View all posts filed under 'Productivity'

We Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel

Sunday, 31. December 2023 22:45

At this time of year, there is a virtual frenzy of New Year’s resolutions. Evidently, many of us think that we have behaviors that need correcting or improving or modifying, and January 1 presents a very convenient time to begin these new activities. Indeed, some seem to want to completely reinvent themselves. And perhaps new behaviors are a good idea, never mind the fact that 53% of New Year’s resolutions last three months or less. So this seasonal shift in attitudes and behaviors may not be the best way to really change things for the better.

And although New Year’s resolutions might be useful for other areas our lives (Statistically, the vast majority relate to health or finances.), such resolutions with regard to our art practices are not necessarily a good idea. The time of year might catch us in the midst of projects in various stages of completion, and changing approaches and procedures mid-project is never a good idea. Thus it is likely that the work will suffer or that the resolutions will last an even shorter time than three months.

It is, however, an excellent idea to review our working procedures from time to time. We may well find areas of our practice that will benefit from periodic appraisal. But when do we want to do that, if not at the end of one year and the beginning of another? Perhaps when we wrap up a project is a better time for self-evaluation. This approach allows us to consider one project at a time and evaluate the procedures and approaches that we utilized for that particular project, determining what worked well and what was less than satisfactory. Areas that need improvement can then be isolated and improvements considered before we begin a new project. For example, I know a stage director who, after the run of every show, holds a post mortem which involves the whole company. This allows everyone to examine what was done and how it was done, noting what improvements are called for by the next project. It is a procedure that seems to work very well for his situation.

By timing our evaluations and “resolutions” to the interval between projects, we are more likely to actually implement new ideas and changes in processes. If, of course, we find that these ideas are not productive, we can always revert to our former practices to get the job done. Or we can stop and try to find even newer ways to approach the creative problem.

Additionally, we might find that our new ideas for creative projects are not sweeping changes that will completely alter the way we approach the creative process the way some more general resolutions are designed to change our approach to health in a thorough and far-reaching fashion. Rather they are small changes, perhaps in the order in which we do the work, or what tools we select to perform certain tasks, or how much time we allow ourselves to do the work. But small changes can be very important in the long run and should not be ignored.

All of this presumes that we have a fairly solid process for creating; many of us have worked on our process for years and are mostly comfortable with it. That does not mean that no changes are called for, but it does mean that it does not need a complete overhaul—certainly not once a year and not in the way that more general New Year’s resolutions are designed to literally change a person’s life.

In other words, as regards our artistic process, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel once a year.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

When Inspiration Strkes

Sunday, 17. December 2023 19:56

The problem with inspiration is that it’s unpredictable. That’s why most working artists don’t depend on it. Rather, they show up at the easel or computer or studio at a predetermined time and do the work. Ideas lead to other ideas and the artifact gets produced. Then the artist moves on to the next project. It’s not as romantic as it is in the movies, but it’s more reliable—if the goal is to produce art.

But occasionally inspiration does strike. Most of us are so wrapped up in our daily routines that we often don’t know what to do with that. And one never knows what shape the inspiration will take or how long it will last. It may be an image or a plot line or a a melody line or a character description or a situation/resolution or just a situation with no resolution. It may not be about the content at all; rather, it might be about the shape of the finished artifact. And inspiration is often fleeting, having arrived in a dream or when the artist is in an altered state or in the middle of a conversation, and it is likely to disappear just as quickly and dramatically as it arrived. So what are we to do?

Do make notes immediately. Since the idea or vision or whatever it is is likely to evaporate instantaneously, it is a good idea to stop and make notes as soon as possible. These notes need to be as thorough as possible in the time allotted, even if it means stopping a conversation to write something down. And they need to be legible; often notes made in such a rush are illegible once they become cold, so care should be taken to be sure they are readable. Again, they should be as complete as possible, given the situation—just a single word or a phrase is not likely to give memory the kick it will need later to remember exactly what the inspiration was.

Don’t interrupt your current creative routine. Such a move can result in losing both the current flow and thus the current project as well as the new idea presented by the sudden inspiration. It’s better to continue on with the current project until completion, then turn to the new idea, which is why complete notes are so important.

