Do You Ever Feel the Need to Step Away?

I love the internet. I really do. It makes it possible for me to work and keep in touch with people I’ve met all across the country. I can follow their adventures as they tweet and post their way around the world, and I can find out what they’re going to be doing next and where we might meet up again. I can ask questions of my editors and get immediate answers, something that wasn’t possible when we had to rely on phones to communicate. I can see photographs of works in progress, and I can discover people doing cool things that I never would have found if they hadn’t had a blog that I happened to stumble across or that someone I’ve never met thought was so cool that they sent me to it via a link. I can do this 24 hours a day, weekends and holidays, and there’s always something new and fascinating and inspiring and, oh, my.

There’s always something.

Sometimes you just feel the overwhelming need to switch it all off, to pull back, to focus on yourself and your work and what you want to accomplish rather than the wider, noisier, livelier virtual world that most of us inhabit for at least part of every day, a world where our ever utterance has to be vetted and edited and where we never know what’s ours and what belongs to someone else or to the wider community. We’ve talked at length about making connections and getting your work out there, about adopting and adapting to social media and creating a community. But there’s a flip side to that, one that seems to be increasingly forgotten amidst the whirl of everyone else’s tweets and posts and updates.

It’s the world of work. Of focus. Of solitary, intense, quiet where you can follow the wisp of an idea without distraction, where what matters is what comes to life through your brain and eyes and hands, not what some famous someone 1500 miles away had for lunch today. Because there’s so much going on all the time and because technology has made so much of it immediately available to us, it’s become more and more difficult for many of us to slow down, pull back, and focus on our work. We might miss something–an opportunity, inspiration, an invitation, gossip, news, disaster, financial catastrophe. How can we not pay attention?

Those who argue for the need to stay plugged in and connected will tell you that the world is moving at lightning speed and that those who don’t keep up with be left behind (duh), and that it behooves us all to keep track of as much as we can. For artists, that means keeping track not only of the news but also of the lives and work of other artists, especially those in our field. If we want to keep up, compete, take part–we have to stay on top of it all.

But those who sometimes choose another way–those who choose to switch it off now and then, to step back into the studio and close the door on the noise and excitement and whirl of activity and information and exchange of ideas–they might, if they were inclined to stop working and talk about the topic, they might argue that art needs our full attention. We can’t make our ideas concrete if we have one foot in the studio and the other out in the wider world, tuning in to streaming news and noise and other people’s ideas. Art–and any other true work–deserves our complete and undivided attention, whether for hours or days.

Of course I’m not advocating a complete switching off–you notice I didn’t say “for weeks or years.” You really do need to stay in touch, have A Presence, get your stuff out there (if that’s your goal). But you need balance, and sometimes the only way to achieve that is to step back and turn inward to the place where your ideas take root.


RicΓ« also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.



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3 Responses to Do You Ever Feel the Need to Step Away?

  1. CarolineA says:

    That really hits the spot! I refuse to be on call 24/7, have no answering machine, do not give out my mobile number, and am not a member of Twitter or Facebook, and I manage to stay in touch with those things I WANT to keep in touch with, and keep away from the trivia that threatens to envelope us all. If you are doing something creative, there is nothing worse than being interrupted as it breaks your concentration, but then being creative is not considered as worthwhile as tweeting, or poking your “friends” on Facebook. Who-ever created those appalling terms needs to be subjected to them 24/7 so I can get on with what I want to do! That way I don’t need to step away to get things done, or feel guilty because I’m not connected when getting in touch with my creative self.

  2. Caatje says:

    I never got this whole idea of having to be available and reachable all the time and keeping up with everything and everybody. There was a Dutch comedian who once said that the really important people are the ones who can NOT be reached (as in, who are not always available). πŸ˜‰ News is fleeting and most of it is already forgotten the second after you’ve read it. You need to be choosy as to what you will and will not read or keep up with.

    For me the internet is a wonderful addition to my life. It’s however important to know what you want from it and why you use it, or you will get lost in all the possibilities. You can surf forever!
    I myself use it to be inspired, to exchange ideas and to discuss things that matter to me and most of those things either relate to art or to books. I’m part of some yahoo groups, a book discussion group and I started a blog a year ago and cannot tell you how it has enriched my life. But…I don’t follow the news and I don’t keep up with every little detail of everybody’s life, artist or not. (That’s why I stay clear from twitter and only use facebook as a quick reference). I also don’t like blogs where 90% of the posts is about the children’s birthdays, baby pictures, the husbands wonderful support and the family vacation. That only interests me if I know the person well personally and then they will probably tell me next time they see me or mail me. I just don’t have the time.

    I let the phone ring when I’m in the studio, I don’t answer the door when I’m busy and I’m not even a professional artist. I just want to focus on what I love and not be interrupted. It seems these days people are walking around with a phone glued their ears and and i-pad in their hands. I wonder what would happen if some of them just looked up and around every once in a while to see where they are? Technology is here to help us, not to increase stress. If you use it wisely as the wonderful instrument it is it can absolutely add to your life, but if you don’t it will take over your life!

  3. cheerytomato says:

    Yes, this resonates with me, as well. I am quite “plugged in” at my day job – some of my responsibilities include maintaining my organization’s website and facebook presence. And I have been pretty active on the web in my personal life, as well. Yet, I’m about to stop blogging. I’ve had a brief hiatus from both writing my blog and reading others’ blogs this summer, and I realize that I haven’t missed it. It’s begun to dawn on me that I’m not feeling the need to get my work “out there” right now – and that’s perfectly okay.

    I don’t give myself enough art time, partially because I spend so much time on line. When I think about what’s really important to me, I know that I need to cut back on time in front of the computer screen in order to give myself a chance to explore new techniques and ideas, and dig deeper into the things I love about creating art. I’ll still check facebook most days, and I may still read a few blogs now and then, but I’m going to be a little bit more of a hermit for a while.