The Laws of Nature

Monday, March 29, 2010


Artists in the Woods by Robert Henri

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

The habit of digression - lack of continued interest - want of fixed purpose, is an almost general failing. It is too easy to drift and the habit of letting oneself drift begets drifting. The power of concentration is rare and must be sought and cultivated, and prolonged work on one subject must not be mistaken for concentration. Prolonged work on one subject may be simply prolonged digression, which is a useless effort, as it is to no end. (p. 81)

I like this topic because I've seen a change in my own habits over the past couple of years. I used to dive into a painting with intense concentration that could last an entire day. I'd forget to eat and couldn't be interrupted. The headache that developed with the hunger pains wasn't felt because my mind was entirely fixed on painting. After ten or twelve hours I'd stop, get something to eat, go to bed and begin again the next day. It was exhiliarating and exhausting at the same time.

More recently, with age, I lost the ability to concentrate for more than three or four hours before I need to take a long break. But, I've found that this is an advantage because it gives me enough time to refresh my mind and reenter the studio with "new eyes." It allows me to see the mistakes I'm making and correct them before going too far. It also allows me to come up with a fresh idea about how to complete my painting. There's a lot to be said for taking long breaks.

I love the sensation of intense concentration. It's transporting, like taking a vacation. The imagination is a powerful force, and when it's indulged to the exclusion of all other things, it's immensely rewarding. I found this to be true when I was a little child. I'd spend hours imagining -daydreaming. These days, when I have to drive long distances I do the same thing. Although I'm attentive to the road, it's fun to spin out all the "what if's" into intricately woven tales - somewhat like constructing a painting.

In my opinion, digression isn't a bad thing. It can actually be helpful to an artist. However, my digressions don't last too long: I do show up for work in my studio every day unless I'm traveling.

Do you indulge in digressions?


-Don said...

Constantly... I, too, am a daydreamer - although I wouldn't say I indulge in intense concentration. My daydreaming is more of a drifting through scenarios - not really focussing on any one thing while allowing abstract thoughts and ideas to float in and out of my consciousness until they start weaving themselves into the tapestry of a cohesive thought.

In my studio time I came to realize that if I have a painting or project that's not working out the way I planned or was just being difficult I would find lot's of distractions/digressions which would keep me away from the troublesome one. My way to cure this was to start working on other projects - basically digressing from the work at hand to get me back into a progression which, in almost every case, has brought me the solutions I was not finding before.

Well, before I digress into wordy extrapolation I feel I should progress towards closing...


Mary Paquet said...

While raising children and working long hours for 30 years, I did not have full days to spend on art, nor did I become an artist until the 90s. Now that I have the time, I have so many interests that I apportion my time for art. I am in the studio most days and when I am not, I am thinking about art -- what I am working on now, what I want to do next, how I can resolve a painting. My digressions, if you wish to give that name to my other interests, provide the inspiration and subject matter that fuel my art spirit.

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Casey Klahn said...

Focus is a booger. I have it for the art itself, but getting started can be an issue. Dividing time between wife, kids and the home is hard enough with the painting series and direction to concentrate on.

Thankfully, I have the studio out of the house - that is a Godsend.

And I won't make a pun about digressing... but finding an Henri pastel work - that has made my day. Thanks for posting it!

Mark Sheeky said...

I've gopt lots of strategies to keep me focused. Live every day as if it were your last is suppose to be a positive message, but imagining you'll be dead next week can do wonders for your concentration.

Variety can help too. Working on one picture can be boring compared to having lots of projects on the go. A change is as good as a rest, and having people to inspire and energise you can help too.

hwfarber said...

Some digressions are progress. I managed to get my tax papers in order and delivered to the CPA today. While visiting that town I stopped at Good Will and found the perfect 71st birthday gift for my brother--a pair of vintage water skis--I dropped them off at his house up the street. (We're collectors; I bought a pair for myself, too.) Now I can breathe get back to painting.

I think Pam is actually programming her dreams by writing about challenges just before sleep. It can work.

Stan Kurth said...

