Message To Part-time Artists,…continued

big hoseHello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!

“Walk soft and carry a BIG hose.” That’s what I’ve always said,… or at least, since last week when one commenter called my SMNP “the truth hose.”

And after the epic release of last weeks truth hose, boy was I spent!

But it was all worth it because readers, your comments to last weeks SMNP were off the charts! Great stories and insights into the challenges and joys/benefits of practicing art, full-time AND part-time. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading all of them, very inspiring. So thank you all for taking the time!

This week’s SMNP is a cop-out slight departure in that I’m going to post a comment that came in late last week. This comes from an old friend and artist/doctor who backed up what my gut was telling me (not that my gut ever needs backing up, but some factonistas like to see “medical proof“).

But first, let me clarify one little point,… I didn’t say it was easy.

I said part-timers face a big challenge in trying to allot creative time for themselves, but that it’s worth it.

Here are 2 suggestions that may help you to invest in that creative “me-time” you need:

1.) Aim for complete enjoyment: Let’s say you could divide your weekly tasks/activities into two lists, things you want/love to do, and things you should do.

On the first list are things like watching movies, going out for drinks, maybe cooking, hot baths, kicking back and relaxing to an intoxicatingly smooth Danderfer album,… you know, fun things. On the long “should do” list are things like: scheduling your week, doing taxes, getting to work on time, listening to an intoxicatingly smooth Danderfer album, etc. Make sure your creative time stays on the first list, because if it doesn’t? Let’s be honest, you probably won’t stick with it for long.

Again, it’s similar to an excercise routine, it’s one thing to schedule the time because you know it’s good for you, it’s another to really look forward to those creative sessions. So focus on creative work that you really enjoy doing.

I’m not sure how this works for other artistic fields but I can tell you in music it’s very easy to get caught up with practicing the nuts & bolts of music (scales, patterns, instrument technique) and not leave time for the fun stuff (playing tunes, playing along with recordings, transcribing, free improvising, etc). In fact, I do it all the time and it drives me nuts! My playing benefits greatly from practicing the fun stuff too yet somehow I’ll find myself practicing nothing fun for long stretches of time. Then wonder why it is I keep pushing my practice sessions later and later in the day. Probably because I’d like to spend less time being bored and self-critical! You think?!

Anyways, having said that about “complete enjoyment,” I have to admit that the creative process is not all sunshine and roses, sometimes creating is a real bitch! But somehow, it’s an exciting and engrossing challenge, ya know?… I think you know what I mean.

Moving on.

2.) Give yourself the helping hand of convenience: Make your workspace/tools/materials/instrument easily accessible. Ideally, we’d all have a separate room set up and ready for us to get our creativity on in. Since that’s not usually the case, just aim to be able to set up your workspace easily (and somewhere with as few distractions as possible) so that it’s one less hassle in the way between you and your creative time.

For example, I’ve found that if I don’t have my keyboard, microphone and mic pre-amp on my desk and ready to plug into my computer (I’ve gotten very used to writing music with notation software) then I don’t write anything. Would it take long to set up? Absolutely not, but it’s just that little extra resistance that makes me think “Nah, I’ll write something tomorrow.” So get those obstacles of inconvenience out of the road asap people!

I’m curious to know if other artists have to be conscious of making their creative time enjoyable, as opposed to just obligatory. Also interested to know how other artists go about setting up their workspace. Do you reserve a corner of the room, a corner of the desk? Maybe a drawer perhaps? Do you make a point to wear a flowing silk robe and light scented candles too,… or is that just me?

And now, the medical facts which point to one thing and one thing only: Danderfer is always right! Enjoy…

Dr. Chops Grande says:
March 17, 2010 at 10:07 pm (Edit)

My pager went off on Saturday, but I was not on call so I took my sweet time getting back to it. Turns out it was my old friend (and yes, longtime brother artist) paging, with a request for ‘official’ back up to grand statements about the mind. So here are my two cents as a doctor of the mind:

First off: to all of James’s readers, he is, in fact, correct about the brain and music. Two important and well researched facts are key here.
The brain changes with use even as an adult. It grows in certain areas when those areas are used more often. Neuroplasticity is well accepted by most docs these days. We used to think your brain stopped development at the end of adolescence and that was it, all down hill from there. Not so! It’s a bit like a muscle growing with use but of course more complex and subtler. You can see by way of neuroimaging that musicians have larger, more active brains in areas that correspond to their chosen craft. Piano player=big hand coordination area in the brain etc.
Music, especially making it, requires multiple areas of the brain and is very demanding cognitively. Nothing lights up a brain perfusion scan like playing music, especially improvised music.

