If you wait around for inspiration, you’ll wait forever. On the other hand, you can’t grind yourself into dust and expect to get good work done, either.
|American Eagle at Owl’s Head (unfinished), by Carol L. Douglas
Friday I woke up profoundly uninspired. My back has been out, and I’ve been taking a mild narcotic. That makes it possible for me to stand upright, but it also reduces my interest in staying upright. Anyways, being in pain is exhausting.
My studio has been a mess, because I’ve been finishing a set of bookcases in it. Normally, this would have been a job for the garage, but it’s still too cold for paint to properly cure. The sky was dismal, and it was following a series of dismal days.
|A cluttered workspace throws me, and these bookshelves were in the way.
At 11 AM, I curled up on the couch and took a nap. But I’m really too Puritan for that. I believe that days off should be doled out judiciously. The difference between success and failure in a competitive field is hard work. It is too easy for artists to fool themselves into thinking they’re working when they’re off task.
So at noon I was back at my easel doing what my friend Sari Gaby
calls ‘border work.’ That’s all the background and edges that must be painted thoughtfully but are not central. In the process of limning out the clouds, I realized I wanted Owl’s Head shrouded in one of those localized rains so common on the coast. While it’s only 250 miles as the crow flies from Kittery to Eastport, there are 5,500 miles of Maine coast
. That convoluted border between earth and sea has an intoxicating effect on Mother Nature, so it can be pouring in Camden when neighboring Lincolnville is fine.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, copy after Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1558.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder had a genius for putting the action of the painting somewhere in the background. It’s a great trick to keep the viewer engaged. One has to hunt to find Icarus in the painting above. (That’s a fact remarked on by William Carlos Williams and W. H. Auden, among others. I’ve appended their poems on the subject here.) While I won’t go as far as dropping Icarus from the sky, I happily embraced the sea change in the weather. That idea wouldn’t have occurred to me had I taken the rest of the day off.
This problem of inspiration is not unique to artists. My husband told me he’s been pondering a software problem for four weeks. “Last night the code came to me, I tried it, and it worked perfectly,” he said on Saturday.
Of course, he didn’t spend those four weeks waiting on his muse. He still puts in more than forty hours a week.
There has to be a balance. If you wait around for inspiration, you’ll wait forever. On the other hand, you can’t work seven days and grind yourself into fine dust and expect to get good work done, either.