Downtime – Good for the Artist’s Soul

“Straight, No Chaser,” ©2018, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 36″

An artist’s life is a busy life.  And conventional wisdom has it that any creative life should be a busy life.  After all, what with the many things to think about, there’s no time to dawdle.  The White Rabbit’s lament from Alice in Wonderland is quite apt — “I’m late! I’m late!”

Friends and relations of artists are quite used to hearing, “Sorry, I need to spend time in the studio this week.”  If we work at home and they’re so bold as to drop in without a call first, they expect to see us at the easel or table, brush or some other tool in hand, working like demons on the latest project.

What they don’t expect is to see us sitting around doing what looks like nothing or folding the laundry or puttering with our plants.  If we work in a studio, they don’t expect to find it closed when they arrive with a sign on the door that reads, “Gone fishing.”

“I thought you were busy with your painting this week.”  And we are.  Busy thinking, day dreaming, relaxing our brains enough to allow new ideas to come in.  Busy doing anything but painting.

The old saw that good ideas come while we’re in the shower is true because standing in the shower is as good a place as any to do absolutely nothing except let the water pour over us.  The perfect environment for inspiration.

In his delightful little book Steal Like an Artist, writer and artist Austin Kleon says this:

“Take time to be bored…Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing. I get some of my best ideas when I’m bored, which is why I never take my shirts to the cleaners. I love ironing my shirts–it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas. If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes. Take a really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can…Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.”

If you’re an artist/introvert like me, you know about coming up with reasons why we can’t be available for a full-scale social life.  And you know that we run the risk of being crossed off the social lists after saying “no, thank you” too many times.  But still…

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote a beautiful message for us all on this very subject.  Bill Moyers said this poem changed his life.  Maybe it will change yours.  I know for sure, it will help you explain your downtime as a creative soul.

The Art Of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

–Naomi Shihab Nye

Time runs only one way.  Decide for yourself what to do with the time you have, especially the time you need to be bored and quiet while inspiration comes.  Wash the dishes. Go fishing. Stare at the sea.  It matters.



2 thoughts on “Downtime – Good for the Artist’s Soul

  1. And I love your comment! You’re so right…I saw some lovely desert grass in front of Burger King the other day blowin’ in the San Diego wind and I knew I wanted the colors in a new painting…it’s everywhere. Thank you for the comment. Molly

  2. Molly, You will find inspiration everywhere around you; the moon, stars, clouds……grocery shopping, ads on the community board. You are so good at seeing what others do not…..keep up your abstracts……love your work!

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