Art Students Are Doing It for Themselves

Forgive the bastardization of the Eurythmics. But following on the USC art student walkout a few years ago, students at the Glasgow School of Art are demanding tuition refunds due to poor facilities and lack of resources.

It’s understandable the school would have a hard time after two major fires. But students taking control of their education is a good thing, too. While whether to go to art school at all is a personal decision that needs weighing and specific goals to make the most of, students still guide a lot of their path themselves, and a say in the programs is vital, as are realistic promises from institutions.

Making Plans As Charcoal Sketches, Not Oil Paintings

There’s a tendency for the organized—even slightly organized—to spend lots of time designing the plan for a project or schedule. It can be really satisfying to see a detailed layout of your time, and how it’s supposed to get used.

But life is tricksy, and tends to defy our expectations and demands. The detailed scheme is like an oil painting you spent weeks on, perfecting the details and carefully mixing colors and layering. It’s sometimes fulfilling and valuable to make something with the full force of your skill and intention. But the plan isn’t that time.

The plan benefits from a little flexibility, like a charcoal sketch you can erase and blend as you go. Unless you’ve got a trust fund and a studio and all the time in the world to yourself, life inevitably throws curve balls and monkey wrenches into the works with regularity.

Adaptability and an openness to small changes in the plan means you can keep the main effort for your work, and your time spent where it’ll be most satisfying.

We Got Pictures

So here’s another. I’m working my way through some organizing, deciding which projects I can continue and what needs to go by the wayside.

We do need to think about practical things. But we can always have the practice, the daily thing.

Moving as a Subtractive Process Unburdens a Little and Distracts a Lot

Distraction in your work is a problem. Distraction from your stressors can be a boon, and get you to the metaphorical table more often.

Usually, in any given moment, we aren’t fully present we’re not so good at—wait for iiit—being mindful of our surroundings, we’re thinking about a million things. Walking down a street like that isn’t such a big deal. Making art like that is a path to so-so work.

One corollary I noticed while packing all my earthly belongings this past few weeks is that rather than viewing a full move as a terrible weight to bear, it’s a chance to strip away some of the raw stuff that weighs us down. Marie Kondo is the current rage of the organizing aficionados, of course. She advocates organizing by keeping only what you truly want, not throwing out, donating, or selling what you don’t.

It seems a bit backward or inverse, but it’s very like artists who work in media like ink and stone do: chip and cut and scratch the raw stuff to reveal an essence. The focus isn’t on what you don’t want, contrary to the myth, it’s on what you do.

It’s helped make this particular process much easier for me, by transforming my idea of what it means.

Systems Analyst

I like systems. I like organizing principles. I don’t often keep to them strictly, but I’ve got some kind of organizing fetish—with an office supplies corollary—that keeps me becoming intrigued by them and putting at least some of them into practice regularly.

Frank Chimero’s music organizing system of Spotify playlists is the latest. It’s pretty specific and elaborate, so your mileage may vary, but so far it’s been quick to adopt, if slower to get used to the details of it.

The advantage of a system is it cuts the amount of brainpower necessary to do any particular mechanical task like sorting and distributing. In theory, it leaves me freer to spend those newly-available neruonal firing cycles on stuff that matters more. In practice, it might just keep the itch to sort things that pokes at my conscious mind satisfied for a bit longer. Either way, there’s value.

Shape It Up, Get Straight

It’s counterintuitive perhaps, but organizing is potentially both good and bad for creation. It depends how you approach it. A lot of clutter in your workspace is mentally taxing. You have to fight through the visual chaos to find things, you’re distracted by (metaphorically) shiny objects, and you bog down in the face of these things. I know this because I’m the king of clutter.

But organizing can be a distraction in itself. It’s an anal-retentive procrastinator’s dream. You tell yourself you need to get your studio or desk or files in shape so you can work distraction-free. But de-cluttering can take time, if things are a swirling soup of stuff. You can easily spend a day or more moving piles, scheduling things, sifting through neglected mail, reshelving supplies and books.

Most tasks are best handled in chunks. And nothing starts your day in triumph like getting a couple of creative things happening before you do anything else. The two practices can balance each other very well, as long as you keep them to discrete slices of time, say, 30 minutes to an hour. A little right brain, a little left. It’s not intensity that gets you a hundred pages written or a big canvas filled, it’s the day-to-day, bit-by-bit daily habit over time.