Art Decisions: A trail in the forest leading in two directions.

I often mention to my drawing students that being an artist means you have to make art decisions. What to work on, when to work, how long, what subject matter; once you’re working it’s endless: how to arrange a composition, what range of values to use, what colours, should I have a coffee now or later?

This barrage of decisions means I try to limit decisions I have to make in my day to day life (my weekly planner really helps with this).   “Decision fatigue” is why very busy people like Barack Obama wear the same outfit everyday. Actually this might explain the whole suit and tie ensemble in general. We plan dinners once a week and usually eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch.  I know what time of day I’m going to work and for how long.  I know I’m not going to have an espresso until 9:30 (it really revolves all around food and drinks for me).  And I try to keep as much decision making space as I can for art.

Besides having to make too many decisions, there are other things that can affect the decision making skill, like a bad sleep, stress, not eating properly or big life changes and events that throw us off routines.

And a quick decision isn’t always the aim.  I once read about a study where it was discovered that the longer you take to make a decision, the more creative it is likely to be because you are taking time to see and weigh all the options.  Also, you need to step away from a problem for a period of time in order to come back and see it fresh.

So I try not to rush decisions either.  I think the main thing is to take care of your body and mind and to establish a few routines so that you leave some mental space to make good decisions where they count. I find it thrilling when you actually do make a good decision – I think it is like the carrot (or chocolate) on the end of the stick for me. A subject matter you chose, colour scheme or composition is working, finally!

And I think also an important thing is not to get hung up on or afraid to change a bad decision (eg. painting over something that isn’t working) and just move on or take a break. Also that any decision, even a bad or unlucky decision is better than no decision.  At least you learn something from a bad decision.

This is what makes successful artists, besides the usual hard work and talent – they have made some good decisions (in amidst bad decisions) at some point about what to make, how to make it and how to share it. Getting better at making conscious decisions in the first place will create a lot more ease and inevitable rewards in your life.

Image:  Jens Lelie, Unsplash

Read more about what I’ve written about decisions.