Productivity and Art

I came across this blog post on Twitter, and it seemed pretty apt to me, considering my recent post on living with a full schedule. The author makes an excellent point that forcing yourself to be constantly productive keeps your brain in a kind of vice.

First of all, you won’t experience much of the Good Stuff of Life if you’re always worried about optimizing the productivity of each moment. Some of my favourite memories involve time spent just hanging out in the kitchen with my roommates and friends, spontaneous photo walks, or book club meetings. Less memorable are the days when I ran from one commitment to another, packing it all in.

Secondly, according to the author, you’re going to exhaust your brain! He argues that every hour spent being insanely productive detracts from the next hour’s ability to do the same. I’m not sure if I agree with that as a rule, but it does make some sense. Mental work is at least as exhausting as physical work, if not more so. I’m reminded of my Dad, who often comes home from a long, busy, productive day at work and says “Okay, I just need to zone out in front of the TV for a while.” I’m reminded of him because I now often do the exact same thing. Our brains need rest! They need idle time that is spent wandering, imagining, or engaged in easy chit chat with a close friend.

I’m going to add to this argument that our creative juices need this down time as well. I don’t know how widespread this idea is, although I’m sure I’m not the first person to voice it, but I believe strongly that real art takes time. An artist whose in a rush isn’t allowing themselves to be an artist anymore. They are simply producing art-like work. Art needs to simmer beneath the surface – that’s how disparate ideas find their connections and how the true core of the piece bubbles to the forefront. Sure, I can slap something together in a week that will be a decent piece of art, but if I’m really trying to say something. If I’m really trying to reach people, the only thing I can say for sure is that it is probably going to take some time.

As an example of this, I’m going to present Lady Gaga. Now, I know a lot of people have different ideas about Lady Gaga and where she stands on the “artist” continuum. Personally, once I discovered the depth and breadth of her work and witnessed some of her liver performances, I was convinced: Lady Gaga was a true artist. She had a strong vision and used it to challenge our societal conceptions of gender, religion, and beauty. Sure, she’s not the first person to do that, but I don’t think anybody in the world is going to be the first person to do something, so that doesn’t matter. She was original in the only way one can be – by being unabashedly true and honest about the way they see the world.

Have you noticed how I keep referring to her artistry in the past tense? That’s because, in my opinion, her newest album and the subsequent work is not really art. Or at least not art on the same level she produced before. The main reason I see for this? She rushed it. She released two albums that were a brilliant whole, spent two years touring and producing relentlessly, and then immediately released yet another album. There was no time. What resulted is a pretty okay dance pop album with a couple of amazing tracks, but overall it has no soul. It had none of the overarching vision and artistry that her previous work had. Her newer videos feel obvious and frustrating in their concept and execution, and has anyone else noticed how “Judas” sounds a lot like “Bad Romance”?

It makes me sad to see something that could have been brilliant, had it been allowed time to breath and grow on its own, turned mediocre simply because the creator was worried about being constantly productive. I understand the panic, as a creative type. We want to keep creating. We want concrete evidence of the work we do and the thoughts in our heads. We want to prove to the world that we are still here, and we are still making things. But sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to set the creation aside. That’s when it will grow on its own.