I used to make paintings. I like saying that; it makes me feel like I had an early career as a successful artist. Anyway, I studied painting at the University of Delaware back in the 90’s. It was a strange choice of major for someone with as little natural drawing ability as I have and with an ego that is often put in its place by an insecure brain. I guess my main talent was hardwork and thoughtfulness, which doesn’t always result in beauty. I don’t know if I worked harder than any of the other artists that I studied with, but I can say I worked a lot. My studio was like many other painters I know, full of unfinished work in various states of abstraction waiting for that strike of clarity in the split second of idea and execution, the perfect action.
The key was to create a situation in which I would be present to perform this action. The process I used was an active sort of drawing in which the painting received every idea with almost no pre-planning. One of the common criticisms I would receive on studio visits in those days was that each canvas was actually 4 or more paintings in which only 1 was seen. I would attempt to pull this “perfect action” from inside by managing multiple paintings of various dimensions at the same time, each getting the intense focus it deserved according to the limits of my distracted brain. Several paintings and drawings would linger and receive a touch of attention but none would be labored over exclusively from beginning to end as though to commit on any single object would often lead to a predictable, or worse, contrived gesture. To arrive at the best results and the goal required it was best to move between objects and ideas focusing intensely in short moments.
It was a conscious form of distraction in order to arrive at an unadulterated result. Ultimately the isolation, pain and energy required for plumbing the artistic depths was more than I could manage while also keeping a full-time job. I applied my process to commercial work at the graphic studios I worked, managing multiple files or brands and campaigns to get a similar result in the work I was producing. In these studios speed, accuracy and quality all fought for #1 priority and I knew that in order for me to truly be productive I needed a big workload to bounce around in to produce. My workflow required me to managing many tasks that would lead to a rhythm in which my brain would be able to sink into the thousands of gestures, decisions and calculations.
I no longer have that rhythm that the commercial studio, now things are slower but I still utilize the distraction technique to reach my goals. My responsibilities have changed in that as an Independent I have to produce for my client while also producing for myself. My output has changed drastically according to the responsibilities that I accept as mine. No longer is my mind focused primarily on composition and campaign consistency. My weeks are fragmented into creative, analytic, administrative and management and my days even more so. My work days are even more finely reduced to fulfilling social media, graphic design, and website development along with managing marketing plans, client relationships and professional relevance.
The key difference between my distractions now and when I worked in studio was the constraints of the work day. I don’t know if the independent workforce is necessarily going to overwhelm the market. I don’t know if working for uber and the gig economy is going to satisfy the public as thoroughly as the days of high manufacturing. But I know for me the distractions inherent in work have extended my work day and week to the point that there is no boundary between the two. That is a trade off I am willing to make because it plays to my advantage. The confines of a work week and 8 hour work day was confining and for many of us an unhealthy fit. I’m an extremely productive person and there are many others like who don’t see us in a world where distractions prevent us from anything, its a world in which distractions come in many forms but ultimately we can manage them and manipulate them in our favor.