Digression is OK. How sustained is the digression and where is it going? I think if it circles back and chimes in as an additive within a subscribed period, what can it hurt? I think it's good to deviate a little as long as the target is still in the sights. On the other hand, if it takes you completely away from the target, quit doing it. Six years ago after dealing with cancer I became much more focused on the target. Seems I had digressed so much I had no direction at all. To keep the target in the sights you sometimes have to sacrifice. It's not always easy. What is that Moody Blues line in Nights in White Satin, "...Just what you want to be, you will be in the end..." My apologies if I jammed that tune into anyones' head. I kinda like it myself.

Kathy said...

Hi Don - it seems like you've found an effective way to both utilize and remediate your digressions. It seems to be working, since your art is really terrific!

Hi Mary - like Don, you've found a way to use your digressions to help you create art. Isn't it great to be at the point in your life where you have so much time to devote to art???

Hi Pam - I love the way you express your process as a "creative dance." What a wonderful way to see it. Looks like you're a very good dancer!

Hi Casey - it helps to have a studio in a separate building. I feel like mine's a haven from the rat race. I'm so glad you like the Henri - I picked it out just for you :-)

Hi Mark - all good suggestions; although, if this were my last day I'd spend it with those I love eating lots of bad things and skip my visit to the gym.

Hi Hallie - looks like you accomplished a lot today! Taxes - ugh :-( Yes, I think Pam's approach is really neat.

Hi Stan - boy, does that song bring back memories! It was the theme for my oldest daughter's high school prom millenia ago. I agree with you about digressions. I always managed to keep my eye on the target, so walking away for a few hours only does me good. I'm glad you conquered that evil "c" disease!

Dan Kent said...

I'm a bit late (as usual). I am very impressed with Pam's take. I have tended in the past to go from concentration to concentration - I would concentrate on an extended period on one creative endeavor, only to tire of it and turn to concentrate on another [roughly, art to guitar to banjo to poetry to public speaking (Toastmasters) to short stories, to art]. Now I've come full circle. The problem with this is that I've become a jack of many trades and a master of none at all.

This time it feels different. Art is like coming home. It is the most natural creative endeavor for me. I'm also feeling my mortality which, as Mark mentioned, is a great motivator.

And part of what has kept me here (I think) is that three itches are being scratched with the blog. I started the blog for the art, and was surprised at how satisfied I've been with the writing as well. And the feedback and contact is not unlike that I used to get from public speaking. I sometimes wonder whether I would have persisted at such a pace without the blog. And I believe the answer is no.

So now it's been a year and I'm still full force ahead. We will see...

Kathy said...

Hi Dan - I think that interaction with peer artists is essential to growth, and a blog is one way to get that interaction. Also, it is informative to learn about the processes of others and their creative solutions. Thanks for adding your experiences to this conversation!

Deborah C. Stearns said...

I, too, have many different interests, and at times I fear that I am a dilettante. But I have found that one or another passion becomes ascendent for a time. I focus more on that activity, bemoaning my failure to persist in my my other interests, only to find that those interests will eventually come into focus, each in their own time. While these may seem like digressions, I think they are more like cycles, and I have come to accept (more or less) the ebb and flow of my work habits.

I also find that my various passions feed each other. My digressions into different activities often provide new inspiration for my work. It's true that some digressions can lead a person away from their goals, but I tend to find that most of my "digressions" contribute toward my goals in some way, even if the path is somewhat roundabout. The main limitation, of course, is time. While all these activities may feed my artistic development, there are only so many hours in a day, and I'm sure my lack of focus slows down my productivity considerably.

Honestly, though, I'm not sure I could give up my array of interests and focus just on one thing. I suspect that my enthusiasm cannot be contained too narrowly -- I would wander off at some point into some fascinating diversion.

P.S. Case in point -- I haven't been able to keep up with these terrific discussions in the last few weeks as I scrambled to meet deadlines at work. With a few of those behind me, I've come to join the discussion again. Ebb and flow.

Anonymous said...

Kathy said- "I love the way you express your process as a creative dance."
And in the middle of the night- this is what came to me... the idea of "creative dance" was implanted by the artist Dan Kent- whose writing has a way of intertwining with ones thoughts and growing roots.

Kathy said...

Hi Deborah - welcome back! We missed you. I agree that the digressions feed the totality of thinking/experience that goes into making art. I try to use as much as I can of what I think and sense at one time or another.

Hi Pam - it's great to know the source of the "creative dance!" Dan's blog is inspiring.