Greasing the daily grind.

 

I’ve always found it exciting and a bit chilling to read about the typical day on the life of an artist I admire. They invariably go something like this:

“I spring out of bed at 5 a.m., throw some Ethiopian into the french press, and swim in the Atlantic for 45 minutes with my Rhodesian Ridgeback, Horace. Then, still wet, I sit down at my 1928 Smith Corona and write for four hours or 4,000 words, whichever comes first. I pause to eat 200 ml. of fresh sheep yogurt, steel-cut oats and Lebanese dates. Then, 100 push ups.

“Next, I allocate 43 minutes to email  my editor, manager, publicist, agent, mistresses, and fans. When the tibetan sand clock that the Dalai Lama gave me gongs at noon, I walk down to an exclusive boîte on the main street of my quaint, artisanal town to eat lunch at my regular table with one or two of my equally famous artist friends.

Then I stroll home and have a two-hour nap, a massage, a high colonic, sex, two Bolivian chocolates, and return to my studio…

“Then I stroll home and have a two-hour nap, a massage, a high colonic, sex, two Bolivian chocolates, and return to my studio where I write until my housekeeper serves dinner which I eat with twenty of my closest friends and several cases of wine bottled by some aristocratic boyhood pal, then a few lashings of espresso and off to bed where I read some Keats, wash down a handful of Lunesta, adjust my satin eye shade, and dream about tomorrow’s work.”

Making art takes work. For some of us, it is our work. Work without a boss, or a quota, or a time clock. And that kind of job can be very hard to keep up. That’s why artists establish routines, to get them off their duffs and into the studio. We need to be motivated by something to put down the remote or the opium pipe and saddle up.

The only one who will make us do what we do — is us.  Sure, editors can give us deadlines in return for advances and gallerists can schedule gallery openings but we know deep down that we can always buy more time if we whine. No one can fire us.

For the last few months, I have pledged to myself that I would post something here three times every week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7 am. I have written several zillion posts here over the years but this is a bit more structured. I made this pledge because a deadline of some kind would keep me more productive than just waiting for inspiration, desire, and schedule to converge. I haven’t been utterly slavish about this pledge as you may have noticed but it has kept me reasonably committed.

The key has been to establish a proper routine about it, besides this slightly guilty feeling in the back of my head that I should sit down and write something. I like to do it early, before the press of the day has begun, when the streets are quiet, Jenny and the hounds are still in bed, and I have yet to read any emails or NY Times editorials  that could clutter or influence the flow. I awake with a vague notion, then make a few false starts, and soon the mechanism clicks in and the sentences spool out.

If you stay up until all hours kicking the gong and chasing chorus girls around Montparnasse, it’s a lot harder to rise with the dawn…

Starting one’s days productively takes structure. If you stay up until all hours kicking the gong and chasing chorus girls around Montparnasse, it’s a lot harder to rise with the dawn, so it’s helpful to be a little disciplined about what you do all day long, even when you aren’t creating. Eat protein, read actual books, don’t watch the Tonight Show. Repeat.

And just because my body is sleeping, my brain doesn’t get to punch out. If I mull for a minute or two about what I want to write in those minutes before sleep, it’s much more likely that I will wake up with the first sentence sticking out of my brain like the beginning of a roll of Scotch tape.

The art-making process can be mysterious but it can also be somewhat controlled. You can set a wakeup call for the muse if you give yourself a predictable program, an armature to build your work on.

I’ll write more about this next time. Which reminds me of another tip: never leave your work 100% completed at the end of the day. Park on the top of the hill, leaving half a sentence or a partially drawn face, so the You of Tomorrow can pick up the work in progress rather than wrestling with a cold start.

To wit: I will always remember what Andy Warhol said to me one evening in The Odeon, “Danny, old boy, never mix chickens, ball bearings, and…”

 

16 thoughts on “Greasing the daily grind.”

  1. I start every day by working on my photographs immediately after breakfast and when I run out of steam, I ride my Catrike for about an hour and go back to work, whether I feel like or not. Just working at working frequently gets me going.

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  2. Hard to believe until you do it; the more you do, the more you can do. Enjoyed this post which is a good reminder to have a routine and funny way of putting it.

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  3. Great blog, Danny. One of my “routines” is to stop in my little “studio” right before I go to bed. I get the satisfaction of looking at what I created that day one last time. It makes me smile and look forward to the Me of Tomorrow.

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  4. Where’s the love button? See my blog post for today – I thought I (cap I) was living the life. Need. High. Colonic. Oh, yeah, and the sex. And the chocolate! And the Atlantic swim … and … and … lol. Great!

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  5. Real artists cook breakfast, kiss the kid off to school, do five loads of wash, cook lunch, kis the kid back to school….before they can paint a couple hours before they have to clear the oil paint off the dining room table and fix dinner! I know, Mama was an artist! I have it made….I have a real room that says “studio” and all my little birds have flown the nest! But I still have to eat, sleep, read real books, pet the cat……all to be sure my butt actually does get out of bed and into that studio! LOL! And as Andy said the other night over drinks….LOL!

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  6. Timely and on the money…if Danny reads these comments?…more on how to stay focused and choosing what to do with time …..Please.

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  7. Fabulous piece. And hysterically true. A lesson in how to give a PR interview. Personally I begin my splendidly creative days with an informal meeting with my two studio assistants (teddies) to discuss our aesthetic goals and then leave them to get on with it while I drink the contents of an Art Nouveau cafetiere, check my emails and catch up on the latest NFL news.
    Check my emails and Football alerts.

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  8. A great post and so timely, with tomorrow being the first day after a busy summer (or, dare I say, the first day of the rest of…nah). Laying out the supplies tonight.

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  9. Oh Danny– so true! Comparison is a gateway drug to paralysis. I tell myself I’m reading about artist’s lives so I can mine some nugget of wisdom but it usually turns out to be just another way to convince myself I’m not qualified or good enough to be an artist. SEE– I don’t run with the bulls, or whatever… Thanks for the rational thought and reminder that art, like anything else, is a choice and requires commitment to sitting one’s butt down to do it. Great tip on leaving a work not quite complete.

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