How Long Did That Take You?

Mon, Feb 22, 2010

Blogs, Fearless Creativity

How Long Did That Take You?

Artists are asked relentlessly, “How long did that take you.” The response goes – more or less polite – something like, “why do you ask?” It shouldn’t, but time does matter, somehow, in some way – it has a peculiar relationship with creativity or vice-versa. In numerous ways time doesn’t respond the way you’d expect when creativity is involved.

“How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it! To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

Ideas are like lightning strikes, they hit you unaware after rubbing a balloon on a wool carpet for months. Creation will make your hair stand on end through the strain of formation. Wait. There it is, about to burn a hole through you until reassigned to significant form.

City Light - with iPhone

Lighting strikes feel impulsive; they took a lifetime to build yet can be unpredictable.   A vaguely different experience here or there and the strike hits a different spot.  It’s the immediacy of creation that takes a tedious lifetime to form but can haunt you by the loss of a critical moment and an opportunity lost.  The classic song writer’s tale informs how a key phrase or verse was worked out in the morning shower, or maybe a kernel was missed due to inconvenience; no guitar in sight.

On a different front, our relationship with time implies limitations – working edges rather than the exterior of a proverbial box – time performs as a catalyst or an anxiety producing flame retardant.   Then there are the moments when time compresses not unlike a 70’s Psych 101 experiment excepting this one involves creative excitement.

How an audience experiences a work can change when schooled concerning time spent as well. Take these two photos for example – the b + w one and the one in color (if you’re looking at a thumbnail, click on it for a larger version).  If I told you I camped out at dawn waiting for perfect light would you care?  Perhaps I was leaving work on a coffee break and the tree caught my eye on an impulse; does that make a difference?

Truth is, the color photo was snapped with an iPhone on a whim to share with Facebook friends.   It had such a good feel that I whipped out my trusty Canon G9 (usually on my body) and explored it further – this time both b + w and color.  Regardless of the obviously better tool and increased time – I was unable to do more than equal the iPhone shot that first inspired me.

If I had set out to find this photo – let’s say I knew these light reflections to appear at 3pm every sunny day the second week of February – I’m not sure I would have found the iPhone photo no matter how much time I spent exploring.  It just hit me at that moment in time and I recorded it using the fastest tool available; opportunity caught.

Art, Artistic Expression

7 Responses to “How Long Did That Take You?”

  1. Adriana DiFranco Says:

    Great post! This also brings to mind the Malcolm Gladwell concept of “the prepared mind” which he explores in Outliers. It may often happen that I solve a creative problem in the shower or while I sleep at night or while I’m doing something super mundane. But I couldn’t have had that Eureka moment without putting the time in to read about the problem, get research, strategize, discuss, brainstorm, look at competitors, and also daydream, visit a museum, listen to music etcetera.

    Sometimes, the actual concept does come in 3 seconds. But I don’t have a billable rate for seconds. ;)

    This is why progressive ad agencies and creative shops truly do believe in sending creatives off to museums or surfing or what have you. You have to work at a problem directly as well as indirectly to get at an original vision and solution.

    • Bruce DeBoer Says:

      Thanks Adriana – I think the billable rate for the seconds should be billed in years – but then I haven’t had that much luck billing for the years it took me to create in those seconds of which you speak.

  2. Carol Nix Says:

    Thanks for this, Bruce!

    I’ll add that my clients would not want to pay my hourly “shower, driving, sleep walking, yoga, or cycling” rate! Time is the only “tangible” thing that many clients can grasp when it comes to creative services. With as much experience as we have, we work faster, we see in a different way. That’s the difference — and it’s simply not captured in time, but in true market value for the work, period. Has anyone ever asked Frank Gehry how many hours he spent designing a building?

    PS. For the record, I’ve never had someone ask me how much time it took me to complete a painting.

  3. Andrea Says:

    I agree that what is experienced as a moment or “flash” of inspiration and creativity is really the fruit of everything that came before it. But I disagree with your assessment of the photos! When I viewed them enlarged, I was struck immediately by the b&w, which to my eye is far superior, both technically and emotionally. (And I looked at the pictures and had that reaction before reading what you took them with, and that you consider the results equal.)

  4. John R Says:

    I think you’re totally right. Time has a huge impact on creativity. In fact, I’m procrastinating right now… Must-get-back-to-work.

    PS. Normally I have the reverse experience with cameras. I see something inspiring and all I have is my iPhone, which completely fails to capture the magic of the moment.


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LnBlcm1pc3Npb250b3N1Y2submV0L3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvMTMtcHRzLWxvZ28taGVhZGVyLTEuanBnIjtpOjc7czo3OToiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzEyLXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci0xLmpwZyI7aTo4O3M6Nzc6Imh0dHA6Ly93d3cucGVybWlzc2lvbnRvc3Vjay5uZXQvd3AtY29udGVudC93b29fdXBsb2Fkcy8xMS1wdHMtbG9nby1oZWFkZXIuanBnIjtpOjk7czo3NzoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzEwLXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci5qcGciO2k6MTA7czo3NjoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzktcHRzLWxvZ28taGVhZGVyLmpwZyI7aToxMTtzOjc2OiJodHRwOi8vd3d3LnBlcm1pc3Npb250b3N1Y2submV0L3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvOC1wdHMtbG9nby1oZWFkZXIuanBnIjtpOjEyO3M6NzY6Imh0dHA6Ly93d3cucGVybWlzc2lvbnRvc3Vjay5uZXQvd3AtY29udGVudC93b29fdXBsb2Fkcy83LXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci5qcGciO2k6MTM7czo3NjoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzYtcHRzLWxvZ28taGVhZGVyLmpwZyI7aToxNDtzOjc2OiJodHRwOi8vd3d3LnBlcm1pc3Npb250b3N1Y2submV0L3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvNS1wdHMtbG9nby1oZWFkZXIuanBnIjtpOjE1O3M6NzY6Imh0dHA6Ly93d3cucGVybWlzc2lvbnRvc3Vjay5uZXQvd3AtY29udGVudC93b29fdXBsb2Fkcy80LXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci5qcGciO2k6MTY7czo3ODoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzMtcHRzLWxvZ28tdHlwZW9ubHkuanBnIjt9PC9saT48bGk+PHN0cm9uZz53b29fdmlkZW9fY2F0ZWdvcnk8L3N0cm9uZz4gLSBJbnRlcnZpZXdzPC9saT48L3VsPg==