Do revisit notes of the inspiration as soon as practical so that additional notes and embellishments can be added. This is an important step in that the idea may appear differently once the conversation or sleep or whatever is over and the idea has cooled a bit. It is also a necessary step in that the cooling of the initial idea will require that details be added and gaps be filled so that the idea can be developed.

Don’t let the idea languish too long. It was important enough to break into your consciousness unbidden, so it is important enough to develop. Work it into your creative routine as soon as you can without displacing other ideas and projects.

Do develop the idea. It may turn out to be some of your best work—or some of your least good—but it deserves to be realized.

And finally, don’t think that because of this idea, particularly if it successful, you can depend on inspiration for the bulk of your art-making.  The best you can do is to develop a creative work routine so that you invite inspiration to strike. It may or may not, but your production of art can continue.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Arete as an Artistic Philosophy

Sunday, 3. December 2023 22:37

Some artists are perfectionists—or try to be. Unfortunately, perfection is unattainable, and attempting to reach it will cause the artist to be non-productive. Additionally, attempting perfection in art just makes the artist more frustrated in a business that is filled with frustration to begin with.

From a productivity point of view it would be far better to take a “good enough” attitude toward making art. To produce art that is “good enough,” the artist must know the audience really well to know what they will and will not accept. “Good enough” is a practical goal when productivity is key to the artist’s success. Does this approach prevent artists from doing their best work? Not necessarily, but  it does ensure artists’ success in that their audience is always satisfied with the work presented, and will keep coming back for more.

There is, however, a third alternative, and that is to approach one’s work with a sense of arete. Arete is a Greek philosophy and is referred to by Plato, Homer, and Aristotle. Essentially, it means the pursuit of excellence or living up to one’s full potential. A person practicing arete uses “all of their faculties” to reach their highest effectiveness. This philosophy has a good deal to offer the artist. It avoids the frustration that results from attempting perfection, and it circumvents the mediocrity that can be associated with the “good enough” approach. It assures that the artist’s work is as good as it can be at any given time with the resources available at that time.

Does this mean that an artist’s work will all be of the same level? Probably not. As an artist moves through time they gain experience, this adds to the artist’s capabilities and will likely result in better work as time goes by. The artist may gain additional resources as time goes by and they acquire new skills and additional knowledge. Again, the artist’s work may benefit and become better as the artist matures.

Does this mean that the artist’s early work is without merit? Far from it. The youthful artist is likely to bring a sense of newness and discovery to the work that the more mature artist lacks. The early work will be different, but neither better nor worse, merely different.

No matter what the age of the artist or where they are on their artistic journey, they will have something new and different to offer the work. And they will always know that whatever they have produced, they will have done their best possible work. It’s just that the meaning of “best possible” varies over time. However, there will never be the sense that they “phoned it in” because in practicing arete, they will know that they produced the best work they possibly could, given where they were in their artistic journey, and that can be a great satisfaction, even if the work fails to gain an audience.

The downside to arete is that in practice—making every piece the very best it can be— it can be intense. This is particularly true for the ultra-talented among us, who are used to being able to dash off a piece with no discernable effort. It seems to me, however, that the intensity is worth it, because “good enough” is not good enough—unless it’s the very best we can possibly do. Those of us who have not, might want to consider the arete approach; it will make a difference in our art.

Category:Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

The Problem with Habitual Behaviors

Sunday, 24. September 2023 21:50

One of the truisms about humans is that we—most of us, anyway—are creatures of habit. The other thing about habits is that they can govern large chunks of our time, or are just perhaps the way some little things get done. Sometimes these habits are purposeful; other times, they sort of sneak up on us.

Purposeful habits occur when we make conscious behavioral decisions about how we spend our time. For example, an artist may decide that they will work only on art in the mornings from 9:00am until 1:00 pm, five days a week, and use the rest of their time for other things. After following this pattern for a while, it becomes ingrained, habitual. It’s something that the artist does without thinking about it. And so, without thinking, the artist works on art at least four hours a day, 20 hours a week, every week without fail. Occasionally the artist may work longer, but never less. Probably this is a good habit, particularly when compared to the artist who works on art whenever the mood strikes, regardless of the time of day. The artist with the habit is likely to be far more productive.

