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Daily rituals : how artists work

Call Number: 
701 C976

What are the working habits of creative people:  writers, visual artists, musicians, choreographers, filmmakers, composers, scientists, philosophers and others?  What motivates them and how do they approach the blank page--with delight or dread?  How many hours a day do they work and do they prefer day or night?  Do they find it necessary to drink alcohol, take drugs, drink buckets of tea or coffee? Do they work at home or have a studio/office?  If they have relationships/families do these help or hinder the individual?  And a most important question, how do they financially survive and still do what they love if it is necessary to earn a living doing something else?

Mason Currey answers these questions and others in this anecdotal compilation.  What began as the blog, Daily Routines,, has been condensed partially into this book.  

If your preference is to enjoy the end-product, then do not read this book because some of the trials and tribulations do not make for jolly reading. For others this book will be compelling, especially since there is no recurring thematic motivation except that each of these individuals had or has a calling for what they love to do more than anything else in the world. 

For the following a routine was/is not bothersome, but a necessity:  Anthony Trollope, prolific Victorian novelist, was incredibly disciplined and not at all bothered by writer's block or any fear of not being able to deliver the goods; Twyla Tharp, choreographer, "A dancer's life is all about routine," and she strictly follows one;  Georgia O'Keefe, painter, led a very regimented life which, for her, was a joy in the process and the completed work,  "The painting is like a thread that runs through all the reasons for all the other things that make one's life."; Gustave Flaubert, best known for Madame Bovary, had a household routine, but chafed against it; George Gershwin, musician, was compulsive about his work, starting late in the morning, working long into the night, and if he did attend parties would return home and work until dawn;  Henri Matissse, painter, had no misgivings or self-doubt, "Basically, I enjoy everything; I am never bored." He never stopped working for fifty years; two notable architects, Louis Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright, had limitless energy, and in Wright's case it also was sexual, being actively vibrant well into his eighties.  Wright would calmly think about projects, and then seemingly pull the designs out of nowhere.  What looked like artistic procrastination was his unique interior envisioning. The last-minute aspect drove his colleagues nuts with Wright completing perfect designs several hours before a scheduled meeting with a client.

For others routines or schedules were troubling:  Joseph Cornell, creator of shadow boxes that were actually three-dimensional collages, worked at low-paying, boring jobs, being the sole support for his mother and disabled brother.  He would return home to work late into the night at a kitchen table, while being chastised by his mother for making a mess.  When he finally was able to work full-time on his art, he became ambivalent about not having a regular job, frequently taking one of those day jobs, then quitting, even though he had lucrative freelance artistic commissions; John Cheever was bedeviled with all kinds of problems, abusive use of alchohol and unresolved sexual conflicts--too  much straight sex along with homosexual longings. At one point in his life, in an attempt to force a routine upon himself, and while living in a New York apartment, he would get dressed in a suit, take the elevator to the basement where he stripped to his boxer shorts, and worked on his writing in a storage room. Then at the end of day, Cheever got dressed and took the elevator home.

Three creative people who had a need for completely different kinds of substances:  David Lynch, filmmaker, did his best work at Bob's Big Boy, where he would order a chocolate shake, and numerous cups of coffee loaded with sugar. According to Lynch he got, ". . .a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas!"; Louis Armstrong was meticulous in his habits, with "pre- and post-show rituals" including homemade remedies of glycerin and honey for his throat, Maalox for his stomach, and as a lifelong insomniac, Satchmo would openly roll and smoke a joint after performances; James T. Farrell, author of Studs Lonigan, took amphetamines to stay awake and Valium to turn off the buzz in order to sleep.

This book can be read in consecutive order, perused, or use the index to look up specific names. Even though Currey is no longer adding to it, the blog,, has a good deal more material which includes categories: occupations, habits, best of, favorite lines, and other links.

For insights into the artistic workings of one very creative and productive person, check out In search of the miraculous, or, one thing leads to another by acclaimed graphic designer Milton Glaser.  In reviewing a selection of his own works, he analyzes how certain concepts were changed, enriched and reworked into other works thereby unintentionally offering the reader a small peephole into what is Glazer's visual genius. He modestly attributes this to the concept that there is really nothing all that new.