I want to take a moment to talk about the need for all kinds of space.

I was prompted to write this when I was busily skimming through Facebook and Twitter and came across a short Guardian review about contemporary artist recluses (there’s a link at the end of the page). The contrast between what I was doing at that moment, speed scanning lists of headlines and images to see if anything caught my eye, and the stories in the article of artists who shun the glare of publicity and general scrum that goes with marketing art, was striking.

That review made me think how necessary it is to create a space for yourself, a space to reflect or think or refresh yourself in whatever way you need to. The artists in the Guardian piece are extreme examples of people taking a position to preserve their privacy and personal space but I think we all have to take some action to maintain our boundaries and have some time and space that’s just for us. I wrote last week about some of my many feelings about Social Media. I think social media is pretty invasive, fascinating and addictive but you have to set limits on it or it will surreptitiously take all the hours in the day, every day.

There are so many other tasks artists have to cram in to make their careers work, so much administration, marketing, networking, not to mention part-time employment to underwrite the whole enterprise. So it’s hard to make space.

Far off in space and time

When I think of space I think of holidays, ideally long ones where the pressures of work are distant horizons, far off in space and time, where it’s possible to wander and dream and really recharge your creative batteries away from the pressures of everyday life. Right now, and most of the time though, that’s a long way off – so what’s the alternative? What do you do to recharge in the middle of a busy week? (really – please let me know in the comments)

Personally I think the only way to do this is to take time out. Obviously most of us can’t do this on a grand scale but a quiet moment on our own, a quick refuge from whatever else is going on, even a quiet coffee break on your own. To me it usually feels like stolen goods. Stolen because it’s almost illicit to treat yourself to such luxury. An indulgent instant can serve to break monotony or even a creative block. I also find a brisk walk incredibly helpful if I have something on my mind, a problem, a piece of writing, an incomplete or stalled project. So often it helps to get away from the problem at hand, orient your mind to something else for a moment then resume the task you were doing afresh.

Artist stereotypes

One of the many stereotypes of artists is that they have all the time in the world. There is a grain of truth in it, most of us could not work without some unstructured time to think, to play with materials or tools or ideas. There is some falsehood in it too. Working as an artist is a job, it might be one you love, it might be one you feel compelled to do, or the only one you could possibly do, but like any job it requires you to do a whole load of things that are necessities rather than fun. There are so many things other than making artwork that comprise the job. Even the time spent making artwork is not always pleasurable, there are plenty of problems in the work that need solving, it is in the nature of the work that you will often venture into unfamiliar territory and have to work out how to progress.

Break the deadlock

When you need to change your mind it’s usually obvious. Things stop flowing, problems lack solutions, frustration builds up. It often does not take much to break the deadlock. But it does take a realisation from us that we are stuck. Even that admission, the realisation that we need another approach can have a helpful effect on the question at hand. That’s the time to take a break, think about something else, make some space in your head.


Guardian article & book:
Don’t look now: the artists who turn their backs on the world
Thanks to artist Enzo Marra for highlighting this.

Nicola Naismith: SLOW. “The slow movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast paced modern world.”

Link to my post on Facebook: Can you kick it? How did I become a social media junkie?