10/14/13 - the work habits of creative people

In today's selection -- In his marvelous new book, Daily Rituals, Mason Currey profiles the work habits of 161 famously creative people -- including scientists, novelists, mathematicians, painters and poets. What is striking about most of them? Even those we might consider wildly creative? They work very hard, and have ploddingly consistent work habits. Here are selections from two:

Pablo Picasso

"Throughout his life, Picasso went to bed late and got up late. At the Boulevard de Clichy [in 1911], he would shut himself in the studio by 2:00 p.m. and work there until at least dusk. Meanwhile, his girlfriend of seven years, Fernande, was left alone to her own devices, hanging around the apartment, waiting for Picasso to finish his work and join her for dinner. When he finally emerged from his studio, however, he was hardly good company. 'He rarely spoke during meals; sometimes he would not utter a word from beginning to end,' Fernande recalled. 'He seemed to be bored, when he was in fact absorbed.' She blamed his chronic bad mood on diet -- the hypochondriacal Picasso had recently resolved to drink nothing but mineral water or milk and eat only vegetables, fish, rice pudding, and grapes.

Picasso in his studio
Pablo Picasso in his Cannes studio, 1956.

"Picasso would make more of an effort to be sociable if guests were present, as they frequently were. He had mixed feelings about entertaining. He liked to be amused between intense periods of work, but he also hated too much distraction. At Fernande's suggestion, they designated Sunday as 'at-home' day (an idea borrowed from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas), 'and in this way managed to dispose of the obligations of friendship in a single afternoon.' Still, Richardson writes, 'the artist veered between anti-social sulking and gregariousness.' Painting, on the other hand, never bored or tired him. Picasso claimed that, even after three or four hours standing in front of a canvas, he did not feel the slightest fatigue.

" 'That's why painters live so long,' he said. 'While I work I leave my body outside the door, the way Moslems take off their shoes before entering the mosque.'

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

"In the 1870s and '80s, the Twain family spent their summers at Quarry Farm in New York, about two hundred miles west of their Hartford, Connecticut, home. Twain found those summers the most productive time for his literary work, especially after 1874, when the farm owners built him a small private study on the property. That same summer, Twain began writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. His routine was simple: he would go to the study in the morning after a hearty breakfast and stay there until dinner at about 5:00. Since he skipped lunch, and since his family would not venture near the study -- they would blow a horn if they needed him -- he could usually work uninterruptedly for several hours. 'On hot days,' he wrote to a friend, 'I spread the study wide open, anchor my papers down with brickbats, and write in the midst of the hurricane, clothed in the same thin linen we make shirts of.'

Mark Twain Study
Mark Twain Study

"After dinner, Twain would read his day's work to the assembled family. He liked to have an audience, and his evening performances almost always won their approval. On Sundays, Twain skipped work to relax with his wife and children, read, and daydream in some shady spot on the farm. Whether or not he was working, he smoked cigars constantly. One of his closest friends, the writer William Dean Howells, recalled that after a visit from Twain, 'the whole house had to be aired, for he smoked all over it from breakfast to bedtime.' "


Mason Currey


Daily Rituals: How Artists Work




Copyright 2013 by Mason Currey


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