So to summarize James’s point, yes music (and art) is good for you and unfortunately it is not like riding a bike, you lose it if you don’t use it. In a very real way your brain starts to shrink. Too bad for me it turns out…

On a personal note, I’m definitely one of those part timers that James is lecturing/speaking to in his SMNP. I found myself starting to get a little defensive when reading the post. I thought some of the following defensive things:
‘Who does James think he is to assume that I’m just not making time by choice?’
‘How does he know what my life demands of me?’
‘I’d like to see him walk a mile in my shoes!’
‘What makes him think that what I do every day doesn’t bring me just as much, if not more pleasure than music?’
‘He can TELL something is missing..what!!’ ‘Where did he get that idea, do I look like something is missing?! Do I, PUNK?’
…etc, etc…I have my issues too:)

After I had some time to digest, as I rushed to work to manage another very stressful day, I started thinking about it a little deeper. Hmmm, perhaps it does bother me a bit more than I realize. Why would I be so defensive? Maybe I really agree with what James is saying and don’t want to admit it? I don’t really want to confront this reality because it is much easier to let it go. (I talk to myself). I let this sink in for a couple of days and talked it over with my wife, (at least I don’t have commitment issues) and started to face a couple of realities:
I haven’t played my instrument more than twice since August, and once was only because James made me (thank you for the beat down James). I have to do something about that. I’ve been talking about writing some original music for years now. Last time I did it was 2004! That’s just pathetic. I have to do something about that! I haven’t played a real gig in at least two years. COME ON! I don’t remember the last time I went to a Jam session but I’m pretty sure it was before people had cell phones en masse! I’m not trying in anyway to make these things happen so I should not be surprised. But I am surprised. And that’s the disconnect. Granted, I’ve been in med school and then residency since 2004 so often I literally have no time of my own. But James’ post has made me look at my attitude and how I prioritize my life in a new way. There are times I choose to do other things with my rare free time. In truth, most of the time. I think this goes back to my defensiveness and thus avoidance of the reality that I have not prioritized music. I just ignore that dusty sax case in the corner because then I don’t feel bad.
So I have a new plan. Every night, that I’m not on call (sorry I can’t turn the pager off to practice or I lose my license) I’m going to dedicate at least one hour to music. I know that’s not much but it’s a huge step for me. I started yesterday. I loved it. The hour went by in a flash and I only stopped because I had to. The other cool part of this plan is that it just has to be related to music. That means if I feel like working on writing I will. Tonight my hour was spent writing this post to James. What ever it is it has to be related to music in some way that is creative and constructive.

To conclude; I hope everyone who reads James’ post takes it to heart. He knows what he is talking about and is preaching the gospel truth.

James this post seems to have sparked a lot of interest and passion in people. It has in me. Thank you.

Keep the truth hose flowing my verbose friend.

And flow it shall brother! Thank you all for reading and/or commenting. Have a great week! jd

  • Dr. Chops Grande

    Aim that truth hose at the masses and let-er-fly (insert sex joke).
    I would add to the above by saying it is NOT easy to make art a priority but most things that are life changing require effort. And it IS life changing to bring artistic expression to your life everyday. Yes, I really do have to make an effort everyday to put art on the ‘things I want/need to do’ list.

    I would also like to recommend a book I’m reading that relates to this topic. It’s called Shop Class as Soul Craft

    It is a very good book about the value of creative and work, especially with your hands. The author is talking about things like mechanical work, building things etc, but as I’m reading it I’m realizing that he is really talking about creative expression and construction. Art is in fact just that. It’s creative and constructive and it works out your brain in a uniquely satisfying and challenging way. It’s a great read and has really helped me, along with Danderfer’s post of course, to put my art back on top as a life priority.
    Too many people just let life slip by (I know that a cliche but it’s true) and don’t think outside the box of daily necessities. That’s a recipe for stagnation and depression. So get out there and create dammit!!

    Ok that’s enough from me. It’s not my blog….