“Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”

On November 14, 2014, in Books, Culture, Writing, by Derrick G. Jeter

Daily Rituals BookMason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is an intriguing idea . . . poorly executed. But perhaps that’s not quite fair. I’m not sure anyone could have pulled off an engaging read of the daily routines of creatives. As interesting as it sounds, delving into the daily work habits of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King, or the more than 150 “artists” highlighted in this book, there’s nothing interesting in the reality; a few tidbits here-and-there, but you have to dig through a lot of coal (230 plus pages) to find a diamond.

As a creative myself, my daily ritual is nothing to write about. (And I won’t do so here.) The simple truth is, as a writer (and I suspect this is true of all creatives), the art of creativity is the daily application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Like anything worthwhile—ditch digging, brick laying, tree trimming—thinking, creating, persuading—whether through writing, painting, composing, choreographing, or philosophizing—takes hard work. Nothing glamorous. Nothing eloquent. Nothing magical. Just good old fashion elbow grease.

What you do discover in Daily Rituals is that some (not all) “artists”—used loosely, since Currey includes the daily routines of philosophers and scientists—fuel their creativity through caffeine, nicotine, and amphetamines. But don’t we already know that? Maybe those not engaged in the creative professions believe that great thoughts and works of art emerge through the smoke-filled haze of tortured souls—that drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual experimentation is the seedbed of creativity. For some it is. And while some artists, whether it’s true of them personally or not, want to keep that stereotype alive, the truth is creating art is hard work and requires (at some point at least) sobriety. On this point, novelist George Sand was absolutely correct:

Inspiration can pass through the soul just as easily in the midst of an orgy as in the silence of the woods, but when it is a question of giving form to your thoughts, whether you are secluded in your study or performing on the planks of a stage, you must be in total possession of yourself.

What you also discover in Daily Rituals, if you choose to read through the book (which isn’t necessarily the intent of the author), is that composer John Adams speaks for all artists—and sums up the book quite well: “My experience has been that most really serious creative people I know have very, very routine and not particularly glamorous work habits.”

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @derrickjeter.

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