Losing Count Of Creativity

image: dan james
image: dan james

Recently I talked about my attempt at 1000 consecutive days of yoga falling short at 902 days, and how this reminded me of my fallibility, and freed my occasional obsession with numbers and counting.

Giving it further thought, there’s more behind counting I wanted to explore and share.

When we create – when we’re truly fully immersed in that experiencing of pouring every fibre of ourselves out on to that page, that canvas, that microphone, that stage, or through that lens – time is meaningless.

I’m sure you’ve experienced the sensation of looking at a clock and finding hours have passed without you realising, because you’ve been so lost in the flow of your work.

So in this sense, it’s fruitless trying to measure how much time we’ve created for, how many consecutive days, and so on.

What does matter is that we are creating these opportunities for ourselves.

We’re carving out the space in our schedule and fiercely protecting and honouring the importance of creative time in our lives.

In short, we’re consistently, purposefully, showing up.

This sends a message out to the world that we’re serious about this art thing, and a message inwards to where our creativity resides, letting it also know we’re here for the long haul, devoted, tooled up and ready.

Which is of course all good.

The problems come then when other people start counting and measuring our creative time.

The obvious example is where someone, most often not an artist themselves, is viewing a piece of art for sale.

They look at the price tag and because they have no other frame of reference for money than their own experience of work and pay, they equate the time – the (wo)man hours – this piece must have been slaved over to justify that cost.

As artists, we cannot win.

If we price our work high, the cynics will say “So you worked on this for the equivalent of three/six/twelve months solid?”

If we price low, they might feel that it is of low quality, or that we don’t believe it is worth much.

The fatal flaw in their reasoning either way of course, is that the value of a piece does not necessarily relate to how long something took to make.

I’m sure you’ve had works that you’ve spend hours on end tweaking and editing, only to be only moderately satisfied with them at the end. Then other pieces that have fallen out in a matter of minutes or even less, that have been your favourite thing you’ve created in months.

Also, another often completely overlooked factor by the uninitiated, is our ongoing accumulation of experience and skills and dexterity as artists.

If we’re to believe one of the greatest photographers there’s been, Henri Cartier-Bresson, our first 10000 photographs are our worst. Or whatever the equivalent would be in your main art form.

Bresson suggested that we don’t even get going until we’ve put in that amount of time and experience.

A similar theory is Malcolm Gladwell’s 10000 hours. Again he suggests that we only begin to master our work after we’ve invested 10000 hours.

Assuming a full time work week to be 37 hours, this equates to 0ver 270 weeks, or five years plus. Working solidly on our art.

If we only invest on average a more modest 10 hours a week in our creativity, to gain our 10000 hours we’d need over 19 years.

So if we’re putting a price tag on the ten thousand and first photograph we make, it’s not about the time it took to create that single piece of art (likely only a matter of moments), but all the time and experience and devotion leading up to it too.

Plus, there’s all the mental creation and composition of ideas.

Very rarely does a piece of art begin with the first stroke of the brush on canvas, or the first word on the page – there have usually been hours, days, maybe months of pre-emptive planning and pondering in the lead up.

As you can  probably tell, I’ve not come to any hard and fast conclusions in thinking around how we count and value our creative time…

Especially because we are not living in a world where everyone is an artist and appreciates the devotion demanded by our work.

(If you’re a newer reader you may not have yet come across one of my theories of how important creating is – In short, for a fulfilling life, I consider it on the same level of necessity as eating, sleeping and breathing.)

What I have concluded is what we talked about right near the beginning of this conversation.

Forget about counting and ignore all the numbers.

All you need to do is this –

Show up and create regularly, and consistently.

Give creating the vital, central place in your life it needs, and deserves.

Now go and do that, it must be about time…


Come and join the conversation to share your thoughts on losing count of creativity.


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