Can creating deadlines help artists produce better work?
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. A painting that took a notorios amount of time to produce
Having a deadline is useful because it encourages you to produce, regardless of quality. It helps you to overcome the natural fear of producing ‘bad’ work, by replacing it with a fear of producing no work.
You will always feel a resistance to doing any sort of work. The brain hates work. This is because of preconceived ideas about work being seen as an unpleasant chore.
As children when we are told to do something by adults (such as “go tidy your room”) which is unpleasant, we try to get out of it. And for some, skiving can become a habit.
Or, there is the simple fact that it is far more comfortable to lie in bed all day than get out into the cold and do manual labour. That is what our brains tell us. We are all naturally lazy.
Even when we want to achieve some goal, our brain is hard-wired to see this as work, and so make us shirk off.
By creating deadlines for yourself you can overcome this natural laziness.
However, it is all too easy to become distracted, with media of all sorts constantly vying for our attention. Deadlines limit the time available to us for becoming distracted.
Use of deadlines
If you have something to work towards there is an incentive to make work ‘for’ the deadline.
At art school my most productive year was my last year. I made so much stuff that was actually quite unrelated, just because I had the terrible thought that I may never have the space and freedom to create such art again.
I loved to work really big at art school, making murals and installations. Right now, this is not possible – until I can save enough money for a studio of my own…
However, at this point in my life I have created two separated deadlines for myself.
1. To finish creating enough work (in a similar graphic style to a series of 8 pieces I made) to hold an exhibition at the end of the week. I have made most of them now but could still do maybe one more…
2. I have booked my driving theory test for the last week in September, but have not even finished reading through the sections in my test book yet. This will act as a spur to get me to pay more attention to my driving (rather than my art or writing). At the moment it still gets relegated to third place.
At art school I use to hate deadlines, because I was always finished at the very last minute and just squeaked in with my work. But I always did the work in time and handed it in, regardless of quality.
However, I do tend to overwork much of my art, because I can be quite a perfectionist. Deadlines helped me to let go of that need for perfection.
Many people think that art and deadlines are incompatible. But there are no exams in art school. Some people think that creativity should not be constrained by time limits, and that it needs the freedom to expand. In fact, life is art.
But the making of individual works of art, should take no more time than is needed to complete the piece. If a client asks for a work for a certain time, it should be ready then, or you, as the artist, will not get paid.
However, there are precedents in art history which are often cited as reasons why artists don’t need deadlines. Leonardo Da Vinci never finished the Mona Lisa, and carried it around with him for years adding to it to make it perfect. Similarly, when painting his Last Supper, he took so long that the monks in the abbey where the mural was to go, started complaining about him. (Not the best client/artist relationship!)
Art needs time to mature, like fine wine, some people claim. And, yes, if you are wanting to create a masterpiece which is your life’s work, that is fine. But not if you are a working artist.
As a working artist, if we were all like Leonardo, there would me much less art in the world, and fewer people would be able to own works of art (which was actually the case during the Renaissance, so Leonardo can be forgiven!)
The point here, is that deadlines are actually beneficial to artists, and to all creatives, even if you do not think that they are!
“Deadlines are a dead bore, they are constraining my creative energy, they are stifling my experimentation time,” I have heard artists complain. But any task we set will always expand to fit the time given.
So, you start to make a painting and its not working out right, you hum and haw over it for a few days and put it away for a while. You take it out a week later and think of some changes that might improve it. This goes on for a while until you run out of ideas. You put it away again. You might come back to it in a fortnight or a month. Or a year.
And, then again, you might never finish it. I have a painting like this lying about the house. Most aspiring artists probably do.
On the other hand, if you set yourself the deadline to finish the painting in one week – that very painting that is sitting somewhere in a cupboard, unfinished – you could get it done no problem.
my unfinished painting
Give yourself the motivation to finish it. Pretend that a client said they want to buy that work off you when it’s finished. Or enter it for a competition. Or use it in an exhibition. Not the unfinished version, but the completed work in all its glory.
When you set yourself that deadline, see how quickly you can overcome the mental blocks that prevented you from making those last changes that were needed to finish it off. Making a deadline to finish something which you have previously been stuck on, gives you the drive to push through all the problems which may have stumped you in the past.
When you are finished give yourself some well-deserved praise for how wonderful the completed piece looks. Take a picture of before and after to compare the amount of work you managed to achieve in one single week of focus. It may be more than you managed in several months of agonising.
That is going to be my next deadline for myself. I would love to hear about yours!