Artist Agnes Martin On Inspiration, Interruptions, Cultivating A Creative Atmosphere, And The Only Type Of Person You Should Allow Into Your Studio

I was glad to have my brain picked by a recent post on Maria Popova's blog, in which she shared some choice quotations from Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances. Two thoughts by this great modernist artist that I loved were, first, regarding inspiration:

"Young children have more time in which they are untroubled than adults. They have therefore more inspirations than adults. The moments of inspiration added together make what we refer to as sensibility — defined in the dictionary as 'response to higher feelings.' The development of sensibility is the most important thing for children and adults alike, but is much more possible for children. What is the experience of the small child in the dirt? He suddenly feels happy, rolls in the dirt probably, feels free, laughs and runs and falls. His face is shining… 'The light was extraordinary, the feeling was extraordinary' is the way in which many adults describe moments of inspiration. Although they have had them all their lives they never really recall them and are always taken by surprise. Adults are very busy, taught to run all the time. You cannot run and be very aware of your inspirations."

And secondly, on studio practice:

"You must clean and arrange your studio in a way that will forward a quiet state of mind. This cautious care of atmosphere is really needed to show respect for the work. Respect for art work and everything connected with it, one’s own and that of everyone else, must be maintained and forwarded. No disrespect, carelessness or ego [and] selfishness must be allowed to interfere if it can be prevented. Indifference and antagonism are easily detected — you should take such people out immediately. Just turning the paintings to the wall is not enough. You yourself should not go to your studio in an indifferent or fighting mood."

Working Days: John Steinbeck & the Art of Discipline (yes, my brain has been picked)

Just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.

I found great encouragement in Maria Popova's recent Brain Picking about John Steinbeck's diary, kept while he wrote his masterpiece, The Grapes Of Wrath. All creatives share the same basic struggles. Amazing. True. 

Popova writes, "Particularly of note is Steinbeck’s relationship with distraction, which encompasses everything outside the work — both positive and negative interferences. Life itself is a distraction from the living world he is writing into existence — visits from friends ('Sue and Bob showed up this morning. Had to kick them out. Simply can’t have people around on working days.'), outings on the town ('Good time but Jesus how the work suffers.'), rest periods ('Always on week ends I have the feeling of wasted time.'), his own body ('I’m a little sick today… It is time to go to work and that is all there is to it.'), the dentist ('I go to the dentist at four. After which digression, get back to work.'), and even something as neutral as the seasonality of summer ('Exciting but I can’t allow excitement. Leave that for this winter.'). The diary becomes his voice of reason, in which he is constantly counseling himself on retaining focus, as he does in this entry from late August: 'I must re-establish the discipline. Must get tough. So many attractive things are happening that it is difficult.'"

Taylor [Ed. — next-door neighbor] just rakes his yard and putters. But he would probably do a better job of this than I am doing. More ship-shape. I wish I were he sometimes. Just rake the yard and mix a little cement. How did I ever get started on this writing business anyway? To work.
When I think how I am not following orders to do what people think I should do, I am scared, but then I think that it is my own work, if anything, that will be remembered. I can’t work for other people. I don’t do good work with their ideas. So I’ll go on with my own.