In Praise of Deadlines
In my fantasies, I imagine being the sort of artist who is motivated solely by the pleasure of being in the studio every day, who is incredibly focused and productive all the time. I imagine working at my own steady and unhurried pace, without the pressure of a deadline, or the stress of scrambling to finish a project in time. In my fantasies, I imagine this is the way a real artist works, and that someday I will achieve this.
I am increasingly convinced that so-called “real” artist — with her flawless work ethic and lack of deadlines or stress — is herself a fantasy.
The truth, of course, is that I tend to be discouraged and stalled when there is no looming deadline or upcoming prospect. I putter around the studio, making messes that I have no interest in cleaning up, because there is no upcoming project that demands a clean work space. I flirt idly with various new projects that I might begin, but find none of them compelling enough to wrestle through to completion. My old work stares down at these pathetic new attempts, taunting and condemning my lack of creative energy. When that goes on for any length of time, I begin to question my abilities, my artistic calling, even the ultimate purpose of art.
By contrast, an upcoming exhibit or deadline creates the perfect catalyst for artistic growth and productivity. I don’t always enjoy the pressure, but it consistently leads me to take new artistic and creative risks. In the wild scramble to finish a last-minute project or fix an unexpected problem, I’m willing to try things I wouldn’t even consider at other times. Not only does that often lead to creative and innovative developments in my current project, but it also provides a direction for ongoing artistic growth.
It has taken me quite a while to learn this about myself — and longer yet to accept that I probably will never possess the steady and unhurried working rhythm of that fantasy artist. Sometimes I still find myself stalled out in the discouragement of trying to work with no clear goal or deadline. But I am learning to seek out opportunities and projects for myself, and to trust that my own creative spirit will crawl out of hiding and respond to the presence of a new challenge and the pressure of a new deadline.
I’d love to hear about the experiences of other artists, too. Are deadlines an important part of your creative process? What conditions inspire you to take new risks in your work?