Time to get back to the studio!


The magical music-making season is over–friends have converged from all over the world, played and partied together, and gone back to their “day jobs”, promising to stay in touch.  The weather has gotten cooler, and a siesta is no longer the most compelling afternoon option. Jacques is revving up for olive picking, and if the beautiful fall weather holds, I am looking at several weeks of uninterrupted time! How to switch gears, and get back to the studio?

And why?

I go back again and again, when I need a shot of courage (and a laugh), to “The Writing Life”, by Annie Dillard (Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-06-016156-6) I find her words on living the “creative life” poetic and pared down, funny and true. Just now I have randomly opened the book to a passage which seems timely:

“Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free. Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself. In the democracies, you may even write and publish anything you please about any governments or institutions, even if what you write is demonstrably false.

The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever. You are free to make several thousand close judgment calls a day. Your freedom is a by-product of your days’ triviality. A shoe salesman–who is doing others’ tasks, who must answer to two or three bosses, who must do his job their way, and must put himself in their hands, at their place, during their hours–is nevertheless working usefully. Further, if the shoe salesman fails to appear one morning, someone will notice and miss him. Your manuscript, on which you lavish such care, has no needs or wishes; it knows you not. Nor does anyone need your manuscript; everyone needs shoes more. There are many manuscripts already–worthy ones, most edifying and moving ones, intelligent and powerful ones. If you believed Paradise Lost to be excellent, would you buy it? Why not shoot yourself, actually, rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?”

Another book on my SOS shelf which I underlined my way through years ago, and still find delightful– “Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, ISBN 0-88496-379-9. Here is a sample passage, on the importance of small conventions and rituals for staying at work:

“The discovery of useful forms is precious. Once found, they should never be abandoned for trivial reasons. It is easy to imagine today’s art instructor cautioning Chopin that the Mazurka thing is getting a little repetitive, that the work is not progressing. Well, true, it may not have been progressing–but that’s not the issue. Writing Mazurkas may have been useful only to Chopin–as a vehicle for getting back into the work, and as a place to begin making the next piece. For most artists, making good art depends upon making lots of art, and ANY device that carries the first brushstroke to the next blank canvas has tangible, practical value…”

Other tricks that sometimes have worked in the past: Put on some music I want to listen to, and clean the studio (if I’m lucky, maybe I will find myself wondering what would happen if I combined this remnant over here with that unfinished piece over there…). Go for a walk with a camera, alone, in my favorite city. Write, “refill the well”, talk to other artist friends…say “Get lost, buddy!”, when Jacques bangs on the studio window and asks what’s for lunch!

It is time to get back to work! I’ll keep you posted….


2 Responses to “Time to get back to the studio!”

  1. Good luck, although luck has little to do with it. Karol

  2. I know that feeling. I go around looking at things and avoiding my studio. I do have the art and fear book at my bedside.

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