The Troubled Relationship Between Time and Art


Back in college, my friends and I invented a day of the week known as Twunesday.   Twunesday fell between Tuesday and Wednesday, and all events that didn’t fit within the constraints of our seven-day week were scheduled on this day.  When will I write that paper?  On Twunesday!  How about taking a nap?  Twunesday is an excellent day for naps!

Nowadays I find myself filling up my Twunesday schedule with all the artistic endeavors only doable on days when I have a clear schedule, void of responsibilities.  I daydream about a clean, cleared-off desk with an artsy looking planter full of succulents, a steaming coffee cup, and a little framed motivational quote about the sun and new ideas, or some other baloney.  This desk does not exist is my house, most of my writing is done at the dining room table with a cat laying half off my keyboard, usually cutting off the use of everything from caps lock to the space bar.  A pile of papers containing theatre mailers, tax documents, and notepads with my husband’s play notes are held down by a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, of which I have read half.

Either way, each time I manage to get projects down on paper, I am rarely in this golden, sunny-day situation to release my pent-up thoughts into the world.  The ideas often flow onto the page after days of being painfully pent up in my brain.  They make it to the page because I don’t have a choice.  Most importantly, I don’t have the time to wait for a clean house or a clear schedule to write, produce, create, etc.

For the past several years, I’ve worked in a variety of office jobs to supplement my artistic career, and without fail, I constantly come across people that say things like, “I would love to write but I don’t have the time.”  In my reality, the only thing that keeps me creating is a desperation to get things onto paper before the “perfect moment” or perfect amount of time presents itself.  It’s out of necessity; it’s out of the knowledge that, until our society views the arts differently, I have to write in between work assignments, on my lunch break, and in the wee-hours of weekend mornings.   I find the moments in between the cracks to write on a messy desk when the to-do list extends longer than hours I have in the day.

Since I am signing off from my office lifestyle for a little while this summer, here is a parting message to all those who have expressed this concern in the past:

The Creative Mind Does Not Need a Clean Desk

As I poke through my blog over the past several years, I realize that the majority of the post ideas  occurred to me during ordinary moments of the day.  While walking to the cafeteria at my school last fall, I spotted a student twirling in circle in a square of sunlight, wearing a butterfly halloween costume.  This turned into a blog post, which then turned into an idea for a larger project.  The point is that, in spite of what I expected, the idea came without a specific structure in place.  I didn’t sit down and say, “Now I will come up with a new idea!”

Most importantly, an idea must be cherished the moment it arises.  Even if it begins as an amorphous blob, its existence is still the act of creation.  Something is there that wasn’t there before.  Trust that this image, thought, moment of clarity can turn into something tangible if it is not stuffed into the back of the “I am not a writer” closet.

Feeding the Brain with Bits of Time

You may not need to wait for the perfect setting to sit down and write, but the mind does need space and nourishment to see the world from its one-of-a-kind perspective.  This becomes more difficult to do without the balance between time management and purpose.

My mental victories occur when I sense that there’s an imbalance, and place nourishing psychological acts at the top of my list.  It might be grabbing a good cup of coffee in the middle of a hectic day, or if I’m lucky, it’s something artistically beneficial, like actually seeing a show or reading a book that re-ignites the artistic part of my brain.

This requires tricky schedule reorganization, a feisty protection of your personal time, and overall work–work that is hard to explain to a world that measures achievement in money and production.  But the work for mental balance, self-forgiveness, and care is part of the ongoing attempt at creative wellness.  Without it, our ideas have no canvas to live upon.

Speaking of Money…

Do I feel that artists should be paid for their work?  Absolutely.  Do you need to be paid to be considered a “real” artist?  Not at all.  And this is where that tricky conundrum begins.  If we are willing to create art, impelled to even, without getting paid, then will society ever deem it necessary?  And yet, in the meantime, when we continue to fight for even pay for even time, we cannot wait to be assigned the right to do so.  And this is why so many people seem to misunderstand what drives an artist to keep working.

I’ve learned an important lesson in the past six years of survival jobs.  Most support positions invest in your time and energy only.  Positions that invest in ideas are harder to come by, especially when part of your mind is reserved for your artistic passions.  Because of this, I’ve landed among many people that are paid for their time, not their creation of new ideas–and this often creates a resentful workplace.

My question is this: if I am paid X amount of dollars to sit at a desk, waiting to be delegated administrative tasks that require very little training, why does our society pay significantly less than X for the same about of time expended on artistic creation?  Does my arrangement of an excel spreadsheet create more revenue than the creation of a new play?  Someone could argue that the excel spreadsheet supports a for-profit company that creates revenue for a community.  Of course it does.  And yet I would counter that the life of one new play, if produced and developed, supplies jobs, rental revenue, publishing revenue, marketing agency use, etc. for an infinite amount of time for an expansive group of people.

You get my point: time is not valued evenly, and fixing this is much larger issue than I could dive into now.  But going back to my first idea, creation can be acted on before the proper respect for its monetary worth is recognized.  The art still benefits you as a person, it benefits those around you, and it can even benefit an entire community.  It needs to be shared whether the proper infrastructure is currently in place or not.  Its purpose is above our societal standards of money-making (even if it shouldn’t be).

But we still need to fight for this balance.  The more we debunk the belief that artistic work is unnecessary, the more artists will start calling themselves artists, and the more work will be created.  It should  not be a gift reserved for the wealthy or for those with unlimited time and space to allow their ideas to grow.

You Have a Responsibility to Your Art

And so, here we are with the ultimate enigma.  If you have ever considered writing, painting, acting, or even researching scientific ideas (creativity comes in plenty of forms outside of traditional “arts”), you have a responsibility to care for these ideas, respect them, and find a way to share them with your community.  Unfortunately, the structure of our pay system often fights against you, and therefore, it’s easy to feel your ideas have no value.  This is not true, it is only a falsely built structure based on the ideas of industrialism.

You may not always have time to clean off the dining room table first, you may not be fully awake to write a stunning first draft, and you may not have Twunesday to get the final bit completed.  Accepting the exhaustive truth while also accepting your duty to keep sharing your artistic purpose is challenging, and often demoralizing.  But you are not alone, and your work is necessary.  So with a little patience with yourself, stop waiting, the ideas will come–and with it, comes the most fulfilling work there is.


4 responses to “The Troubled Relationship Between Time and Art”

  1. I love your observations that writing (or any kind of creativity, for that matter) probably does not need a clean desk. This really resonated with me as I often feel overwhelmed with papers. Taxes. Yikes! Junk mail, work folders, it goes on and on. I use my kitchen island as a mini desk, but my husband gets annoyed with that. I have finally come to the concussion that whatever works, stick with it. Everyone has their style, and we all get there in the end. It’s about the journey, right?


  2. Ginny, Thank you for sharing your encouraging thoughts about creating art in any form. I’m really good at putting off my current art projects & this motivates me to finish the kingfisher painting I started weeks ago.

    Liked by 1 person

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