Can Artists Teach Businesspeople Better Work Habits?

Last Updated Jan 14, 2008 2:07 PM EST

Chuck CloseYou're facing a gigantic project at work and are feeling overwhelmed. How do you handle the situation? You could keep a paper bag around for the inevitable hyperventilation, but last Friday 43 Folders offered a healthier perspective on tackling big jobs. The blog started with the premise that there are few things more daunting than a blank page or an empty canvas, and asked what artists can teach the rest of us about accomplishing big goals.

While it has to be admitted that the popular image of artists' habits has more to do with absinthe and drafty garrets than nose- to-the-grindstone hard work, 43 Folders reminds us that while they may have less than constructive impulses, in order to produce lasting work artists need to find ways to work around self-sabotage:

Let's look at Chuck Close. This interview with Terry Gross has all sorts of good things to think about... I was especially struck by the way Close talks about evolving his method of working to overcome his own personality.
"I'm a nervous wreck. I'm a slob. I have no patience. And I'm rather lazy. All those things would seem to guarantee that I would not make work like I make. But I didn't want to just go with my nature."
So instead of painting overwrought, expressive things when the mood struck, he committed to making his epic, close-up portraits by breaking the work into tiny pieces and hewing to a grid. Not only did the grid make technical sense, it forced a lifehack on Close that would help him deal with his own tendencies. It helped get the work done, sure. It allowed him a style that might not have been 'natural' to his disposition. & it also had other side benefits.
"What I found that one of the nice things [about] working incrementally is that I don't have to reinvent the wheel every single day. Today I did what I did. You can pick it up and put it down. I don't have to wait for inspiration. There are no good days or bad days. Every day essentially builds positively on what I did the day before. -- Given my nature, I believe it was very good for me to be able to add to what I already had and slowly construct the final image out of these little building blocks."
... If you can create a process that short circuits some of your own worst habits, and you really believe in that process, eventually you'll get a sweater, a nine-foot painting, chicken enchiladas, a Web site, a marathon.
The close-up perspective (no pun intended) may be a simple idea-- it amounts to just putting one foot in front of the other-- but it's also a powerful one. Combine it with the notion of setting up your work routine with your own worst impulses in mind so that it forces you to overcome them, and we have a useful prescription for success in any field.

(Image of close-up of Chuck Close painting by SuburbanCowboy, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.