Productivity vs. Creativity


There’s a pervasive myth, shared by artists and non-artists alike, that art is a product of genius, madness or serendipity. Wrong. Art is not the chance offspring of some cosmic (or genetic) roll of the dice. Art is mostly a product of hard work. When you look back on the results of a lifetime of artmaking, even the role that talent played is insignificant. Living life productively, however, is very significant. If you learn to live your life productively, your atwork will take care of itself. If you do not live your life productively, nothing will save your artwork–not even talent. One of the less-advertised truths about artmaking is that it’s more important to be productive than to be creative. If you’re productive, your creativity will take care of itself. If you are not productive–well, if you’re not productive, then how exactly is it you intend to be ceative?

Ted Orland, The View From the Studio Door

My response to the more than one dozen works-in-progress spread across my bed was to begin work on three new watercolors last evening. Train commissions. One of many reasons I enjoy the Christmas holidays is patrons ordering paintings to give as gifts. I always feel good inside when working on something requested by a patron, but even better when I know the warmth that goes into Christmas giving. As it turns out, none of these three have Christmas deadlines, so the removal of that pressure makes this even better. I would still be happy to turn them out before the New Year arrives.

Re-opening the Ted Orland book this morning brought me to the passage quoted above. I can never emphasize this enough when talking to emerging artists: productivity yields the quality we seek. Long ago, I fretted over whether I was talented enough to pursue this. Once I got over that fear and began pushing out works of art, I found my work improving, and feel that I learn something new with every single painting I attempt.

I never tire of posting this passage from an article in Newsweek, June 28, 1993, “The Puzzle of Genius”:

The creative geniuses of art and science work obsessively. They do not lounge under apple trees waiting for fruit to fall or lightning to strike. “When inspiration does not come to me,” Freud once said, “I go halfway to meet it.” Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted. Though most composers would kill to have written even one of his best pieces, some were little more than wallpaper music. Eliot’s numerous drafts of “The Waste Land” constitute what one scholar called “a jumble of good and bad passages [that he turned] into a poem.” In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Simonton found that the most respected produced not only more great works, but also more “bad” ones. They produced. Period.

I repeatedly meet individuals who describe themselves as “frustrated artists.” This  frequently means they have talent, but never get around to making art. My response is: if you have no work to show, who cares about your talent? In the year 2010, Jason Horejs (Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona) got my attention while giving a public talk, saying the only questions gallery directors have of prospective artists is: “Are you productive? How many works per year do you turn out?” From that year forward, I have created at least one hundred pieces per year, many of them small ones, no doubt, but dozens worthy of framing and presenting. I honestly believe this past decade has been my finest, and I look forward to seeing how much futther I can push things in 2020.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.Shultz reduced

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.







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3 Responses to “Productivity vs. Creativity”

  1. foresterartist Says:

    Excellent post David. It’s so true.


  2. pamcates Says:

    Amen to that.


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