Originally Published on Art21, October 17, 2012
Ever since writing my last blog post for Open Enrollment, on Bob Irwin and Joni Mitchell, I’ve had the inside spread of Mitchell’s Album For The Roses tacked onto my wall. Inside is an image of Mitchell standing naked and quite Caspar-David-Friedrich-style on a rock, facing outward towards a choppy yet serene ocean. Her contrapposto stance, and slightly-raised left foot, signals action and acceptance. It signals baring herself and her unapologetic music to the world, and moving forward through potential tumultuous times to find peace in herself and her work. Ok…maybe I’m bringing an overly saccharine read to the table here, but having this image on my wall sends me off into the world of uncertain art making each morning with my head on straight…well, fairly straight.
This is not an easy task during your second year of graduate school; pressures of a looming thesis show, applying for residencies, memorizing elevator pitches, researching artists and places to live after school….the list goes on. All this while trying to refine our work yet still leave space for experimentation. Maybe now, you can see why Joni staring out into the blue is such a calming and affirming image, yet, still a hard mental state to arrive to when confronted with clouds of stress.
So, how do we as artists escape ourselves to have this For the Roses moment? This brings me to Erwin Wurm’s image with the subtitle Think About the Void (in his series Instructions for Idleness). When compared to the other sentiments in his series, like Stay in Your Pajamas All Day or Express Yourself Through Yawning, we are able to arrive at a sort of tongue-in-cheek existentialism. Yet taken on its own, Think About The Void doesn’t seem so far from the truth–picture hoards of MFA students desperately trying to find peace by staring out the window for hours on end. Artists are constantly trying to distract themselves in order for their brains to arrive at their next idea, or a solution to a problem in the studio. Artists drive, take showers, swim, or have sex as a way to occupy the body with one task, while allowing the mind some freedom to roam.
I turned to my colleagues at Cranbrook Academy of Art for their responses to the question, “How do you distract yourself from studio stress to allow your brain some creative space?”
I shop online for supplies. Anything to enhance my studio environment and change it up.
Swim. Run. Bike. Exercise is the only thing that clears my headspace.
Dancing is my favorite remedy.
I read. A lot.
Long walks through town. And juggling.
I tend to have the clearest reflections on my work on long road trip drives with some music playing, it’s the perfect balance of visual stimuli with space to let your thoughts roam. Another fun one is drink a beer and just draw for an hour or so. Things tend to take on a new life.
I rarely get stressed in the studio, but a few hours of playing heart-beating-out-of-my-chest, live, fast-paced, multi-player, first person shooters, such as Quake Live, helps me deal.
Running. I find that I need a physical outlet in order to quiet my mind down.
I enjoy researching new and old music and being a complete fanboy about it! I can’t stop listening to the new James Plotkin and Jon Mueller album. I just hope my studio neighbors don’t mind the noise!
I often find myself wandering through thrift stores in order to clear my head. I am attracted to various old and used objects that people discard. These objects often transport me to a space that allows for an examination of our human connection with the material world.
I like to clean and reorganize my studio from time to time. It allows me to start fresh, especially if I wasn’t satisfied with my last project.
Recently I started taking Improv Comedy classes which have been great in terms of forgetting about any studio stress. In order to really enjoy my time collaborating with the other performers I need to be fully in the moment and not have my mind occupied by the studio, or life’s stresses.
I used to go to Coney Island by myself to gain some thinking space, but that made me pretty fat. Exercise balances me out and centers me, and a well-deserved nap every now and then gives me a little dream time and helps me recharge.
Creating experiences that I can draw in the studio is key: I need to get out of my space. Going to a bar with a friend, going for a walk or drive in an unknown part of town, or just sitting in the woods are the right kind of distractions to get my head into a creative place.
Smoking. Cigarettes are a great way of removing myself from the studio environment just when I start to feel neurotic about a piece. On the other hand, maybe it is smoking that causes the neurotic experience and removes me from the creative process. Hmmm….I think I will go have a smoke.
I eliminate stress by staying organized. I try to keep my studio and my house orderly to prevent mental chaos. If my space is a mess I am a mess.
– Lauren Baker
My strategy is to have a million things going on at once….that way I can change gears whenever I hit a wall.
There you have it artists! We all have our own brand of strategic distraction: the key to our success lies somewhere between chain smoking, organization, and dog walking. As pressures mount this year, remember to drink a beer over a Coney Dog, and sweep up your studio. All the stress will come out in the wash.