Over the last few weeks I’ve gone to a couple of universities to talk to arts students about project planning.
I talked for about an hour about a number of my projects, how they moved from idea, through work, to finished works. How as artists, we need to not only allow ourselves to be swept up in the exhilarating thrill of making, but must also be project managers, and plan and work even when we don’t feel like it.
So much of “being an artist” is doing the work you don’t want to do. Of planning and plotting and scheming and scheduling and sticking to time lines and setting goals. In high school we often get seduced with the idea of the individual genius, of the artist struck by inspiration who works passionately late in to the night and emerges at the break of dawn with his masterpiece. We believe that ideas spring from within, without provenance, and that we will triumph in the end.
There is all the work though, all the grind. There can be no waiting for inspiration, or feeling in the mood. It’s got to be work. And because of the nature of the work, no one gives a shit if you slack off. No one will care if you punch in late and clock off early. If you set your own schedule and you miss it by an hour, a day, a week a month. If you don’t pick up the paint brush for a year, who will really care? We are not doctors skipping surgery, or firemen ignoring infernos. We are ultimately responsible for steering our own course.
Inspiration is a luxury I don’t have the time for.
For the talk, I drafted a list of criteria that I’ve established for myself, of things that I know a project has to have for me to take it on. Things that I know need to be present, or else I won’t see it through. This list will be different for everyone, and will change for me over time as well. I have learned these things about me as much through succeeding in projects as I have through failing in them.
Combine multiple interests.
For me, this means drawing from a range of areas for any given project. It might be certain painters, colour combinations, line work, materials, sounds, music, performances, books. Attempting to make these areas of exploration in to a new whole with new meanings and new readings. It also has the added benefit of offering “escapes” for when you are tired of a project. If you can then shift your focus to a different area of the work, it can keep you going longer.
Make it autobiographical.
This is about placing myself within the work, or rather, identifying where I am within the work and why. Why is this project important to me, to me as a person and an artist. To me as a white male, as a caucasian, as an Australian, as an English speaker. What does it mean for me to be producing the work I do. If a work is autobiographical, or if you are able to identify yourself in it, then you will invest more in the work itself and develop a greater understanding of you and your relationship to the work.
Define your terms of victory.
Goals need to be set for any project. I like to set big goals and mini goals. Big goals are the game winners, they are the big ambitious pay off type goals that will happen when all the grind work is done. It might be an exhibition, or a published book, or a performance. It’s also really important to set mini goals throughout the project. These might be small achievements like sales targets, interviews, number of page views. These mini goals will keep you going when the end seems so far away that you don’t think you can keep going.
Know how you work.
This is tricky, and a knowledge of self can only really come through doing lots of projects. Do you leave everything to the last minute? Do you work to a strict schedule. If you have a deadline looming, and a friend rings you up to go out for a drink, will you stay in the studio and work, or go out and party? If you’re out drinking, there’s going to be ten other artists still in their studios working away, wanting it more than you do.
Set a time line.
Map it all out, map it all out. Schedules are king. Like I said earlier, when you are your own boss, you can be slack as all hell. However, when you are your own boss you can also work as hard as hell. Set a time line. Lay it all out.
I think the easiest way to make a time line is to reverse engineer your project. Start with your end goal. Then pen in when you want to achieve it. Then figure out what the step is immediately before your end goal, and pen that in the calender. Then what do you need to do before that, and before that and before that and keep going until you get where you are now. Assess if it’s feasible, if you know how you work you can figure out if it’s doable. If need be, rejig the plan until it all works spaces out nicely.
Make sure you give yourself room for error, for sickness, for emergencies, because they will poke their heads in to disrupt your master plan.
Work work work work work work work.