Growing up I had the standard adolescent fascination with the 'Romantic' ideal of the artist; the drug-addled genius of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Byron swimming the Hellespont, the drunken Jim Morrison stumbling his way to greatness.
Fortunately, we grow up, but I wish I'd read ‘Daily Rituals - How Artists Work’ by Mason Currey when I was in my teens. It looks into the daily routines of artists such as Matisse, Miro, Picasso and Warhol, and other creative minds from a wide variety of disciplines including Nabokov, Le Corbusier, Gertrude Stein, Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Einstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, HL Mencken, and Federico Fellini.
A few of them fit the archetype of the tortured artiste, living fast and dying at 27, but the vast majority of the 150+ famous names featured treated their work as a 9 to 5 ‘job’.
Nabakov would breakfast at 8am, work until lunch at 1pm, then work again from 1.30 to 6pm. Georgia O’Keeffe liked to wake up “when the dawn comes”, and would work through the day. Matisse would work from 9am to noon, then siesta, then from 2pm to the evening. Joan Miro was up at 6 and in the studio by seven.
There are exceptions; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, given his subject matter, could often be found sketching in the cabarets and brothels of nighttime Paris. Picasso went to bed late and got up late, as did Pollock.
But the takeaway from the book is that whether our favourite artists, writers and other creatives got up at 5am or 5pm, they were disciplined in their approach to their work. As Barbara Hepworth put it: ‘Art is Labour’.
If I'd have known that when I was a kid, I might have spent less time dreaming about what kind of artist I wanted to be, and more time actually making art.