Why Artists Need Structure

by Laureen on October 10, 2012

A structure that supports commitment

These days, I’m walking to Ireland. It doesn’t take long, less than 20 minutes. In the morning after breakfast I put on my coat then head out of town and along the river. Soon I can see the cottage I have use of for this time, where my easel is set up and waiting. I walk up the drive and unlock the door, feed the two resident cats, and get settled. For the rest of the day, the cats go out and in and visit me and snooze and purr, and I attend to my artwork. In late afternoon I feed the cats again, lock the door behind me, and walk back to Val Marie. It’s an artist’s residency, with all the structure, both existing and self-created, that an artist needs to make good things.

Of course it isn’t really Ireland I’m walking to. A Val Marie friend is away travelling, and I’m looking after her house. We agreed that if I set up my studio there and so was in residence for daytimes, her cats would get good attention and I would get good art time. My Grasslands Gallery is on off-season by-appointment-only hours, and my heart has turned toward painting. It’s a win for both traveller and stay-at-home.

Why does this feel like Ireland? The first time I was in that country, almost 10 years ago, I had three lovely months in a holiday cottage and enough time to pretend that was where I lived. I could paint, make friends, explore a new life for awhile. The one thing I didn’t have was the option to get a job, at least not legally and without a lot of paperwork. So I didn’t. I did what I really wanted to do. Since then, prolonged spells of this kind of magic – like now – remind me of that time.

It’s the structure of walking to Ireland that is so fruitful. Some mornings it would be easier to stay home, be busy, do other things, but I can almost hear the cats tapping their little fur-covered wristwatches. WHERE ARE OUR BREAKFASTS? (Obligations do seem to speak in all-caps.)  So I go. There are days when the paint flows off my brush like a river onto the image, and this is everything I want to do. But there are also days when I’m tired, and being in the studio is hard. I could leave, but it’s a 20 minute walk home, and if I left I’d have to go back for WHERE ARE OUR DINNERS? So I stay. Maybe I read, or nap. Then, when I’m ready, the easel is right there, and I turn to it for awhile. Somehow that’s how paintings get made.

Structure. What is it? How does it work? The Merriam Webster online dictionary says structure is something that is constructed; something arranged in a definite pattern of organization; the arrangement of particles or parts in a substance or body; organization of parts as dominated by the general character of the whole; coherent form or organization.

I think I have all these here.  The cottage and the easel stand in place, waiting. My cat care obligations help organize the day. The character of the whole defines what I do, and it gives form to the time. Since I can’t do other things – laundry, gallery website maintenance, grocery store shifts or volunteer work – without leaving, and because leaving takes effort at least equal to staying in place, I stay.  Staying means the easel and me standing together. I’ve chosen this way of being for this time, and the structure helps me.

I think we all need structure. Artists, non-artists, everyone who has something they really want to do.  It’s easy to think that if we had better time management, stronger personal characters, greater desire – that if we were different from what we are – we could really commit to our projects. What if it’s more a matter of creating a structure that actually supports that commitment? The time of day. The expectations of others. The physical space we inhabit. All arranged in a pattern whose dominant characteristic is that it helps us be what we’ve chosen.

What structure can you invent that might help you be and do more of what’s important to you? How can you walk to Ireland?

To Part 2…


Melissa Dinwiddie October 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Ah, Laureen, your “walking to Ireland” life is one I’ve often dreamed of: a studio close enough to walk to, but far enough to make leaving take some effort. That is exactly the kind of structure I like best, too.

Since I don’t have that structure, I make do with what I do have, and build in retreats whenever I can. 🙂

Laureen October 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm

It’s kind of my dream too. This is very temporary, until my friend gets back from Away. The challenge will be finding a way to continue it when I’m in the distractions of my own house again.

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