Wasting Time Online

I recently came to the realization that I was using the internet as a tool of procrastination far more than I was using it as a tool of production.

I have gotten myself into the nasty habit of coming home, having every intention of working on something, but first, I will do a quick check of some fun sites. I tell myself, “it’s not a big deal, I’ll only be spending 5 or 6 minutes doing this, then I will get to work.” Then I start loading up various social media and link-sharing websites. I quickly skim over the headlines, looking for something that sounds interesting. When I find something interesting (which I always do) I open it in a new tab. Then I keep reading, going down the page, looking for the next link to open up in the background. Then the next link. Usually by the end of all this, I have something in the range of 20 to 30 tabs open on my browser.

Now, I can’t get to work with all this interesting stuff loaded up in front of me. What if I find something interesting, or a new idea to get my work done faster? I’d better read these articles first, then I will get to work. The wordcount on these isn’t that high, how long can it take?

I start with the photos, since they take seconds a piece. Getting through a good 5-10 tabs feels good. Then I move on to blog posts that are written in accessible everyday language. They are usually fairly quick to read through. I end with the longer, more academic articles, which often stay open in the background for several days before I get around to reading them.

Occasionally I do come across a great new idea that merits taking down notes, but normally what I read is close enough to my existing body of knowledge that I can trust myself to remember it after a single reading. All this info will come in handy…someday…right?

When I have finished reading everything, my eyes drift to the corner of my computer screen towards the clock, and I am stunned by just how much time has gone by since I booted up my computer.
“I’ve wasted how much time on this stupid thing? Oh, man I need to stop doing this! From now on, no more….hmmm…I wonder if anything new has been posted on reddit”

Frank Schirrmacher might call me an informavore, someone who mindlessly consumes knowledge as a form of passive entertainment. Seth Godin might say that I’ve fallen into the trap of believing everything I do on my computer is work because the same physical device is used for work and play. I end up reading a ton of light-but ultimately pointless information because it feels like work, so I don’t realize just how unproductive I have become.

I knew this was something I had to change, so I installed a browser extension called ‘Stay Focused” (there is a similar tool available to FireFox users, but I’ve forgotten the name.) Stay Focused is a completely free extension for Chrome (and Chromium, which I use).

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The Reddit Bump

Several days ago, I launched the Artist Statement Generator, an online tool that spits out a paragraph of generic meaningless fluffy art language. This project’s background is explained in greater detail in my previous entry, Online Artist Statement Generator. Since posting that article, I’ve corrected a few typos, and added some social media widgets to the page; a facebook “like” button, a google “plus one”, and a flatter “tip jar”. I also added the usual header and navigation links that appear on all of my website’s pages.

After getting this artist statement generator to the point where I was happy with it, I updated my main website, then submitted the page to the popular link-sharing website Reddit. I’ve typically had bad luck with getting my work on reddit; while my comments typically gain a fair amount of positive attention, my submissions are most often ignored. (I guess I don’t have a knack for generating eye catching headlines.) I figured I had little to lose, so before firing my computer down for the night, I shared my project with the art sub-directory, then went to bed.

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Online Artist Statement Generator

Note: If you are only wanting to use the automatic artist statement generator, then click here to skip out on the story of how it came to be.

Back in 2005, I was in my 3rd year at OCAD, and I was taking a course titled “professional practices”. This course was supposed to teach students “everything you need to know about being an artist outside of the studio”

One of the assignments was the creation of an artist statement.

Now, I’ve always hated artist statements. “If you need text to explain your images, you’ve failed as an image maker” sums up my feelings on the matter. But, I had to write one. I decided that since I wasn’t happy about having to do this, I should at least have some fun with it. The challenge I set for myself was tuning this task into a creative outlet. I wanted to come up with something that was unexpected and unconventional. I was a tech nerd who was surrounded by a lot of non-technically-minded people, so I figured I should go down that route.

In high school, I had taken a programming class, and in my spare time, I created an “automatic insulter” program. This was an .exe file that would print something mean whenever you double-clicked it’s icon. It was very simple, but it was also very easy to modify and expand. An automatic artist statement generator seemed like a good idea.