As noted, habits may govern little things as well. Perhaps our artist begins each work session with morning pages. This, according to many, is also a good practice to have, and therefore a good habit to cultivate. It is likely that such an artist will have an off-day, or at least an off-session should they one day neglect to do their morning pages.

And so it goes. Artists develop all sorts of behaviors consciously, behaviors that often turn into habits. All sorts of things become habits whether the artist intends it or not. For example, the first thing the artist does in the morning is have a cup of coffee. It’s a small thing with very few consequences, unless that the artist feels that they need that cup of coffee, and without it, the day isn’t right.

And, of course, there are habits that are considered bad, often associated with the intake of substances that are not healthy. Having a habit is quite different from occasional use. If the artist again needs to intake a substance at the end of each work session, there is likely a problem that will have to be dealt with sooner or later. Also worth mentioning in this category are procrastination and scrolling social media, both of which can become unhealthy habits.

Occasionally, we are forced to change our habits, which is very disconcerting, to say the least. This happened to a number of artists during the pandemic, when a number of us had to completely alter the way that we worked. This was more than unsettling for many of us; it was the equivalent of having our worlds turned upside down. Some of us adapted quickly; others took more time. Before it was over, most of us had replaced our old habits with new behaviors that were well on their way to becoming our new habits.

Then about the time those habits really took hold, the pandemic was over and the world tried to go back to the way things were before. And here we were stuck with pandemic-era habits that really had no place in the post-pandemic world. And a number of us are still trying to make the transition back to a face-to-face world and possibly return to our old habits, even though considerable time has passed.

There are probably many lessons to be learned from this series of events. The ones that seem important to me are that we need to periodically evaluate our habits to determine whether they are indeed helpful or just the way we have come to do things. If we find them lacking, then we certainly should make an effort to change them to behaviors that are more positive. It’s not something that we can’t do. We know that because when it was forced on us, we, all of us, modified our habits to accommodate the situation. So now what we might consider is exercising more control over our daily behaviors—particularly those that we gained unconsciously and especially those that have impact on our art.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

A(I)rt?

Sunday, 26. February 2023 21:56

It’s difficult to go a day without seeing an article about artificial intelligence. AI has suddenly taken the world by storm. For writing there are ChatGPT, Copymatic, Wordtune, and Anyword. For art, the programs most in demand are Midjourney, DALL-E-2, Dream, and Craiyon. For the music world, there are platforms specifically for music generation, music production, music videos, and music composition.

The specific topics of AI articles are all over the place: many are concerned with students at the high school and collegiate level using AI to do their assignments. A number are detailing specific AI platforms to use to achieve specific results or strategies for using particular AI platforms. A number of articles consider AI just another tool to be used for all sorts of work and embrace its use. Others take the opposite view and deplore the use of AI for creative work, saying that AI products are derivative, an argument that devolves into a copyright debate. Speaking of which, the US Copyright Office has already ruled that AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted.

But few articles have touched on the use of AI for the serious artist, and even fewer on the philosophical argument that such moves by artists would engender. The whole AI argument focuses on product—whether it’s a section of computer code or a freshman term paper or a novel, or a piece of visual or aural art and does not speak to the process of creation. And that, I think, is a sticking point for a number of artists.

Most artists get into art because they want to make things. Some of the things that artists want to make are, of course, not things at all, but experiences: theatre, dance, ephemera of all sorts. It may be that AI is, or will become capable of generating such experiences, but that does not yet seem to be the case, so let’s concentrate on artifact-producing and what AI-produced work does to the creator.

AI changes the role of the artist. In the case of a writer, for example, the writer no longer produces word order that is the product of their brain synapses and the way the writer’s mind associates ideas. Even if the AI is instructed to write in the style of the writer, the role of the writer is changed from creator to instruction-giver/editor and the resulting artifact would be completely different. So long as the writer is okay with that, it could be a successful use of AI and might produce work of a reasonable quality, but most artists I know really are not looking for a change of role or an easier way to do what they do. They would much prefer to be hands-on creators because of what they get out of the process.

