My husband was a Clinical Psychologist and every so often weighty professional journals would arrive in the mail, most of them of no interest, even to him. They were mainly useful as sleep inducers, five minutes reading one and you were out cold. But, every so often, something interesting, even to a layperson like me, would turn up. I remember one particular study of creativity, not just in art, but music, literature and science. The authors examined what conditions were conducive to creative breakthroughs and why most innovative discoveries (in all fields) were made by people at the beginning of their careers. I don’t remember the details of the study, but I remember the researchers’ conclusion: creative thinking of all kinds needs UNBROKEN periods of TIME. Once someone becomes famous or successful, the demands on his or her time prevent him or her from concentrating; they no longer have the long, uninterrupted periods they had when they were just starting out. Artists became celebrities and scientists end up running bureaucratic institutes. In addition, as people age, they acquire spouses and offspring as well as property and possessions that draw their attention away from work. I recently read an interview with Albert Einstein in which he stated that he wasn’t so much smarter than anybody else, but he was able to single-mindedly concentrate on a problem until he solved it, no matter how long it took.
Decades ago, I had the luxury of unbroken time when my children were little and I had a working spouse who walked out the door at 8 a.m. every morning. As soon as the school bus left, I ran into my studio and painted until my family came home six or seven hours later. Five glorious days a week! I think I did my best work then. Now, my life has come full circle and I have unbroken time again. Whether I can get my old skills back is questionable, plus, I find it tiring to concentrate for more than a couple of hours at a time. While I now have the time, I may no longer have the energy for artistic breakthroughs.
We “Creatives” need to fight for the opportunity to work without interruption; Virginia Woolf wrote of a writer’s need in “A Room of Her Own.” If an artist is successful, then everybody wants a piece of him or her; if unsuccessful, work must be interrupted in order to earn a living. Filling the need for unbroken time seems to be behind the proliferation of artists’ colonies, places specifically designed to provide undisturbed time, although all the artists I know are like cats, we prefer familiar surroundings. I can sketch when I’m away from home but I’ve never been able to be truly creative, no matter how attractive the new setting.