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Procrastination … my solution

Every artist I know suffers from procrastination when it comes to painting.  There are a million things (preparing for exhibits, answering email, web marketing, sorting socks …) that need doing when what we really want/should do is paint.  I’m as guilty as anyone, yet my artist friends say I generate more paintings than many of them.

Listening to WNYC recently, I heard an expert explain that people procrastinate because as humans we like to front load our rewards.   Given a choice between preparing for an exhibit (must do now; reward is now) and struggling in the studio to produce a painting (can do later; reward is later), we prepare for the exhibit.  In business, we used to talk about taking care of the urgent at the expense of the important .

Thinking about it on the subway on the way to my class at the Art Students League, I realized what it is I do to front load the reward.  A couple of years ago, I decided that to be a serious artist I had to produce at minimum one painting a week on average.  They wouldn’t all be masterpieces, but they would be paintings.

Part of the logic for picking a quantity goal came from the book, Art and Fear, by David Bayles & Ted Orland.   In it, they describe an experiment of sorts where they told one art class they would be graded on their best work (quality) and the other class they would be graded on the number of paintings (quantity).   Although both classes produced high-quality paintings, the quantity class produced more.

Now to  front-loading the reward.  Every time I finish a painting (even one I think isn’t absolutely wonderful), I do two things that are powerfully and immediately rewarding:  I enter the title and specifics of the painting into an Excel spreadsheet and I scan the painting so I have the image to use in a variety of ways (load onto my website, use in my blog, use to create mailing labels, business cards, seasonal cards, etc. etc.)  That’s the equivalent of a gold star on my forehead which tells me, in a way that is different than the paintings themselves, that I am a serious artist.

No magic …  simply a system to measure my progress toward my goal.  And as I also remember from my business days, what gets measured gets done.

So that’s my solution.  Maybe it will help other artists get it done.  Let me know.

Posted by ruthhurd on October 31, 2010
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. 09/23/2014
    Charlotte Bialek

    Very helpful! I will try this. Have also greatly enjoyed your blog which I just today discovered. Usually a sculptor but recently painting with Kikuo Saito at ASL. Wonderfully fun and freeing!

    • 09/23/2014

      I’d love to hear about Kikuo Saito’s class. When is it? I am in Frank O’Cain’s Mon-Tues LPM class.


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