Tag Archives: Habit

Robert Rauschenberg, Rebus

Structure and Freedom


Robert Rauschenberg, Rebus

Robert Rauschenberg, Rebus

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been all business–writing about calendar planning and habits , and suggesting resources about calendar planning and habits. These topics are on my mind because they are places my clients need help. It’s not easy to create order out of unstructured time. I feel it acutely myself.


With school back in session, I suddenly have an abundance of time, not to mention more energy now that my chronic fatigue has subsided. The first few days of school, I walked around my empty house in a daze. What was I supposed to do? For a few days, I found pleasure in tidying up my desk, and getting myself reorganized. And then I got to work.


Within a week, I was back in an old pattern of pushing myself, going from one task to the next on my to-do list, until I collapsed. I was good at making time to work, but forgot about making time to play. And what about spaciousness?


I forgot that within structure, you need to create space to feel free and freedom to create.


I often demonstrate the dance between freedom and structure to my clients with a Robert Rauschenberg combine painting (see above). Rauschenberg structured his work with that most ancient device of painting: the grid. The grid holds the work together, grounds it and gives it form. But within that form, the combines mirror the chaos of modern, popular culture.  The reproductions of art work, comics, newsprint, and splashes of paint do not adhere to the geometry of the grid.


Natalie Goldberg did something similar with writing practice, using the structure of pen and paper, and setting a specific amount of time to write.Then total freedom in  moving your hand across the page, following the mind wherever it goes. I discovered writing practice when I was in graduate school, by the way, and it was like finding the get out of jail free card.


So how do we create the right amount of structure to hold us — in art and in life — while simultaneously allowing creative freedom? Here are a few ideas that work for me and for my clients.  You probably know them already, but it helps to be reminded.


1) At the end of a work session, write down three tasks you could do the following day. This makes you feel like you have choices. Often I sit down in the morning, look at the list, and something else comes to mind. That’s fine. The point is not to drive yourself. Give yourself the freedom to follow your mind.


2) Get out of the house or studio. Bring your work to the library, to a coffee shop or to a park or museum. Let your senses get some stimulation. This might seem obvious, but sometimes we get in a rut with our rules and shoulds. We forget that the simplest shifts can have big payoffs creatively.

3) Work in shifts. Thirty minutes at the page or the easel, then 10 minutes of yoga. Or walk to a coffee shop, write or sketch for 30-40 minutes, then walk home and write or sketch again. The movement of the body allows movement of the mind.


4) Schedule down time. I know I’m not the only who forgets to rest. I seriously have to put this in my calendar, especially now that my chronic fatigue has subsided. Otherwise, I’ll go and go and go until I have to lie down. So after lunch, I schedule tea and find a good book and put my feet up on the couch.


What works for you? How do you create a sense of spaciousness in a busy life?