Have you ever squandered a free day on strange, unimportant activities? I have.
When I finish a writing project, I grant myself an open day. Twelve potential-filled hours lay before me to accomplish something epic. I often end up blowing every one of those hours on dumb stuff I can’t remember.
It’s now 6:30 A.M. on a free day and I stand at a crossroads…
Will I tend to the weird-ass series of found-object-boxes I promised myself I’d complete? Or will I be distracted by the shiny butterfly of an email I just opened from a fast-paced editor I freelance for, who wants four detailed article pitches for her magazine by 5 pm today?
I’m honored she asked me. The extra money would be nice. But it may not result in one iota of new, paid work. No bright ideas are coming to mind for the pitches, and it will take me all day to churn out something respectable.
When I need to make decisions like this, I ask myself WWGD? What Would Georgia Do?
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) became one of the most prolific and accomplished painters of the twentieth century; in part because she possessed dozens of qualities I wish I had this morning, but just these three would be sweet to start.
In other words, O’Keeffe was in charge of O’Keeffe. Even as a young woman her life decisions were not based on the approval of others. Instead, her choices seemed driven by what O’Keeffe thought would be best for her art practice.
“Georgia O’Keeffe’s self-possession was part of her art,” said Roxana Robinson, author of Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life. Robinson shared the following lesser-known story about O’Keeffe with me, demonstrating this self-possession in action.
“O’Keeffe is living out in Abiqui in the 1950’s,” Robinson said. “She is by then one of the most famous women artists ever; however, her work is no longer in the Edith Halpert gallery which has closed. She has no dealer in NYC.” O’Keeffe was by no means forgotten, but right then she could use some publicity as: “Life Magazine has a column called Where Are They Now, and they have included O’Keeffe in that column,” said Robertson.
Just then, the Louvre Museum in Paris contacts the painter to ask her to do a major, one-woman show. “At that time, O’Keeffe would have been the only non-French artist ever offered that honor,” said Robinson. “She responds to the Louvre with: ‘No, it would be too much trouble. I live in Abiqui, New Mexico and I would have to work to get all the pictures crated, I know how much work that means—So no.”
“O’Keeffe was committed to the work and living her life. Making the art was really what was important for her, said Robinson. “She was living out there painting in a remote desert location. She did not care what was happening in Paris.”
I think the lesson here for artists and writers is; sometimes you have to say “no” to get to your “yes.”
As my colleague, jeweler Barbara Klar explains: “There comes a time you finally realize more publicity or extra money are not worth the flying, the hauling, the schlepping or the promoting.”
Yes, of course, certain shows or events that inspire, enlighten or pay you money you really need at the moment are things to still say yes to. “But eventually to stay true to your work as an artist you say no more and more because you realize you have a limited time on earth to convey what you need to convey. You’re happy to make do with less stuff, so you can just stay home, without stress and make art.”
I bet O’Keeffe would agree. O’Keeffe herself said, “The days you work are the best days.”
Back to, WWGD if she were in my shoes this morning?
She’d be headed to the studio to work on the bizarre art boxes because she knows they are 1000 times more important than getting approval or an article assignment from the editor. So it’s no to my id, yes to my odd so down to the art room I go.
What does YES to your art look like for you these days? What will you be saying NO to, in order to spend more time on your YES on your next free day?
Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD is a humor-loving, award-winning journalist, artist and children's literacy volunteer. Come check out her new blog TheCharmedStudio. It’s a sanctuary for creatives who care about soul. Her dream is to help creatives like you feel better, write better and sell better---by being yourself.