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5 takeaways from the book On doing nothing: finding inspiration in idleness

By Roman Muradov

Book cover of a simple drawing made from lines. There is a person holding a bird, while laying on the words 'on doing nothing
Book cover —Check out the book at the Amazon link

1. Embrace imperfection

Use the shortcomings as part of the art. Anything can be used as inspiration.
It relies on us to notice, and find something new. Be patient and curious.
No time is ever truly wasted.

This reminded me of the kintsugi art.

A broken vase with the pieces back together with gold. Short text about Kintsugi: the ancient Japanese art of mending broken objects with gold. The imperfections reveal its history and make it unique

"It takes curiosity and wit to treat mistakes as artistic tools”

It depends on the interpretation of the scene as much as on the scene itself.

Find the balance between expectations and your abilities

stick figure walking on tightrope written artistic well being in front of the line. the person is holding a bar that has infinite demand written on one side and limited abilities on the other.

Setting impossible standards admonish ourselves for falling short of them. Low standards allow minimal challenge and growth. Artistic well-being is a balance between both.

Creative misery is a sign of passion. Analysis and application help it grow into something constructive. At least, it is better than indifference.

Start small.

2. Embrace the uniqueness and uniformity in repetition

The history of art is the history of repetition. Claude Monet made more than 30 paintings of the Rouen cathedral from the same spot across the street. Almost all with the same perspective, but different studies of light.

Yayoi Kusama applied the dots pattern. This does not make the work repetitive, it transforms each medium.

A canvas hangs on a wall with some black dots on it

Artists if not repeating themselves, are repeating others. If not copy-pasting involved we can still express ourselves. In the process of repetition, we give a different context.

We can try and fail to repeat others.
(As my attempt to recreate inspired by
Yayoi Kusama's work above).

3. Get inspiration outside its own medium

Our daily decisions can be rooted in the last book we read, rather than our opinions and expertise. Using inspiration outside its own medium gives more room for invention.

The greater the distance, the more original it tends to be.

Objects and words with no aspiration to art rely on a subjective vision to give them value and form.

“The most mundane and overlooked aspects of life can inspire great art, while the most extraordinary events fall without a thoughtful treatment”

Simple drawing of the Monalisa canvas and below it many flowers, with butterflies flying around them. With the quote: Some can only appreciate art if it’s framed and hung in a gallery; others prefer it in the wild; a patient observer would make no such distinction, no matter where they are

Noting patterns in daily life sometimes is all it takes to make life exciting.

Lydia Davis began to watch a group of cows across the street from her house and wrote short meditations on their movements, attitudes, and expressions.

In an interview with The Paris Review Lydia Davis said:

“If something interests me, whether it’s a piece f language or a family relationship or a cow, then I write about it. I never judge ahead of time. I never ask, is this worth writing about?”

4. Constraints can propel the central concept

Sphinx was a novel written by Anne Varetas without pronouns. The author imagined a world where that concept was entirely absent.

“At a cosmic scale, everything we do is terrifyingly pointless. Piling up constraints and puzzles does not simply cover up the void; it gives shape and warmth to what would otherwise be hollow.”

Having awareness of the constraints reveals new ways of work.

A curious fact:

All illustrations from this article I made using Excalidraw — an open-source whiteboard tool. While it has its limitations compared to some drawing apps, those constraints made it easier for me just to start drawing. I didn’t overthink which brushes or fonts to use. Those decisions were already made.

(You check here how easy it is to make charts on it.
While I earn nothing mentioning them, I thought it was worth sharing it.
Thanks to Cali that once told me about it. ❤)

5. Pauses are not a luxury, but a necessity

Without pauses, we have no time to study the efforts of repetition.
Drawing every day makes us better at drawing, not better artists.

“Allowing ourselves time to be unproductive is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Our control of the artistic output is as much as our control over bowel movements. Our work depends more on the quality and quantity of art consumed and life examined than on the manner of their eventual excretion.

Emptiness is good for digestion.

Consumers and creators are quick to develop expectations that leave no room for silence. By opening gaps, any given structure can be dismantled and rearranged.

A relaxed person laying on the floor written ‘the silence’ in front. On top of the word silence, there is a muted notification icon.

The silence and emptiness force the viewers to reconsider their preconceptions of the medium.

Unexpected emptiness invites us to engage more, leave, or both. Example of John Cage’s 4'33 piece, where he did not play any music for 4'33.

We should also give time to our critics to reappraise our work, however long it takes for a fresh perspective to develop.

The pursuit of art and leisure shouldn’t be relegated to art residencies and retirement homes. It is worth treating with greater care available time.

When frustrated with results it is almost impossible to see things clearly. Time clears frustration. The shaped work emerges.

“We can see art as a by-product of living, or we can treat our lives as works of art. How we define these margins is how we choose to spend our days, in steady, rhythms, languid progressions or improvised discord”.

Thanks for reading it!

The book has beautiful illustrations and many references from different artists. This was just an attempt to summarize my takeaways from it.

For more details and perspectives, I recommend reading the book. 😊



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Laís Lara Vacco

Laís Lara Vacco

A permanent work in progress | Product Designer |