An August visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City was a satisfying one for John and me: stunning new building, great art, super café, and terrific bookstore, where John bought Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (Alfred Knopf). If you are active in the fields of art, music, dance, writing, poetry, film, philosophy or science, or simply curious about the topic of creative rituals, then this book is for you.
Compiled from his blog, Currey offers readers brief looks at the daily lives of thinkers and doers, who have left behind a body of work, as well as some clues about their creative lives. What is immediately evident is the number of biographies and autobiographies Currey must have read to write this book.
One quarrel: of 161 creative people in Currey’s book, there are only 25 women. Without teasing out the socio-psycho-political reasons for the imbalance, I call to mind the scarcity of role models for females in the 40s and 50s. I could become a teacher (which I did), nurse or office worker. These honorable professions formed our short list of choices, as compared to males. With a little more effort, Currey could have improved the gender balance, without compromising his purposes to educate and entertain.
After reading only a third of the book so far, I offer you a few tidbits:
Novelist Nicholson Baker wakes up twice. Around 4 a.m., he rises and writes for an hour, then gets sleepy and goes back to bed. He wakes up again, talks with his wife, eats breakfast and goes back to writing for a longer stretch. Behaviorist B. F. Skinner woke himself up four times during the night to write for an hour. He slept alone.
Creative people take regular walks, swim or run to clear their heads or get ideas. Novelist Haruki Murakami said, “Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” When I am doing yoga, sometimes solutions to writing or design problems bubble up when I am in down-dog.
Francine Prose admits that when the writing isn’t going well, she spends “a lot of time gardening and standing in front of the refrigerator.” I roll up in a ball and take a nap.
Some creative people drink an inordinate amount of alcohol. Some ordinary people do, too, but they don’t have as many people asking them about it.
Writers and artists recognize that they have prime working hours. My second cousin, Anne Bolgan, was a college professor and a T. S. Eliot scholar. I was about 13 years old when she talked with me about her writing process. When a book was in progress, it was enough for her to write in the mornings. That tiny detail from a conversation with my childhood heroine made a lasting impression. She may have sensed that someday I would be developing my own daily rituals.
Mason Currey’s book opens a door to the creative process and gives readers a chance to observe how, when and where the work gets done.