Footage of fireworks in LA last night + the Blade Runner soundtrack
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) July 5, 2018
Artists and children both need the right combination of time, space, and materials to do their work.
Here’s how Ursula Kolbe puts it in her book Children’s Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses (emphasis mine):
The elements of time, space and materials make it possible for children to explore, invent and make their ideas visible. Thinking of these elements as invitations gets to the heart of the matter.
It’s the combination of unhurried and uninterrupted time, inviting spaces and materials that guides mind and hands, that invites creative thinking. Seeing, handling, and thinking are inseparable, as Rudolf Arheim, psychologist and scholar of art and ideas, reminds us.
Together, time, space and materials provide ‘invitations to act’.
Those adjectives are extremely important: unhurried and uninterrupted time, and inviting spaces and materials.
Years ago, my friend John T. Unger turned “time, space, and materials” into an equation for producing work. (Only he uses the word resources instead of “materials” — “Resources meaning materials and tools, or the money to get them.”)
Time + Space + Resources = Work
His insight was that you need all three at the same time, otherwise you fall into idleness. Here, in John’s words, are variations on the equation:
T+R-S=Idle: You have time and resources but no work space. Examples: a rock band with close neighbors, a dancer with a no floor space, any visual artist whose space is improperly ventilated, too small, or is not conducive to the use of their proper tools.
T+S-R=Idle: You have time and space but no resources. Example: you quit your job and moved into your parent’s basement, but ran out of paint & canvas. Or you saved up enough cash to rent a big space and take time off, but your welder just blew out it’s coil and there’s not enough cash left to fix it. Or you took a part time job so you’d have
more time to work, but you can’t afford materials after you pay the rent.
R+S-T=Idle: You have resources and space, but all your time is used to maintain them. Example: You have a great job that pays for a huge loft and you’ve purchased everything you need to do a big project. But every night when you come home, you’re just too burned out to get anywhere with the stuff.
“The trouble is,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to get all three at once.”
Time gets used to make money. Money gets used to pay for space. Space is hard to justify unless you have the time and resources to make it pay for itself. The whole equation can easily turn into a vicious circle in which you constantly have to rob Peter to pay Paul.
We can easily see this play out in the lives of children, too.
S + M – T = You provide a nice space and plenty of materials in the classroom, but the bell rings and it’s time to stop for the day, regardless of where the children are in their work.
T + S – M = You provide the time and space for children to work, but all you’ve given them to draw with is crummy old crayons and scrap paper.
M + T – S = You provide great materials and lots of time, but nowhere to spread out.
My question is whether increasing the quality or amount of a variable in the equation can make up for a lack of one the others.
So, for example, you have very little time, but you have a dedicated space and materials ready to go so you can pop in at any opportune moment and work.
Or, you have no space to work, but you get up early when the kids are in bed, and use the kitchen table.
I’m scratching my head thinking about how space and time can make up for a lack of materials, which might reveal something about their importance. I suppose if you have lots of time, you can scrounge around for materials?
I’ll think about it some more, but until then, remember the equation:
Time + Space + Materials = Work
On the left is a collage I made a year and a half ago, on the right is the view from a folding chair I was sitting in yesterday. Burroughs, in his wonderful Paris Review interview and elsewhere, spoke of how collage and cut-ups were a form of time travel.
…it is a matter of the future and the past being laid out, so that you can see both the future and the past from the present. There is a very interesting book by John Donne called An Experiment With Time, written in 1925. He started writing down his dreams and found that they very often referred to future events. I dream about earthquakes, and he had a very interesting point to make about that. He said that if you dream about an earthquake, you are not foreseeing the actual event. What you are seeing is the moment when you will become aware of it. That is, the moment you will see it in a newspaper or hear about it on the news. In other words, you are moving forward on your own time track to a moment of your own future awareness.
He then spoke about art as a “creative act”:
Paul Klee said that art does not simply render nature, it renders it visible. The artist sees something that others do not see, and by seeing it and putting it on canvas, he makes it visible to others. Recognition art. A particle physicist at the University of Texas named John Wheeler has developed something that he calls “recognition physics.” Wheeler says that nothing exists until it is observed. Well, the artist as observer is like that. The observer creates by observing, and the observer observes by creating. In other words, observation is a creative act. By observing something and putting it onto canvas, the artist makes something visible to others that did not exist until he observed it.
Here is an I.W.W. “stickerette” produced in the 1910s, protesting the exploitation of children in textile mills.
I can’t help but think of it when my first grader complains about going to school:
“The day felt like a week!”
“I don’t get to think about what I want to think about!”
“It takes me away from my music!”
His protests aren’t that school is all that bad (he has a great teacher and a sunny classroom) but it’s just too long.
Here’s Jenny Odell (author of How To Do Nothing) on how she tries to slow down time for the students in her classes:
I can’t give my students more time in their lives; but what I try to do is change the way they think about and value it in the first place. My class typically includes students who aren’t art majors, some of whom may never have made art before. I give them the same advice every quarter: Leave yourself twice as much time as you think you need for a project, knowing that half of that may not look like “making” anything at all. There is no Soylent version of thought and reflection — creativity is unpredictable, and it simply takes time.
Emphasis mine. The first grader knows it already, and all too well… and it’ll only get worse!
At the Chicago Public Library stop of the Keep Going tour, Eddie Shleyner asked me, “Do you ever feel like no matter how much work you do, you can or should be doing more?”
He recorded my answer:
“Yeah, always. If you get into that productivity trap, there’s always going to be more work to do, you know?
“Like, you can always make more. I think that’s why I’m a time-based worker. I try to go at my work like a banker. I just have hours. I show up to the office and whatever gets done gets done.
“And I’ve always been a time-based worker. You know, like, ‘did I sit here for 3 hours and try?’ I don’t have a word count when I sit down to write. It’s all about sitting down and trying to make something happen in that time period — and letting those hours stack up.
Filed under: time
My agent was standing in front of this display at the Book Passage in Corte Madera and he said to me, “You’ve had a busy decade, young man.”
I was reminded of some advice I heard from cartoonist David Heatley, well, about a decade ago: “Give yourself a decade.”
On the one hand, it went so fast. On the other hand, it’s felt like forever. So it goes.
Related reading: “3 Thoughts on a Decade of Publishing.”
I hit that “Remind me in 15 minutes” button if I’m actually doing something important. But more often than not, when I see this screen I realize I’m not. And then, for the rest of the day, every time I go to open Instagram, I see that the app icon is grayed out with a little hourglass next to it. This disincentive is important because my phone tells me that I pick up my phone an average of 70 times a day (!!!!). I know everyone has their own methods for managing the time-suck of Instagram or whatever your digital vice may be. This is mine.
I already use Screen Time to set a time limit on my son’s iPad, but I tried it out on my phone just yesterday and set a time limit of 1 hour for social media apps. I was shocked at how quickly I saw that screen. I didn’t even make it past lunch. Gonna keep it set and see if this helps my addiction at all.
I think you really have to see the days to know what you can do with them.
I cut up one of my calendars and taped what’s left of April to May and June and, voila, it made 10 whole weeks. I like seeing them all there, without the month headings. Makes what I’m doing seem more doable, somehow.
Q: “Who has time for that?”
A: “People who make time for that.”
Above: art-making advice from our 40-year-old ovens.