Read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work Online

Authors: Mason Currey

Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Biography, #Writing, #Art, #History

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BOOK: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
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Sigmund Freud

I cannot imagine life without work as really comfortable,” Freud wrote to a friend in 1910. With his wife, Martha, to efficiently manage the household—she laid out Freud’s clothes, chose his handkerchiefs, and even put toothpaste on his toothbrush—the founder of psychoanalysis was able to maintain a single-minded devotion to his work throughout his long career. Freud rose each day by 7:00, ate breakfast, and had his beard trimmed by a barber who made a daily house call for this purpose. Then he saw analytic patients from 8:00 until noon. Dinner, the principal meal of the day, was served promptly at 1:00. Freud was not a gourmet—he disliked wine and chicken, and preferred solid middle-class fare like boiled or roast beef—but he enjoyed his food and ate with quiet concentration. Although normally a genial host, Freud could be so absorbed by his thoughts during the meal that his silence sometimes discomfited guests, who would struggle to carry a conversation with the other members of the family.

After dinner, Freud went for a walk around Vienna’s Ringstrasse. This was not a leisurely stroll, however; his son, Martin, recalled, “
My father marched at terrific speed.” Along the way he would often purchase cigars and collect or deliver proofs to his publisher. At 3:00 there were consultations, followed by more analytic patients, until 9:00 at night. Then the family ate supper, and Freud would play a game of cards with his sister-in-law or go for a walk with his wife or one of his daughters, sometimes stopping at a café to read the papers. The remainder of
the evenings was spent in his study, reading, writing, and doing editorial chores for psychoanalytical journals, until 1:00
or later.

Freud’s long workdays were mitigated by two luxuries. First, there were his beloved cigars, which he smoked continually, going through as many as twenty a day from his mid-twenties until near the end of his life, despite several warnings from doctors and the increasingly dire health problems that dogged him throughout his later years. (When his seventeen-year-old nephew once refused a cigarette, Freud told him, “
My boy, smoking is one of the greatest and cheapest enjoyments in life, and if you decide in advance not to smoke, I can only feel sorry for you.”) Equally important, no doubt, were the family’s annual three-month summer vacations, which they spent in a spa or hotel in the mountains, going on hikes, gathering mushrooms and strawberries, and fishing.

Carl Jung

In 1922, Jung bought a parcel of land near the small village of Bollingen, Switzerland, and began construction on a simple two-story stone house along the shore of the upper basin of Lake Zurich. Over the next dozen years he modified and expanded the Bollingen Tower, as it became known, adding a pair of smaller auxiliary towers and a walled-in courtyard with a large outdoor fire pit. Even with these additions, it remained a primitive dwelling. No floorboards or carpets covered the uneven stone floor. There was no electricity and no telephone. Heat came from chopped wood, cooking was done on an oil stove, and the only artificial light came from oil lamps. Water had to be brought up from the lake and boiled (eventually, a hand pump was installed). “
If a man of the sixteenth century were to move into the house, only the kerosene lamps and the matches would be new to him,” Jung wrote; “otherwise, he would know his way about without difficulty.”

Carl Jung, Bollingen Tower, circa 1960
photo credit 22.1

Throughout the 1930s, Jung used Bollingen Tower as a retreat from city life, where he led a workaholic’s existence, seeing patients for eight or nine hours a day and delivering frequent lectures and seminars. As a result, nearly all Jung’s writing was done on holidays. (And
although he had many patients who relied on him, Jung was not shy about taking time off; “
I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool,” he said.)

At Bollingen, Jung rose at 7:00
; said good morning to his saucepans, pots, and frying pans; and “
spent a long time preparing breakfast, which usually consisted of coffee, salami, fruits, bread and butter,” the biographer Ronald Hayman notes. He generally set aside two hours in the morning for concentrated writing. The rest of his day would be spent painting or meditating in his private study, going for long walks in the hills, receiving visitors, and replying to the never-ending stream of letters that arrived each day. At 2:00 or 3:00 he took tea; in the evening he enjoyed preparing a large meal, often preceded by an aperitif, which he called a “sun-downer.” Bedtime was at 10:00. “
At Bollingen I am in the midst of my true life, I am most deeply myself,” Jung wrote. “… I have done without electricity, and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple!”

Gustav Mahler

Although Mahler is now recognized as one of the leading composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in his own lifetime he was better known as a conductor. Indeed, for most of his life, composing was
a part-time activity. The mature symphonies of Mahler’s middle period were conceived during his summers away from a demanding post as the director of the Vienna Court Opera. He spent those summers at a villa at Maiernigg, on the Wörthersee lake in southern Austria. An excellent record of his habits there comes from the memoirs of his wife, Alma, a woman nineteen years his junior. They met in November 1901, married four months later, and traveled to the villa together the next summer. Alma was pregnant with their first child; Mahler brought along the sketches for his Fifth Symphony, a breakthrough work that encompasses a vast swath of moods, from the opening funeral march to an achingly beautiful fourth movement dedicated to his new bride.

