The rhythms of a flourishing artist: Or "how I get things done"
|The Good Samaritan|
My friend Jim Janknegt is one of the most prolific visual artists I know. This is not because he's got a stash of pirate gold sustaining the lifestyle of a landed gentry, nor because he lives in New York City or London in the thick of the high art world, nor because he works full time as an artist. He's prolific because he retains a careful rhythm of life and work, and has done so for many years.
|Flight into Egypt|
“The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to ritualize them—build specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.”
This is a way of saying that our will and capacity for discipline require the aid of daily rituals in order to serve the ends to which we apply them.
Recently Jim wrote an essay called "How I Get Things Done." It includes ten things he does, simply because that's what an artist does. He kindly allowed me to reprint it here. While his circumstances include plenty of contingent factors, many of us as artists have good reason to read and heed.
HOW I GET THINGS DONE
1. Blew up my TV. Not literally, but I did disconnect it from everything (cable, satellite, antenna) except a DVD player. Now we only watch TV intentionally via Netflix.
2. Get enough sleep. I go to bed between 10:00 and 11:00 (usually closer to 10:00) and get up at the same time everyday except for Sunday at 6:00 am. I set my alarm. That is close to eight hours of sleep.
3. I start my day with quiet. Everyone else in my house is a night owl. So when I get up at 6:00 I am the only one up. I start the day with a good breakfast, coffee and some spiritual reading. After breakfast I pray the Divine Office. As an example, the last year I have read The Imitation of Christ, The Divine Comedy and am currently reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
On Saturdays I usually work on projects around the house from 9:00 to 5:00 with lunch and a nap thrown in. Sundays: no work. I fix breakfast for the family, teach religious education and go to Mass; then rest.
5. Show up. I generally stick to my schedule even when I don’t feel like it. 90% of getting things done is just showing up. If I show up and just sit in a chair and stare at my painting or fall asleep I have not lost my momentum. Inertia is hard to overcome. Once I get started, I don’t stop.
6. Plan ahead. I always plan what I am going to do at least a day in advance and sometimes more. Especially if it is a project and I need supplies or tools. I never wait till the day I am going to do a project to get the materials and supplies I need. I try to do these errands on the way to or from work. That way when Saturday rolls around I can immediately start to work. If I have to go to the hardware store or, worse yet, drive to Home Depot, I can write off half the days work. I try and be a good boy scout and be prepared.
7. Make a list. I keep a running list of things I need to do. Right now I have 72 items on my list. All but 18 of them are done. I add items to be done in black (blue if they are urgent) and I change the color to red when I have finished. One thing I wish I had done is put the date by the item when I add it to my list and the date when I finish the project. I am going to start doing that.
8. Have a designated place to work. This is a luxury not everyone can afford. I am fortunate to have a studio set aside for my painting and a barn with a space for working on projects. I can leave everything set up. To start painting all I have to do is sit down, take the lid off my turpentine and paint.
10. Work for the Kingdom of God. I am motivated to work because I believe I am an instrument whose purpose is to further the Kingdom of God. Whether I become successful, famous, wealthy or appreciated has no bearing on the work that I do. I hope that my work furthers the Kingdom and I order myself to that end. Especially with my painting, I realize, that much of the effect of my work may not be fully realized until I am dead. And that is OK. It basically means that I paint for an audience of one, the King of Heaven, and if he is pleased then all is well.
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