think that I’ve talked about the importance of process so many times that even I start to glaze over at the mention of how important preparation, practice, and of course time is in the creative process. In fact, in John Cleese’s fairly well known speech about creativity from the early 90’s, time is so important that he lists it twice in just 5 important steps toward being more creative.
Creative Art’s has blocked the “embed” option but you can link to John Cleese’s video from 1991 and watch it in YouTube (the newer version is not as cohesive or eloquent so just accept the poor video quality as a part of the charm).
The reality is, it is difficult to find motivation for more time consuming endeavors these days because of the ease and accessibility of passable alternatives.
For me, this means that I generally feel like it’s not worth my time to go out and take my own reference photos when I can find what I want on Pinterest. I typically put off actually starting a work that I know will involve a lot of effort (i.e. something that can’t be finished in a day) in favor of some some other creative task that doesn’t take as much time or energy. And, I’m more likely to favor projects that I know will result in something that has a higher chance of success rather than do something risky that might fail.
Doing the thing that yield a positive result more quickly seems at first glance equally if not more gratifying than the alternative.
The positive reward makes it all too easy to choose the path of least resistance rather than work towards an alternative goal that may have a larger investment but also a greater reward. Like most, I want something more immediate to show for whatever time I invest.
This was not what I learned in art school, however. My early education in the arts taught me the value and benefit of the process and this isn’t something I’ve lost sight of entirely. I advise my students in these ways because I know them to be the wiser path, but I relate to my students in that I’m a product of a society that makes it okay to accept things the way they are and to believe that something good enough is just as good as something great.
As I begin to understand more about what is important to me as an artist and what it is that I’d like to say in my work, I’ve noticed that I’m more drawn to the the works I was making in art school – a time when I’d spend 25-30 hours rubbing the paper off of toner transfers without thinking twice.
In the past couple of years, several different “slow” movements have started to trend. There’s the Slow Food Movement, the Slow Stitching Movement, and of course the ever growing rise in popularity of DIY, the Maker Movement, and even coloring book therapy that suggest that the effort to slow the f*ck down is something many are interested in doing.
It turns out that Slow Art is also a thing – but at best it’s ill defined, skeptically claimed as originating in many different places and times, and in general seems to focus primarily on artful living as a whole and the act of viewing art more than the actual practice of making art within a contemporary (and career-I need to make a living-focused) lens.
For me, cultivating more time for art and focusing on long-term projects serves the goals I have for myself at this point in my life. While I’m counter-intuitively impatient to see where this takes me, I’m trying to remind myself of the importance of the process and enjoy the journey as much as possible.
The key is that many worthwhile things take time. Patience is a skill – like creativity – that can be learned and developed. It’s not something one simply has or doesn’t have even though some may be more predisposed to have an easier time of it.
As Paul Simon says “Slow down, you move too fast…“