The Artist’s Relationship with Time and Money, Part I: Time

As an artist, one of the most important relationships you can sort out is your relationship to time (and therefore money, since, as we know, time is money). You need time to create art, but art doesn’t make very much money (or food) at first, and you need to eat. Therefore we artists tend to find ourselves in the unreasonable position of having to sell some of our time to other people who probably aren’t paying us to make art but to do something else that is less fun. And to make enough money for food and shelter, we usually have to sell more of our time than we would like.

Basically, jobs are a time-suck that don’t let us make our art but which allow us to fulfill some basic other human needs.

In Part II, we’ll deal with the money issue and how much time you are spending at your job because of it, but for now, we’ll assume the deal is that you’re spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, working a job that isn’t primarily making art. So how can you maximize your off-time?

Remember that time is the ultimate currency

Your time is valuable. In fact, it’s the only thing you have that you can never get more of*. You can’t invest it in a time stock market to double it, and once you spend it, you won’t get it back. So don’t waste it. Don’t spend three hours on a Tuesday clicking through all of the cat photos on the internet. If you’re that tired, take a nap.Relaxation and entertainment are important, but know the difference between the valuable kind and the mindless wasteful kind, and use it to your artistic advantage. Remember that real, meaningful experiences are part of your art and that everything else is just noise that keeps you busy for no reason. (This is one of those “do as I say and not as I do” moments; me and the arsehole of the internet are a little too close these days.)

Live as close to your job as you can

For God’s sake, don’t spend precious hours sitting in traffic when you could be writing or singing or resting or having brilliant shower thoughts. Alternatively, however:

Turn your commute time into useful time (and save the environment!)

At my previous job, I lived 1.7 miles from work, and I walked. It gave me an hour a day, five days a week, of exercise and nature time, and then I didn’t have to try to find OTHER time in my day to try to exercise or drive to the gym**. If you can, try to carpool so you can spend time with people you like; walk or bike to work to combine your exercise with something you have to do anyway; or take public transportation and read/draw/listen to music/watch films or other activities I like to call art input, where you’re absorbing ideas and examples from your field. If you have to drive and can’t change that fact anytime soon, try to do art input in a different way, like listening to books on tape about your field or doing some new music exploration.

Create time for contemplation

Even more importantly, though, don’t fill all your time. You need time to just sit and look, to observe the world around you and to think about whatever you want. There’s a lot of pressure from sources around you to be busy and productive, and you will feel obligated to do chores, to go out with friends, to work late, to check your phone or text people or call your grandma, or to improve yourself with “meditation and mindfulness” or whatever the next new guilt-inducing fad is. But you need time to just sit, to do nothing, maybe with a friend or alone, so that you can rest and your creativity has room to show up. Put your feet in a lake and look at the stars. Sit on your couch and stare at the ceiling. People-watch at a café. Let yourself get a little bored. And if nothing comes out of it, that’s fantastic. You did it right.

Don’t give in to the pressure to “Achieve, Achieve, Achieve”

People want to fill your life up with stuff. They want you to fill your life up with activity, and they especially want you to have results to show for your activities; a.k.a. achievements. Your job, your school, businesses and commercials, acquaintances and even your friends and family will put invisible pressure on you to do a lot of things and to do them quickly and get results: degrees, cars, houses, promotions, raises, gadgets, photos of your amazing life experiences. Don’t give in. Take your time. Commit to a 40-hour work week and stick to it. Don’t check your work e-mail at home. When people call to ask you for a favor or to commit to something that isn’t your passion, make your automatic response “Let me think about it and get back to you,” instead of “Yeah, sure!” Wait for people to finish their sentences before you respond. Cultivate silence between moments. Try to choose the activities and work you like to do for their own sake, and not for what you get at the end. It is all practice for your art, which takes time and thought and contemplation. But achievements are not the same as improvement, and improvement is the artist’s game.

Put the time in

Most importantly, spend time on your art. The 10,000 hour rule, whether or not it’s accurate, is a great standard for self-measurement because there is no substitute for the time you spend practicing your art. As Bruce Lee so eloquently put it, “A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.” Aiming for 10,000 hours of practice means you will make your art a true priority in your life. It means you will weather failure. It means you will mark your success as an artist in terms of effort rather than in terms of achievement (and therefore in terms of something that is in your control). And spending 10,000 hours on your art means you did not spend that time on something else.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to time, since that’s what your life is made of, but I’m going to end here for now. Protect your time; it will help your art and enrich your life. Don’t spend it wastefully. Spend it on what matters.

*Unless you smoke, in which case you can add about 20 years by quitting

*I do actually do other exercise, but I use 12 Minute Athlete, which, like its name states, you can do in 12 minutes. Another time-saver! But the bonus was I didn’t have to because I walked to work.

Click here to read Part II: Money, Money