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?