What to think about when making art? Last week’s post brought some valuable insights. First, Jay helped to refine the question. “Depends upon where in the project you are,” he wrote. “If you’re making aesthetic and structural decisions, then you will concentrate on the task at hand.” Steve agreed that there are different stages of work, adding that he finds satisfaction “in consciously working out ‘problems'” in making art.

I agree that the “problem-solving” aspects of art, thought-consuming like puzzles, can be satisfying. So let me clarify: that’s not the part of art-making I’m referring to. I am asking, what should one think about during those hours of art-making when the work seems to flow of its own initiative, when conscious thought seems unnecessary. Does it matter?

For Kay it does. She wrote, “When I work on a piece I always think of the inspiration for the piece. Whether it is a thought a feeling or a specific image that came to mind.”

For other artists, not thinking verbally works well. Jeffrey commented that “I Don’t think while working. Is that odd? I just get so focused and determined that sometimes, I don’t even breathe…!” But this not in a quiet studio. Jeffrey writes: “I always crank up the electronic music while I work.” Music could be seen as a way to distract thought, or even as something to contribute to the work itself. MJ Illingworth commented, “When I paint I’d say my mind totally merges with the music… For me the music opens the doorway to my artistic thoughts so that they emerge on the canvas.”

What about thinking about something like global warming? Or any other non-art issue? Would these be harmful to the work? When I work in a quiet studio, all kinds of thoughts can come time mind. What I’ve found is that the most distracting, thought-provoking topics (worrying about global warming is a perfect example) can take up volumes of words in my mind without it harming the flow of the work in the least. In fact, the more distracting the topic, the better. It’s almost as though I forget about what I’m painting, but this seems to bring excellent results. I found this surprising when I realized it. So I decided to try an experiment: listen to a book on CDs. I chose a Dutch book that I had already read so that I wouldn’t be too distracted. I found that worked as well as thinking about global warming, but was a lot more enjoyable!

Are you ever occupied by off-topic thoughts during art-making? Do they get in the way of the work, or paradoxically help it? If you listen to music when working, what do you think would happen if you worked in silence?