I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to combine making art with day-to-day domestic existence. I used to dream of the perfect live/work loft, where all I had to do was roll out of bed and go paint. Twice now I’ve made home-buying decisions based primarily on how much space I’d have in which to make art.
But I’ve finally had to face facts: this whole self-contained live/work arrangement I’ve aspired to has never, ever worked for me. I’ve ended up puttering endlessly while getting no work of consequence done. Because at home? There are distractions.
Cats demanding to be let out. Trash that needs to be emptied. Cats picking on each other. The bathroom floor that’s suddenly looking rather filthy. The fresh pile of cat vomit that needs to be wiped up. The Internet (oh, God help me, the Internet). Cats demanding to be fed. The overlooked bill that needs to be paid. Cats shitting Kryptonite and not covering it up, so I have to go do it for them before we all die of the stink. Twitter. Cats who decide that the best way to get my undivided attention RIGHT NOW is to piss on something. Going downstairs to make lunch and deciding that making cookies would be a fine idea. Cats falling out of upstairs windows. Email. Cats demanding to be let in. Cats…motherfucking cats, okay?
Yeah. You get the idea.
It finally dawned on me that one reason I managed to get so much work done in college, and do it so well, was because I did it all in public spaces. The university library, the ugly couch outside the History department, my favorite pub, Starbucks–these were the places I went to get serious work done, because it was hopeless trying to do it at home.
Each of those places had their own potential distractions, especially loud ambient noise. But here’s the thing: none of the noise had anything to do with me. I didn’t have to investigate it. I didn’t have to respond to it. It was all impersonal, so I could just shut it out and focus on the task at hand, be it writing a paper or slogging through more dull academic prose. In fact, the university library was often too quiet unless I sat near the copy machines or the circulation desk. I needed background noise to focus; it just had to be the right kind of noise, from the right sources.
Why I didn’t apply this bit of self-knowledge to making art, I’m not fully certain. But finally, after 25 years of struggling to make art amid all the distractions of home, it’s finally dawned on me.
So I’m going to take the plunge and rent a workspace. I’ve looked at a few likely places, and if all goes as planned I should have one by the end of this coming week. I decided to give it a six-month trial, to see if having a space to make art in away from home makes a difference. (And I think it will.)
I was nervous about spending the money and making the commitment. I was afraid I couldn’t afford enough space. I didn’t feel I could justify spending money on workspace when I have more than enough room in which to work at home. Plus, I’ve always blamed myself, and my alleged inability to focus, for why I can’t make art in a sustained manner. I’ve always beat myself up with, “If you’d just exert some self-discipline, you wouldn’t have this problem!” And as I wrestled with renting worspace, I wrestled with that old self-blame, too. That, and, “What if you spend all that money renting workspace, and still don’t get anything done? How can you justify throwing money away like that?”
It was interesting, all the self-defeating self-talk that came roaring to the surface over this. It’s always been there, but this time I decided to confront it, pick it apart, and see if any of it was actually valid or true. And as I did so, all that self-blaming, worst-case-scenario thinking collapsed in on itself. All the noise and fury faded away into nothing–because frankly, it’s all bullshit based in unexamined fear.
If, in the (unlikely) event I still can’t focus well enough to make art away from home, I will at least know this about myself. I can then consider other alternatives. But I won’t know for certain until I do it, so doing it is absolutely necessary.
My “self-discipline” problem is n’t really a problem at all (or at least not my problem). I have enormous self-discipline when I want something badly enough–but if I don’t want it, I don’t care about it, so forget it. I didn’t get through college and into grad school, or start a business, or enjoy any of my countless other achievements, both great and small, because I lack self-discipline. Sure, I’m restless, easily bored, highly distractable, and do not do well at mundane routine, but when I care enough about doing something I can usually find ways to work around all that.
As for the money, I got rid of a storage space, cable TV, Netflix, and a couple of monthly subscriptions, all of which have freed up enough money each month to get a small space. If I cut back on some of my other needless spending habits, I can afford a space big enough to be comfortable in for the next six months. And by next April, if this experiment is a success, I’m sure I’ll be able to find the means to rent an even larger space. Maybe I’ll do something utterly, mind-bendingly strange to get the money, such as–oh, I don’t know–sell artwork. Hey, anything can happen.
And getting studio space in a building full of other artists and creative types isn’t just about getting away from domestic distractions. It’s also about meeting other artists and becoming part of a creative community. I’ve lived in this city since June 2004 and still don’t know any other artists, or who’s who in the local art scene. I scarcely know anyone in this city, period. So, paradoxically, this is as much about coming out of my self-imposed isolation as it is about escaping distractions–and I’m positive that both will fundamentally change the way I make art, and for the better.