I was thinking about different practices today, and as per usual, I was thinking about Agnes Martin.
But I was thinking about the way she structured her day. Get up early in the morning; go to the studio and paint; read in the afternoon; go to bed. Repeat. Sometimes she’d only eat bananas and drink coffee. Not that that could have been very healthy. Yet it was structured, the same. She used routine almost as a form of punishment, though it wasn’t really punishment because the point didn’t seem to make herself miserable, the point seemed to be to let her focus on art and not anything else because art was everything to her.
Self punishment subscribes to the idea that art should be difficult, but I really don’t think that was her intention.
There seem to be two kind of working methods for artists. Either they take a sort of deprivation stance, isolating themselves from all forms of pleasure so that they can solely focus on their art. Or, the pleasure is necessary and they need to enjoy things in order to be inspired.
In a way, I’d probably place myself in the second category since I can’t really make when I’m unhappy. I feel made of cement and can’t drag myself out of bed. Or I punish and push myself to the studio but my head is mush and I can’t think. Pleasure gives me clarity and lets me vaporise the mush. Yet there’s a contradiction in that I do like to work hard, and I can’t go in for too much pleasure. I do still need routine or I just panic. I need to know I have time.
I find respite in the happy medium of Simone de Beauvoir. At her height, she would get up at 7, and write and research all morning in the library. Then she would hang out in the Paris cafes in the afternoon, chatting and debating with the other intellectual left bank giants. In the evening she would go back and read in her flat, and then write until 2am. Indeed, that was at her peak and it did nearly kill her. But still, she generally followed the same routine: work in the morning, afternoon off, work in the evening. When her and Sartre were in Rome, much later on, they would get up, read the papers over coffee, work until lunchtime, go for a walk, have dinner and then talk and drink in the evenings.
I call her a happy medium, because she followed a pretty intense routine, but it was never one of deprivation. She lived for writing, and so she just made it so that her life accommodated it as much as possible. Her routine was so that she could make the most out of every day to do what she loved.
It seems slightly obsessive to pour over the routines of these women, and odder still that I have memorised them. But if I’m being truthful, I think about these things most days. I love what I do. I want it desperately. Yet, if I don’t understand my day well enough, or make the best use of it, it slips away. And when I start having days that don’t feel whole, then my days become more sluggish. I can’t get up in the mornings. I am tired and I can’t do anything.
Really, it is necessary to think about how to make the most of my days. It might have been in the past, but it is not about punishment.
When I make the most of one, it is easier to make the most of the ones that follow.