Check Your Timing

No, I’m not talking about your car engine.

Every time we come up with a ‘great concept’ it’s a good idea to use both soft and hard thinking.  As artists we are naturally creative and tend to utilize soft thinking more than hard.  Soft thinking, according to Roger von Oech in, A Whack on the Side of the Head How You Can Be More Creative, is our imaginative thinking.  One example of the soft thinking concept is Albert Einstein.  “...Einstein appreciated the concept of soft thinking…. consciously set[ting] aside [a] problem and redirect[ing] your attention to something enjoyable and relaxing. For Einstein, this was playing the violin or sailing — two things that he loved to do and could “disappear” while he was doing them. …..what he found was that during these pleasurable pursuits, his unconscious mind would go on thinking about the challenge and surprise him with a breakthrough insight or innovation at the time when he least expected it.

In A Whack On The Side of The Head soft thinking phrases are such things as  Why Not?,  What if?,  What assumptions can we drop?, etc.  These are things artists instinctively do every day.  What if I want those daisies to be purple?  Why not paint a clock that looks like it’s melting?   What if I magnified a lily and then painted it black?  Unless we are completely caught up in ‘photo realism’ in our work we readily explore the absurd, the untried, and the unconventional.

‘The Persistence of Memory’ by Salvador Dali, 1931

However, there are times when even artists have to practice hard thinking as well.    Hard thinking gets to the other side of our brain and looks at our ideas from a logical perspective.  The questions asked in this type of thinking are things like Do We Have The Necessary Resources?,  When do we need to finish?, and Is the Timing Right?.  I admit I tired of the hard thinking after a career in which I spent years looking for better ways to do things, working on time-sensitive projects, and determining the skill sets needed for each phase of a project or job function.  So when I decided to begin a career as a visual artist I ignored a key question:  Is The Timing Right?

Many things pointed to the time being perfect.  I was headed into the autumn of my life so if I was going to do this I’d better do it now, right?  I’d had a serious vehicle accident that caused me to re-evaluate my so-called life, my twenty-five year marriage was ending amicably, I reconnected with one of the most important people in my life, and the company I with whom I’d been employed for the past twenty years had gone through a major merger and my job was one that, after re-organization, no longer existed.   The stars seemed aligned for my lifelong vision of making my living doing what I truly loved – visual art.

It also turned out that my previously mentioned re-connection blossomed into a mutually loving and creatively supportive relationship and marriage.  While there were some question marks, how would I sell my work moving to a rural mountain county, would anyone want to exhibit my work, and what happened if my dream became a nightmare? I moved forward with enthusiasm and unrestricted optimism.  Things seemed to be on the right track.  I was accepted into the first three shows I entered – all within 6 months.  I began writing again and getting that work published in online journals as well.  Most importantly the artwork came pouring out of me in a torrent that had been bottled up for thirty years.  I continued to have artwork accepted in journals and for exhibit and continued to create more.  I’ve continued to have my work ‘out there’ consistently in shows for almost three years now.  But nothing is selling.

It seems the two things I had ignored was my lack of experience in marketing and the economy into which I had launched this new endeavor.  The ‘Check Your Timing’ card in Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack might have been worthwhile to check earlier than now.  The card states, Shakespeare:  “Ripeness is all.”  Never forget that the greatest idea at the wrong time is a loser.  Is the timing right for your new idea?  What if you waited six months or a year?  Would it have been better last year or the year before?  What opportunities will you miss if you don’t do it now?  How’s your timing?”.  As I watch the paintings and other artwork pile up in my small studio I realize that my timing sucked.  

I should have started this journey thirty years ago.  I should have gotten my degree in Art instead of Accounting.  I should have been willing to be a ‘starving artist’ when I was young and healthy instead of waiting until I was aging and fragile.  It turns out that hindsight is indeed 20/20 and, in the words of Paul Gauguin, ‘The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.

Does all this mean an end to my creative endeavors?  There is no way I can stop painting –  but I slowing down is an option.  I may not sell any work while I’m alive but there will be plenty boxed up for an auction when I’m long gone.  I have other talents that I can use for ‘making’ that ‘living’ but none will ever be as beautiful, as inspiring, or as creative as the one of my dreams.  So as you are looking at a new idea, a new career, a new relationship, or some other change in your life don’t forget to ask yourself,  “Is the time right?”


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