I fired up my old laptop, and loaded up my copy of QBASIC, and I got coding.

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Writing a New Artist Statement

Oh, artist statements.

I’ve written about my dislike of writing artist statements before. Writing about another’s work is easy, yet writing a one-page blurb about my own work is incredibly difficult.

As the creator of the work, it is easy to become infatuated by the small details, and miss the bigger picture. When looking at my work, the things I notice and really work on are very minute details. The larger ideas are things I’ve been working with for so long, I don’t even notice them any more. The old expression, “can’t see the forest for the trees” comes to mind.

There is a saying among artists that describes this feeling, “I’m too close to the work.”
When talking to fellow artists, we know exactly what this phrase means. I recently had the awkward experience of explaining that phrase to a non-artist. “It’s hard to see my work from a detached perspective because I spend so much time with it up close, I can’t think of it objectively”.

That’s when I had an idea, “If it’s easier to write about someone else’s work, why don’t I get someone else to write about my work?”.
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Focus on the Core of the Work

Sometimes, a single word can do more to focus my practice than weeks spent in the studio.

In a recent interview on 99 percent, Francis Ford Coppola talked about some things he has learned about cinema throughout his long career as one of Hollywood’s greatest directors.

“When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word.”

Know the core of the work.
Keep this word in mind while working.
Be able to express the core in a single word when asked.

This was one of those ideas that didn’t really excite me so much as I was reading the interview, but the more I think about it, the more I think that this is a very, very important point.
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The Importance of Failure

It’s easy to be discouraged by failure. It’s easy to do your best to avoid failure. But failure is a necessary part of learning. If you aren’t teetering on the verge of failure, you aren’t pushing yourself far enough.

When I sign up to do an art show, it’s often done a year in advance, I send in images of my older work, and when I’m accepted, I’m locked in, I have to produce a certain amount of new work that is similar to the examples that got me into the show. And when you sign yourself up for as many shows as I did last year, it’s a challenge to produce enough work for each of these shows. I had nine shows last year, many of them overlapped, meaning I had two full bodies of work on display simultaneously. I’m not a factory. I can’t just pump out X number of units each month. I like to give each piece the time and attention it deserves. Sometimes that only takes a few days, and sometimes it takes several months.

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Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

I’ve often heard the expression, “jack of all trades, master of none”. The idea behind this phrase is obvious enough: if I spend my time doing a little bit of everything, I may end up being versatile, but I will never, ever be truly great at any one thing. And if I want to be a great painter, I’d better drop the camera, the audio gear, the camping, the website work, the writing, the wood work, the electronics, and everything else, and just paint.

I’ve been told that if I make a business card, I should only put ‘painter’, and leave out the “photo, video, sound” part. If I make a website for my paintings, I should avoid even mentioning that I also do photography. If I really want to pursue photography, then I should make up a fake name and make a new website for just my photography. I shouldn’t let people know that I like to do more than just one thing. I shouldn’t get distracted by doing more than one thing.

But, is this really good advice to follow? Does a wide focus spread across many fields eliminate the possibility of truly mastering any one of them, or does the knowledge gained in one discipline inform the decisions made in another?

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I’m Making a List, Appending it Twice

OK, I’ve got to admit it, this post has nothing to do with Christmas, its just a lame attempt on my part to use a catchy title to catch your attention.

As I mentioned before, in “Personal Development Time”, I’m taking some time off from painting to push myself further, to experiment, to explore, and hopefully, to come back with some new work that really blows away what has come before it.

This is a tricky time for an artist, because it is very easy to let this time off turn into a wasteful period where nothing gets accomplished. This happened to me once before. After Graduating University, I wanted to keep pushing my work further, even though it was in a really good place where it was. I pushed it quite far -in the wrong direction. It took nearly two years before I was able to get myself back on track. I don’t want to get derailed like that again.

One massive pitfall that must be avoided at all costs is getting yourself stuck in research mode. Research mode is a very easy place to get stuck, because research is easy, it’s safe; there is no risk of failure, and no end in sight. There is always something else to read; always another idea to absorb; always something new to learn. It feels like real work, so it’s very easy to stay in research mode and feel like you are not wasting time.

But you are.

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