For technical writing or production art, AI could be an immense time-saver. However, for creative work, it is difficult to imagine artists being willing to hand over the creative process to a machine, no matter how much time it saved. Many artists are story-tellers, and story-telling is a very different activity from giving instructions about telling a story. As noted, the creative process is just too important to them.

Of course, the ongoing existence and improvement of AI might produce a different kind of artist than we now have—one who wants to be an instruction-giver/editor instead of one who enjoys and appreciates the process of creating every detail. That sounds like science fiction, but so did AI not long ago. Regardless of the change that AI brings, we will continue to have people who want to create, who want to explore the creative process. What that will mean to the future of art, we cannot say, but we can be assured that art will continue and that the audience for art will continue to exist.

Category:Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Art is Like Soup

Sunday, 12. February 2023 22:59

There is a great push for artists, no matter the media in which they work, to get work out into the world. There are numerous articles about this, and even books. The reason, of course, is that artists are sometimes hesitant to release their work; this is perhaps due to being a perfectionist or just not wanting to release the work until it “feels done.” Perfectionism is not a desirable characteristic for a working artist, and holding on to our work for excessive periods is certainly not a way to improve our reputations or income. On the other hand, we shouldn’t rush our work out the door.

And the reason is that we have to give the disparate pieces of our work time to, as my grandmother used to say, “marry.” It’s the reason that soup tastes better the second day: the ingredients have had the time to interact and influence one another. There are a number of theories why this happens with soup, many of them scientific, but essentially it breaks down to “flavor compounds flow…in and out of components,…balancing and integrating the overall flavor.” In other words, soup is better the next day because all the different flavors are transformed “into one harmonious soup.”

Much the same thing holds true for a work of art, particularly collaborative works. For example, it takes some time and adjustment for actors and directors to get to know each other and understand the others’ working methods and processes. Only when that is done can the collaborators really begin working together to build a fully integrated play or film. In the case of a play, this development continues into performance. The elements have to “marry.”

The same is thing applies for solo works of art a well. As each new element is introduced, it must work with what is already there. Then it takes some time for all the pieces to mesh and work with and off of each other; some preexisting areas may need modification. The pieces have to “marry.” Then the work begins to take shape, although it may take some time for its final form to be realized. Art critic Jerry Saltz says “most artists have to work on something for a long time before they know what they’re working on.”

Just as when we make soup, we can certainly put all of the elements of a work together in a brief time, but we will invariably get a better product if we not only allow this mixture to simmer but allow the piece to sit for a time until we can get over creation fatigue and go back to the piece to better tie the parts together in the editing process, increasing the harmony and uniformity of the work. We might even let it sit for a time after that before doing a second edit, integrating the parts of the work even more tightly. The parts have to “marry.” Then, and only then, can we think about releasing the work.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Don’t Overthink Your Work

Sunday, 29. January 2023 22:21

There’s a lot to think about when we begin a new project. What is the nature and scope of the work? Is it unique and original? Can it be accomplished in the allotted time frame? What is the allotted time frame? Do we have the proper materials to complete the work? How will this project be shaped? Can we fund it? Who will be the audience for this project? What is it about? What are we trying to say? What impact do we want to have on our audience? Is this a project that we should do? Is this a project that we should do now? Why do we want to do this project in the first place?

Having answered these initial questions, we begin work, only to find that there are still other questions: Does this part of the work go here or somewhere else. If we place that part here, how does it change the meaning and impact of the whole work? Would it better be left out? Should this element be expanded? If so, how much? What does that mean to the overall work?  Are we spending too much time on this part or that part? Are we still saying the same thing that we set out to say or has the message changed? Are we making progress at an appropriate rate? And so we begin to second-guess our choices and decisions.

As we question and second-guess, we may find that we are thinking so much that we are forgetting the feeling, emotional side of our project. We might even get so tied up in considering where this piece goes or whether that image is appropriate that we forget to allow ourselves to dream and create based on feeling and imagination. And whether we recognize the danger or not, once we begin to forget these things, we are overthinking, and risking being stuck.