But if Mahler’s work pointed to a passionate, tempestuous inner life, his habits at Maiernigg displayed the opposite. The composer’s life at the villa, Alma discovered, “
was stripped of all dross, almost inhuman in its purity.” He woke at 6:00 or 6:30
and immediately rang for the cook to prepare his breakfast: freshly ground coffee, milk, diet bread, butter, and jam, which the cook carried to Mahler’s stone composing hut in the woods. (Mahler could not bear to see or speak to anyone before settling down to work in the morning, so the cook had to take a steep, slippery path to the hut rather than the main walkway, in order not to risk running into him.) Upon arriving at the hut, Mahler would light a small spirit stove—“
he nearly always burned his fingers,” Alma noted, “not so much from clumsiness as from a dreamy absence of mind”—heat the milk for his coffee, and eat his breakfast on a bench outside. Then he shut himself inside to work. Meanwhile, Alma’s job was to make sure
that no sound carried to the hut during Mahler’s working hours. She refrained from playing the piano, and promised the neighbors opera tickets if they would keep their dogs locked up.

Mahler worked until midday, then silently returned to his room, changed clothes, and walked down to the lake for a swim. Once he was in the water, he would whistle for his wife to join him on the beach. Mahler liked to lie in the sun until he was dry, then jump into the water again, often repeating this four or five times, which left him feeling invigorated and ready for lunch at home. The meal was, to Mahler’s preference, light, simple, thoroughly cooked, and minimally seasoned. “
Its purpose was to satisfy without tempting the appetite or causing any sensation of heaviness,” wrote Alma, to whom it seemed “
an invalid’s diet.”

Gustav and Alma Mahler, near their summer residence, 1909
photo credit 23.1

After lunch, Mahler would drag Alma on a three- or four-hour-long walk along the shore, stopping occasionally to jot down ideas in his notebook, beating time in the air with his pencil. These composing breaks would sometimes last for an hour or longer, during which time Alma would sit on a branch or in the grass, not daring to look at her husband. “
If his inspiration pleased him he smiled back at me,” she recalled. “He knew that nothing in the world was a greater joy to me.” In reality, Alma was not quite so sanguine about her new station as dutiful wife to a moody, solitary artist. (Prior to their marriage, she had been a promising composer in her own right, but Mahler had made her quit, saying that there could be only one composer in the family.) As she wrote in her diary that July, “
There’s such a struggle going on in me! And a miserable longing for someone who thinks OF ME, who helps me to find MYSELF! I’ve sunk to the level of a housekeeper!”

Mahler, for his part, seemed unaware of his wife’s inner turmoil, or else chose to ignore it. By the autumn he had largely completed the Fifth, and for the next several summers he would continue the exact same lifestyle, composing his Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth symphonies at Maiernigg. As long as the work was going well, he was content. He wrote to a colleague, “
You know that all I desire and demand of life is to feel an urge to work!”

Richard Strauss

Strauss’s creative process was methodical and angst-free; he compared his need to compose to a cow giving milk.

Even in late 1892, when Strauss left Germany to recover from bouts of pleurisy and bronchitis in a warmer climate, he quickly established a regular work schedule. He wrote home from a hotel in Egypt:

My day’s work is very simple; I get up at 8 o’clock, have a bath and breakfast; 3 eggs, tea, “Eingemachtes” [homemade jam]; then I go for a stroll for half an hour by the Nile in the palm grove of the hotel, and work from 10 till 1; the orchestration of the first Act goes forward slowly but surely. At 1 o’clock I have lunch, then read my Schopenhauer or play Bezique with Mrs. Conze for a piastre stake. From 3 till 4 I work on; at 4 o’clock tea, and after that I go for a walk until 6 when I do my duty in admiring the usual sunset. At 6 o’clock it gets cool and dark; then I write letters or work a bit more until 7. At 7 dinner, after which I chat and smoke (8–12 a day), at half past 9 I go to my room, read for half an hour and put out the light at ten. So it goes on day after day.

Henri Matisse

Basically, I enjoy everything: I am never bored,” Matisse told a visitor in 1941, during a tour of his studio in the south of France. After showing his guest his working space, his cages full of exotic birds, and his conservatory stocked with tropical plants, giant pumpkins, and Chinese statuettes, Matisse talked about his work habits.

Henri Matisse in his studio at Villa Le Rêve, near Vence, the south of France, 1944
photo credit 25.1

Do you understand now why I am never bored? For over fifty years I have not stopped working for an instant. From nine o’clock to noon, first sitting. I have lunch. Then I have a little nap and take up my brushes again at two in the afternoon until the evening. You won’t believe me. On Sundays, I have to tell all sorts of tales to the models. I promise them that it’s the last time I will ever beg them to come and pose on that day. Naturally I pay them double. Finally, when I sense that they are not convinced, I promise them a day off during the week. “But Monsieur Matisse,” one of them answered me, “this has been going on for months and I have never had one
afternoon off.” Poor things! They don’t understand. Nevertheless I can’t sacrifice my Sundays for them merely because they have boyfriends.

BOOK: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
7.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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