Why Productivity in Art is Overrated

Over the past few years as I’ve been doing more and more art, I have kept hearing comments like “You should start trying to sell that”, “if you finished enough pieces you could exhibit”, and similar comments that all seem tied to the idea that I should become some sort of art machine or production line. I have visions of the person talking to me assuming that I am in a little workshop somewhere churning out copies of Van Gogh’s Starry Night for pennies on the pound.

Recently I have been listening to an audiobook written by Nick Hornby called Dickens and Prince: A Particular Kind of Genius. In this short tome (which I highly recommend, Mr. Hornby is a fine writer and observer of the British character, and no, I’m not paid to write this recommendation) the author makes the following points

Dickens' first long novel is The Pickwick Papers, before he finishes publishing it, he starts publishing Oliver Twist, and before he finishes publishing that, he starts publishing Nicholas Nickleby. This is not for the faint-hearted, a Dickens novel has a complex set of characters, different settings, and different plots. Over the course of thirty months, Dickens wrote over half a million words - by hand! This is on top of letters and other correspondence, and other work. Not bad for someone without an English qualification or any sign of anything other than a basic education.

Alternatively, Prince recorded Purple Rain whilst working on the film of the same title, as well as three related albums, two of which Prince produced, as well as producing other albums and songs for people like Sheila E. Nothing Compares to You, Sugar Walls, Manic Monday, and Around the World in a Day all come from around this time. It has been noted that Prince was working on around 108 songs during this time. Some of them feature him as the only musician on the track. This is obviously between shows, and after-shows, which Prince was famous for. 

I realize that this is mind-boggling, and I’m guessing that you’re wondering just what I’m going on about. I began to wonder if there was an art version of Dickens or Prince, someone so prolific in painting or related areas who did this. One answer is Picasso. Over his lifetime Picasso managed to put together over 13,500 artworks.

Now you might find this intimidating. You can’t get there. Who can put together 13,500 artworks in a lifetime? Do coloring books count? I have no idea. How could I possibly manage 13,500 artworks and where would I put them all? Maybe I could live in an art gallery?

However, there is another way to look at this, and it starts with “you can’t get there”. I find this quite liberating. Picasso did receive some formal training - unlike both Dickens and Prince who were both self-taught. However, Picasso threw away education after the age of 16 and just did his own thing. He obviously felt that he knew enough to carry on by himself.

Clearly, these people aren’t perfectionists. They just moved from one project to the next, Dickens needed the money, Prince just wanted to create, Picasso? Well, I have no idea. This surely is the point. Some of the greatest artists that have ever lived just didn’t bother with a rule book and “10 reasons why you should edit six times before you write paragraph two”. They also weren’t concerned with little details, and “have I got the right ink/guitar strings/brush?” They just got on with things, and let everything else sort itself out.

Where does this leave me? Obviously, well it’s obvious to me, I don’t have my own personal chef like Prince, so I am making my own meals, and I don’t have an entourage of people, flunkies, and hot and cold running servants, so organizing my life is my problem, and sometimes it gets in the way of creating. However, I also don’t have the pressure of having to create ‘all the things, right now’. Why bother? I’ve already been beaten to it by Picasso. This lets me off the artistic hook. I can do what I want, and what I feel the creative need for. I don’t need to make 23 sellable paintings, I might not ever be the next great artistic wonder of the world. It doesn’t matter, Picasso already created over 13,500 things. For people to be at the top of life’s ladder, there need to be people at the bottom of life’s ladder supporting them, and that is exactly what I shall be doing.

Written by Guest Blogger Alice Wood

Alice Wood is an assistant at Creative U Healing, helping out with things behind the scenes so that Larissa can do more to help other folks. She first got into watercolor painting following medical treatment several years ago, when she was offered art therapy as part of her recovery. She found that painting calmed her brain and helped her to relax. After that, she never looked back. Alice likes to do cryptic crosswords and lives in the northeast of the UK. She regularly takes part in creative sessions on Creative U. She does not like writing about herself in the third person.

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