Many years ago, I interviewed a sculptor in Virginia following the dedication of one of his works.  The notable statue was the subject of controversy due to where it had been placed.  But that's another story for another time.

Anyway, after having a pleasant chat with the sculptor, one of the onlookers came over and asked him that dreaded, but inevitable question that all artists and creatives are asked over and over and over again ... 

"How long did it take you to do that?"

Upon hearing this, the sculptor rolled his eyes and walked away.  Hold that thought.  I'll come back to this artist in a moment.

Once again, this question is yet another symptom of the lack of arts education in schools today.  Because most folks simply don't understand art, they fumble and feel their way around ... they're valiantly trying to comprehend something for which they've had next to no exposure.  So, they ask the most obvious question that comes to mind ...

"How long did it take you to do that?"

This is always a frustrating question for artists and creative people because it reduces all of their blood, sweat and tears ... all of their hard work and agonizing over a piece ... to what's perhaps their least important consideration.  While the time we allocate to doing anything is indeed important, what matters most is the process, the finished product and how close it comes to fulfilling our vision of what it can and should be.  Who cares how long it took to "do"?

In short, it takes however long it takes to reach a satisfying conclusion.  It's sort of like sex, isn't it?  If you're actually keeping track of how long it takes from start to orgasm ... well ... that doesn't necessarily make for the most pleasurable of experiences, does it?

Where was I?  Oh yeah ...

As I'm chatting here with you, I'm not thinking about how long it's taking me to write this.  Well, actually I am right now because this is what I'm talking about, but you know what I mean.  The actual writing and communication are what matter most, not "how long" this is taking.

Yet when you're not a creative person, you don't have any real concept of the process.  You don't really understand that creative people LOVE the process.  They love the journey.  They're not timing themselves on a stopwatch while they work.  Not in that particular sense anyway.

However, this is indeed something that many working people DO.  They psychologically "punch in" on the work clock and they cannot wait until it's time to "punch out."  This is what makes work WORK rather than fun.  This is what makes work drudgery and not passion.  This is very sad.  When we punch in and punch out, we literally watch our lives fritter away ... day by day. The clock ticks ... ticks and ticks away ... and those precious moments are forever gone.  We cannot get them back.  No one is getting any younger.

I think this is why people ask artists, "How long did it take you to do that?"  Let's face it.  For them, this is definitely a legitimate question.

They ask because time is so precious and we all know that we can't get yesterday back.  It's gone.  But here's the thing.  Contemporary art is a living time capsule.  It's literally an encapsulation of time spent.  I dare say, time well spent.

It's the physical evidence of blood, sweat, tears and actual time spent creating something that's hopefully worthwhile.  Many people don't have this.  All they have are forgotten moments spent doing ... whatever ... for a buck or two.  Apart from their little bit of money this is sad.

There's so much more to life than spending it doing something that doesn't seem to amount to much.  Time is our most precious commodity.  You can get more money, more love, more power, more of anything, but you simply cannot get more time.  The older we get, the less we have... 

...And the less we have, the closer to death we get.  Look ... I am nothing if not real.  This is indeed our reality.  No?  This truth alone makes the question quite legitimate ... albeit a pain in the ass to address.

Perhaps looming death is what makes that question so irritating.  The question itself may not be so much a question, but rather a statement or even judgment about how artists spend their precious time in this life.

Maybe people who ask, "How long did it take you to do that?" are secretly asking themselves, "THIS is how this poor shmoe is spending their precious time?"


However artists, here's what I really think.  When people SEE your work, they actually SEE the results of time spent independently and free of convention.  They subconsciously KNOW that you spent your time working on something that's yours alone and upon finishing it, you actually had the luxury and privilege of standing back, looking at it and saying ...

"THIS IS GOOD."  Shouldn't we all be so blessed with regard to the work that we do?

Back now to my sculptor in Virginia.  When he walked away from the person who asked that question, he was frustrated.  

"How long did it take you to do that?"

He simply didn't have the energy not to mention the time to answer that silly question ... yet again.  He wanted more sophisticated questions that actually delved into his process and showed true appreciation of his work.  He wanted respect and acknowledgement for what he had achieved, not how much "time" he spent bringing it into reality.

Thinking back about that moment, I wish I had stopped the artist and tried to get him to engage with that curious onlooker who meant no harm.  The admirer was simply trying to understand art and the importance of art in a world that ignores art yet is fascinated by it.

I wish I had intervened.  I should have, but I didn't.  I had to move on.  I simply didn't have time - or truth be told, enough confidence at that time - to entertain a discussion about ... of all things ironically  ... time. Funny, it seems like that happened just yesterday.  The time sure has flown.

In short, it's really a dangerous question wrapped in ignorance and innocence, yet true curiosity.  It about life and death.  It's a long story.

Artists, on that note, I have a proposal.  The next time someone asks you, "How long did it take you to do that?"  Here's what I suggest...

Just look them in the eyes, smile and say ... "Gee, I don't recall. How much time do you have for me to try to remember?"

That'll learn 'em.



How to Fix the Art World: A Survey