Greg Mason Burns

Art and Productivity

Progresso is an abstract oil-on-canvas painting using pink, orange, blue, purple, and yellow colors with black figures.

Art and Productivity: when art develops over time

This has been something on my mind for some time. I wouldn’t call it a rant, or really anything new, but it is a reality and I believe an important point to share: that artists are as productive as corporate workers in spite of not being able to show anything at the end of a particular day.

Thinking is Working

Look, I get what you’re thinking – how is it possible that an artist is working when sitting in a café watching the world go by? There’s no way to put this on paper, but it’s true. Not only that but the artist is probably working longer hours than you when sitting at your desk. The artist can’t shut off. I am thinking about art from the moment I wake up to the moment I close my eyes at night, even when I’m teaching English to my business students. I think about my paintings, my projects, my ideas, my past, my present, and my future all the time. Artists believe that there’s art in everything. This is every day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. It never shuts off, and I like that. In fact I love it. It defines me.

Igreja da Sé de Olinda is an oil pastel painting on glass of a small church in northern Brazil.

Painting in the moment

How to View Time

But this doesn’t answer how the artist puts in as many productive hours as the corporate worker does. Look, the corporate world wants you to believe that creativity needs reserve time to shut off the logical world. This is true to some extent, but there is also a very large hole in this argument. In order to “reserve time” then the opposite must be true. If one reserves time then one must also have “unreserved time.” This latter part of the equation is not productive to the artist, as I noted above about not being able to shut off art. In order for the artist to be productive he or she must not have any time that is “not reserved.” An artist dedicates all time toward art.

Reporting is Nothing

How does the artist work then? He or she must think, a lot, before putting these thoughts into action. The corporation gives the worker tasks to do and measures how many of these tasks the worker ticks off the list, so to speak, within a given amount of time. Corporate projects vary in length, but it really is possible to show progress in relatively short periods of time (days, weeks, quarters, for example). Most corporate workers should be able to file a progress report at the end of any given day. An artist can do the same thing, but instead of showing Excel spreadsheets or pdf documents the artist can list “thoughts” as accomplishments.

The difference between the corporate worker is that the corporate worker has physical work to show on a regular basis, whereas the artist shows physical work in bulks of time – or bursts of productivity that can start after weeks of nothing but thoughts and can end as quickly as they begin. For example, I will go weeks without having a decent painting to show as proof of my labors, but then I can produce six or seven paintings in a four-week span. What happens? Four weeks or thinking immediately explodes into four weeks of paintings.

My next post on this subject will be about society trusting the artistic process. The corporate culture / society doesn’t trust the artistic or creative approach to productivity, and it’s my belief that’s why we have the starving artist culture – not because suffering creates great art, but that weeks of thinking isn’t trusted as much as weeks of produced documents. Remember, art and productivity are linked.
Comments: 2
  • Pam Frank December 3, 2014 2:01 am

    Hi Greg, thanks for sharing. I really like your paintings! I agree with the premise that artist her contributors to society and hard workers. You seem, however, to be stereotyping corporate workers as cogs in a wheel. I think that’s more of an individualistic experience/style, and indicative of some corporate structures. However, many corporate workers are strategic and creative in their daily routine. And those with the passion for their career/job, think about it 24×7, just as you do!

    • Greg December 3, 2014 11:58 pm

      Hi Pam,
      First off, hope all is well. Secondly, thanks for taking the time to read.
      I agree with you to some extent. During my time in the corporate world I definitely came across various people who were passionate about their jobs in such a way that it became a part of them. However, from my own experience, and what I saw of others, the vast majority are people who simply get assigned tasks within a framework and then do those tasks. Do they have flexibility? To some extent, and they certainly have the ability to manage their days and careers depending on the organization. But essentially the corporation has a big picture goal that starts at the top and that filters down as objectives become more specific. As the various parts of the big picture get sent down to the departments that do the tasks, creativity is slowly stripped away. The employees need to do something that fits into the next level above them. If it doesn’t fit then it’s likely rejected.
      Now, I agree that this isn’t always the case, and that nothing is 100%, but I don’t believe it’s an inaccurate stereotype. I believe people such as yourself are far and few between. People / organizations pay to have something specific done. It takes the brave person (probably not coincidentally often the art collector), who pays to be surprised.

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