If we get stuck in overthinking, there are two possible results: (1) the work we produce is stiff and overly self-conscious, overly intellectualized. It appears artificial and inauthentic. It’s more of a treatise than a work of art, not what we had intended at all. (2) The other possibility is that the work gets stalled. We overthink and second-guess to the point that we are immobilized. In our continued thinking, we have lost the art of the piece and are only concerned with technique and message.

This is not to say that no planning or thinking is necessary. We certainly need to know whether we are writing a short story, novella, of full-length novel. However, perhaps we would do better if at the beginning we answered basic questions, thought about the shape of the project, and then just jumped in and did—without thinking too much along the way. Many of the questions we ask ourselves as we create can be answered intuitively as we work. We might go further if we let our initial thinking set the path, then turned off the thinking and trusted our instincts, letting our imaginations out to play.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

When Your Muse Goes on Vacation

Sunday, 15. January 2023 22:12

Regardless of what the creativity pundits say, most artists rely on inspiration for their impetus to work. That inspiration may come in the form of the traditional lightning bolt of creativity or simply a niggling idea. Whatever the form, artists rely on them to move them to create. And we all know that one idea can generate others, so that ideas can stack up, and we are forced to jot them down so we can keep working on the current project. But sometimes that doesn’t occur; sometimes inspiration doesn’t strike; ideas don’t happen.

There has been a lot of conjecture on the causes for lack of inspiration or “writer’s block” as it is sometimes called, and some psychologists have provided methods for overcoming it. We can look those up and try them out and they may or may not work, but when inspiration has left the building, we are at a total loss.

How long inspiration stays gone is also a mystery. It could take a brief overnight trip, or it could be gone a week, or a month, or even longer. No matter how long it’s gone, it will seem like forever, and we often do nothing—except bemoan the absence of inspiration. We seem to be helpless without our inspiration.

So when our muse goes on vacation what should we do? Well, we could go on vacation as well. Of course this works only for those of us who are independently wealthy. If we are working artists, we must keep producing, inspiration or not.

Exactly how do we do that? There are number of books dealing with artistic blockage. Some try to identify the sources of the problem or the places we are likely to “hit the wall.” Some are overly general and some overly specific. Many are aimed exclusively at writers, albeit of various genres. And while some have some interesting exercises, most come down to the same advice.

And that advice is that we go regularly to the theatre, studio, office—our place of work, and we pick up the brush or pen or pencil or chisel or keyboard or notebook or camera and we do the work—we essentially pretend that we are inspired, that our muse has not temporarily left us and we do the work. Yes, it may be uninspired, but unless we give into depression at the short-term loss, hardly anyone will know. They may realize that our work is not up to our usual standards, but then everyone has ups and downs. And the next day we do that again, and the day after, and the day after that if need be.

Essentially, we are performing a variant of “fake it ‘til you make it.” We crank out our work, knowing that it may not be our best, and the work moves forward, and we keep doing that until one day—and it may or may not be long in coming—a new idea appears, then another, then another. And finally our muse is back; our inspiration is again at work, and now we can really move forward with far less effort and do our best work yet. It’s just a matter of continuing to work while our muse is on vacation.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Art Productivity with a Post-Pandemic Shortened Attention Span

Sunday, 18. December 2022 22:39

We are just now beginning to understand the impact of the pandemic on our psychology and physiology. And things are not looking wonderful. For example, Many experts argue that the pandemic has “accelerated a shift in attention spans.” Some say it is the pandemic coupled with the increasing amount of time we spend online that have shortened attention spans. Still others say these factors have not reduced our attention spans, but rather have reduced “our ability to engage with new ideas,” so “it’s harder to get our attention in the first place.

Regardless of the exact nature of the problem, no one denies that it exists. The problem remains that we have difficulty giving our attention to projects for sustained periods of time. While this is a problem for nearly everyone, it is particularly acute for artists. As artists we must engage new ideas at every turn, particularly when working on a new project. Many of us are used to working for long hours at a stretch, and a significant percentage of us are finding that difficult in the post-pandemic world. It makes our work attempts more frustrating. Since the condition that we are experiencing was built up over time, the possible solutions are not likely to be immediate, but we must at least begin looking for them.

