This post is part 9 of an adaptation of How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me), this engaging and instructive essay by Austin Kleon, a Texan artist and writer. Kleon states that “when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” What follows here is me talking to a previous version of myself, one 10 years younger, hopelessly naive and about to embark on a life in architecture.
9. Be boring (it’s the only way to get work done)
History is littered with architects whose works were exceptional but whose lives were eccentric, destitute, a shambles or all three. Le Corbusier was so infatuated by contemporary Eileen Gray that he purchased a property overlooking hers so that he may survey her, then later graffitied one of her works and photographed himself doing it. Antonio Gaudi was hit by a tram on his way to church one morning, but carried no identification documents and looked so shabby he was left unconscious by the side of the road – the delay in getting him to hospital cost him his life. Frank Lloyd Wright had six children with his first wife, Catherine, whom he left for the wife of a client, Marnah. Marnah and her two children died in a house fire lit deliberately by a servant. Wright married again, but got a divorce after only a year, then once more again. Louis Kahn had three wives and three families, simultaneously. He died on a train platform, an echo of Gaudi’s death – shabby and penniless.
But the romantic depiction of the struggling architect is a picture from past eras. Good architecture takes a lot of time and a lot of energy – don’t waste them on a rollercoaster life. Here’s what works for me:
Look after yourself. With obesity unprecedentedly rampant, this is clearly not something we recognise enough anymore. But the Romans had it figured out millenia ago: sanus corpus, sanus mentis = healthy body, healthy mind. Go for a run, eat well, get to bed on time. Look after your body, and the mind will follow.
Follow a routine. I work from home, with the many distractions of television / household chores / couch / refrigerator added impediments to productivity. To help keep me focussed, I try to keep regular hours. I shower, shave and get dressed every day as though I were heading out to an office. I maintain a dedicated work area that is separate from the rest of my life – I open the studio door in the morning and it’s time to work; I close it in the evening and it’s time to shut off.
Make lists. An architect designing a house will work on it for 1,000 hours across six or seven project phases and two or three years. Such an undertaking is not achieved with a few great leaps but many small steps. Set goals for yourself and make lists: of things to prepare for meeting, of things to complete on project, of things to do today. Your lists will help you measure the incremental progress you make on your projects and give you the satisfaction of completed tasks and ticked boxes.
Be boring, it’s the only way to get work done.