The Artist’s Date

artistsway-t           Several years ago I followed the exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Well, I followed some of them; I wrote my morning pages without fail. But I confess: I didn’t do the collages, and even though I went so far as to schedule regular Artist Dates, I didn’t always follow through.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron prescribes taking oneself on a regularly scheduled “artist date.” An artist date is “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you pre-plan and defend against all interlopers.”

Even though I’m good at blocking out time for writing and other word-related activities, I’ve never followed through on Cameron’s advice, even though I carried a shadow of shame that I should – if only I had the time.

Then last weekend, while I was in the Hudson River Valley for a family wedding, I visited The Storm King Art Center, a world-class sculpture park.

Waves, by Maya Lin

Waves, by Maya Lin

It was as I was strolling across the rolling terrain studded with sculpture of all sizes that I finally got it – what the artist date was all about.

Most of all, I became more observant, especially as my point-of-view of each sculpture kept shifting first as I saw it from a distance, then as I walked closer to it, around it, and then again from a distance. What I was seeing changed from each vantage point, just as our stories are shaped by the point of view from which we tell them.

I was also struck by the way the relationship of objects and angles bent space and changed one another, just the way details in narrative shift in importance and meaning depending on how they are presented.

I was especially struck by the power of negative space – the blank area created by sculptural lines that nearly vibrated with tension. Great prose can do this too – outline what’s not there, what’s not being said, but what may in fact be forcing all the characters in a story rushing toward mayhem.

Abstract sculptures at Storm King Art Center

Abstract sculptures at Storm King Art Center

Many of the sculptures were abstract. Nevertheless, I nearly always tried to make up a story about them, to ground them in narrative, because that’s how humans (or this human, anyway) makes sense of the world: through story. And once I noticed myself trying to tell a story about each orange girder, I challenged myself to see it simply qua orange girder, the way in yoga class I’m learning to acknowledge intrusive thoughts and then let them go. This technique allowed me the freedom of seeing without storytelling, sharpening my observational capability and focusing my concentration, two key tools for writers.

Some of the artwork literally stopped me in my tracks, they were so breathtaking, others barely registered as I strolled by. I simply noted this, without trying to evaluate it. Isn’t it interesting, I said to myself, that some of this art is so moving and some leaves me cold? And I walked on.

By the end of the day, I was seeing ordinary objects in new ways, which is one of the wonderful things that any IMG_1302art can do – sculpture, painting, music, prose. Suddenly, the way two trees leaned toward each other was pregnant with meaning, as was the relationship of two trashcans standing shoulder to shoulder, like sentinels guarding the parking lot.IMG_1312

And that was it: looking at art changed how I look at the world.

It also taught me the importance of the artist’s date, which I’ll now ink into my calendar and heed.




IMG_1298Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist living in southern Vermont.

40 thoughts on “The Artist’s Date

  1. Very inspiring post. The Artist’s Way has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. I had the best of intentions when I got it…your post has made me want to pull it out again!

    • Mandy, My post made me want to do it again, and I’ve started. It’s proving even more powerful the second time through. Good luck.

      • Very encouraging-I’m going to take a look at it today! It’s a perfect excuse for me to figure out how to use my little digital camera, too 🙂

  2. Wonderful post. I also did the exercises in The Artist’s Way; albeit some of them. You made me realize that on my early morning walk this a.m., I had my artist’s date as I photographed two flowers we take for granted – oleander and lantana – and saw their beauty.

  3. YES! You got it! Thanks for sharing. I am bookmarking this post.

    My greatest ‘a ha’ as a novice writer is realizing how much more observant I have become about what is around me at any given moment.

  4. I was camped out on the Gulf of California in Mexico for three weeks when I read Julia Cameron. It definitely made an impression and kick-started my journal, which I still maintain daily 14 years later. As for artist’s dates, I am on one now— a week trip down the Oregon Coast.

    • Silent, You are not alone. We all get busy, and that busy-ness can overwhelm our storyteller. It’s a long journey, and you are on it. I’m always glad to see your “likes” and “comments” – Thank you for them.

  5. I did the same with the book, I might pull it out again and see why I didn’t finish it, incase I was avoiding something… I do the artist dates, need to start the writing again, as it might help me with my new blog direction. Thanks for reminding me and thanks for the sculpture analogy, having recently walked around a sculpture park I got exactly what you were saying!!!

  6. I only brought about 4 books with me to the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, and one of them is “The Artists Way.” Life is often waiting for us to notice. Thanks for the reminder!

      • My usual morning walks in the neighboring fields are my constant source of inspiration. The endless fields of young green paddy have now turned golden brown, bent and nod with promises of rice grains, promises of life. I walk through the fields with the cool breeze brush past my ears. This is me, this is my time – I say to myself. Today I saw a Kingfisher in its turquoise coat and decided to take a photo only to find it was gone when I was ready to take a picture.

  7. I love this post, and not only because you were talking about the Artist’s Way…which is one of the books I’ve featured in my recent books that changed my life series (which it did!). I remember really struggling with the artist’s date when I read the book, mostly because at that time I struggled to see myself as a creative person. Now, 15 years later, I get it, just like you do. I love your description of the sculpture park and how it affected how you saw everything after that – and also how you became aware of the story you were telling yourself about each piece – and then you stopped. Wow! Go to the top of the class!

    • Thanks for sharing your story about The Artist’s Way. I think it’s valuable for readers to know how different people make different/similar uses of a resource like this – all on our individual/similar pathways. And thanks for taking the time to comment. All best.

  8. I really loved this post. I’ve done the artist’s date more often when I’ve been in settings that provided such obvious stimulation, such as when we lived in London and the museums and parks and buildings were just ‘there.’ But what I connect with here is the way your viewing of sculpture changed and progressed, distant to close, abstract to real, sculptures to trees. I’ve always loved sculpture and loved walking around them be they in a museum or in a garden or park. In another life, I’d love to be a sculptor, but for now I can be an appreciative viewer, just as you were in your walk around. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with artist’s dates and sculpture. It’s always a gift to hear from readers. Thanks.

  9. I love The Artist’s Way. I am a regular morning page writer, but I have to remind myself that it is a brain dump, not great literature. I need to do more artist’s dates!

  10. I finished The Artist’s Way a few Summers ago & have kept some the excercises – I use the Artist’s Dates as Photo Opportunities & Journaling moments — I also do Morning Pages (but I tend to do them more at night these days) … Love these practices …

  11. Pingback: Sourcing Free Photos | Live to Write - Write to Live

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