While he does not acknowledge the exact nature of the problem, senior art critic for New York Magazine and Pulitzer Prize winner Jerry Saltz, offers one such solution: “Artists maybe looking for a prompt to get them working: Try approaching a day in your studio as a jam session. Not doing things that take a long time. But working out things spontaneously in response to what is being worked out. What’s deeper inside will come out this way too.

This idea can be developed even further and our work can become a reflection of the way we are currently thinking; it can become broken into very short segments that do not require long spans of concentration: we can work on one detail in a painting or sculpture. We can read an act or a few scenes of a play at a sitting instead of the whole thing. We can write a page or few pages—or even a few paragraphs—at a time instead of the dozen pages that we used to target. We can break a photo editing session into segments so that we are fresh and creative for the short time we are committing to each segment. We can even juggle tasks so that we work on them for short times before trading off to the next one.

And those of us in collaborative arts need to remind ourselves that our collaborators are likely experiencing the same problems and frustrations that we are, so the structure of the collaborative process may need alteration to be successful.

We should, of course, be aware that there may be new frustrations in modifying our work routines; however, the reward of actually accomplishing something (and thereby maybe tricking ourselves into longer involvement than we anticipated) makes that frustration worth it.

The key is to use short pieces of time productively instead of becoming frustrated because we cannot maintain concentration for the longer periods of time that we used to use. Doing this we can again become productive rather than wallowing in frustration and accomplishing nothing.

Category:Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Lose Yourself in the Work

Sunday, 4. December 2022 19:04

Steven King’s novel Billy Summers is many things, but one of the things it is, is an ode to writing. At one point a character talks about the act of writing and how the world of the author disappears as the author enters the world that they are creating, how the writer is able to see the smallest details that they are describing and how the world they are creating becomes as real, the specifics as clear as any in the real world. Repeatedly King comments on how real time disappears when one is writing, how the writer becomes so absorbed in the imaginative world of the book being written that they almost cease to exist in the world we normally inhabit. This is the ideal condition for creating imaginative realities.

And, of course, this applies to arts other than writing as well. It certainly applies to theatre and film. Whether one is an actor involved in a scene or a director working with actors and designers, one needs to be completely involved in the process. The same holds true for a painter or a sculptor, a dancer or a choreographer, a singer or songwriter, a composer or a musician.

Whatever our art, we must enter the imaginative world completely and fully, paying attention to the smallest of details. If we do this with our whole being we will be completely immersed in the work. Time in the real world will disappear. The entire real world may disappear, and only our work will exist. We may or may not be in flow. When we come back to reality, much time will have passed without our noticing, and we may be tired. But it will be a good tired, and the work we have done will be our best.

But there are obstacles. There are many things for us to think about. There are large issues: inflation, politics, climate, racism, fascism, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, health care. There are more local issues: weather, traffic, education, housing, food costs, neighbors. And there are personal issues: money, health, relationships, mental health. All of these touch us one way or another. It’s a wonder then with so much to occupy our minds that we have any capacity left for our art (and I’m sure I’ve missed some). But we manage the distractions as best we can and press on.

Or at least we try. Those many things to think about prey on our minds when we try to create. In training beginning actors we advise them to leave their problems and worries at the stage door—such get in the way during the rehearsal and performance. Yet we are seldom completely successful at getting all students to do this. And, unfortunately, this is an even greater problem in a post-pandemic-lockdown world—not only for students and actors, but for teachers and directors as well.

Still, we must try. And we may well emulate that practice we teach beginning actors. We might well make a ritual of leaving our worries and concerns at the door of our studio. We might even lock them in a locker or box, which can be either real or virtual. But we would do well to drop our concerns at the entrance to our workspace; they will surely be there when our work session is over—ready to overtake our minds again. But for the time we are in our creative space, our minds can be free to work only on our imaginative reality, on creativity, on making. If we make this a practice, pretty soon it will become habit. And that habit will be reflected in our creativity and productivity. We will experience the joy of time creatively spent as do King’s characters.

 

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author: