Process and productivity as an artist

Two nights ago my wife and invited friends over to watch Sweet Land, a film set in rural Minnesota around 1920. Very good film.

That same evening — no, this post isn’t about the movie, but I thought it was worth mentioning — the four of us talked about the process of making art. Some parts of that conversation are worth mentioning as well.

Our friend Traci, a writer and musician, referenced a book she read a while ago. It truthfully noted that the conditions we conjure up in our heads as ideal for art making are not reality, but as an artist you have to make art anyway. I learned this last year, as evidenced by some of my whinier posts about not having as much time as I want in my studio.

If art is our passion and our gifting, we will continue to pursue it. We have to; it’s in our nature to give these gifts to the culture around us. Despite the fact that our studio spaces might be too small, we don’t have the budget for materials or tools we really want or don’t yet have a venue or audience for our work we press on. And the sooner we realize that our circumstances may never be ideal, the better off we’ll be.

Further, an artist can’t become frustrated with down time in their process. The writers in the aforementioned discussion noted that the process by which an author created their previous novel may not the same used to produce subsequent titles. The manner in which a good story comes about is not formulaic, but this shouldn’t really be surprising to artists of any craft.

Productivity for an artist doesn’t look like productivity in the business world. We aren’t concerned with the number of widgets coming off of the assembly line or the number of sales as made in a day. The creative process often includes a lot of looking and thinking, as well as mistakes, so to speak, that will never see the light of day.

And that’s all right.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

2 Responses to Process and productivity as an artist

  1. Tim J. says:

    I recently read (again) in the foreword of Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” how he wrote the first chapters steadily up to a point (in the mines of Moria) and then laid the work aside for more than a year before continuing.

    You are right that we need to sometimes (as one professor of mine put it) “let the fields lie fallow”. Those pauses are often very fertile creative times, in retrospect.

    On the other hand, life is short, and I get frustrated at my own lack of serious output. I have some big things in mind, but they may have to wait, especially if I end up teaching;

  2. pNielsen says:

    There in lies the contradiction, yup. Balance, productivity . . . I think that I’m just not a very good day-job artist at times. I really get the sense that I need more time to do what I want to do well. Nonetheless I press on . . .

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