Mason Currey wrote How Artists Work for one- and a-half years, about men and women who influenced the world as we know it over the past 400 years.
In the introduction, Currey admittedly states “this is a superficial book. It’s about the circumstances of creative activity, not the product; it deals with manufacturing rather than meaning. But it’s also, inevitably, personal.”
Your routine is your signature and tells a lot about the person you are. And each great genius featured therein has their own. It is not a one-cut fits all pattern, it’s all different, and quite frankly weird.
But Currey also questions an issue constantly plaguing creatives: “How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living?”
He admits it is an individual quest, that he could barely answer himself. However, from a look back at the lives of people who have influenced humanity over the past few centuries, it is clear that we are all wired differently and it is this difference that is the power in our individuality.
Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla worked from noon to midnight, breaking off for dinner at the famed Waldof-Astoria at 8pm to calculate the cubic contents of food before proceeding to enjoy it.
German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven would have a coffee for breakfast, which he meticulously prepared, at 60 beans per cup, before settling down to work until 3pm.
Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud worked long hours indulging heavily in cigars later admitting to his seventeen-year old nephew “smoking is one of the greatest and cheapest enjoyments in life”. He would take three-month vacations with his family every year, time that was pivotal for his reflection and bonding.
Writer Truman Capote said “I am a completely horizontal author”, perhaps a truth he admitted to. Capote would write for four hours a day lying down in bed or on a couch, smoking, but not allowing three cigarette butts to touch and “he couldn’t begin or end anything on a Friday.”
This is a book about the greatest minds in history, and their daily routines. For example, what did Charles Darwin do when he woke up?
Famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote daily, in solitude, while Mark Twain would write after a heavy breakfast and read his day’s work to the assembled family. Each man’s routine is different. Anne Rice for example, had the ability to change routines, something she does perfectly well “without any conscious planning”.
The painter, Vincent Van Gogh, barely paused to eat, working continuously in the grip of creative inspiration until he completed a picture.
It is with such vivid words that Currey compiles the everyday lives of men and women who through their work are forever embalmed in the annals of history.
He lets the subjects speak for themselves, or gather information from secondary sources through intense research and distillation from writers quoted at length rather than regurgitate.
She lets the subject tell the tale, without a general prescription formula for creatives. It is an interesting compilation, worth a read.