Oversized and lavishly produced reproduction of a fascinating but obscure artifact plucked from the archives. Hailing from a clerical family "well offOversized and lavishly produced reproduction of a fascinating but obscure artifact plucked from the archives. Hailing from a clerical family "well off, but not rich," Johnson, who lived from 1746 -1823, meticulously documented the clothing she had made for her, carefully affixing textile scraps to an old account ledger from a family friend and writing detailed descriptions of their attributes, uses, prices, etc. Now held by the Victoria & Albert Museum, its potential contribution to our understanding of Britain's Regency era is obvious: here's a small peek into mundane details of everyday life that are often lost to history.
But alongside the undeniable sociohistorical importance, I picked this up more for purely aesthetic reasons, as inadvertently Johnson created an early example of what later became known as an "altered book" (which is basically the catch-all term applied any time an artist creatively modifies the original form of a text in some way). Viewed from this perspective, as I flipped through the pages of this book the fanciful, intricate sensibility of Joseph Cornell constantly came to mind, and I imagine the celebrated 20th century surrealist would have been as utterly enchanted as I was by Johnson's efforts.
Patricia Highsmith kicked off her writing sessions with a stiff drink to “reduce her energy levels.” George Sand was known to “slip out of a sleepingPatricia Highsmith kicked off her writing sessions with a stiff drink to “reduce her energy levels.” George Sand was known to “slip out of a sleeping lover’s bed” at midnight to begin her newest novel. Nicholson Baker gets up at four am, writes for an hour and a half, goes back to bed, and gets up again at 8:30 and continues work for the rest of the day. Edith Sitwell likely did not lie in an open coffin before beginning to write, as has been widely reported. These are the types of vivid, wonderfully idiosyncratic factoids peppered throughout the brief artist entries collected in Daily Rituals.
But to be honest, what I found most fascinating about this compulsively readable compilation of biographical sketches is that outlandish or excessively eccentric “rituals” were in short supply, and if creative output by artists often conjures up visions of compulsive writing sessions at the mercy of the artistic muse, over and over it is revealed that artists across various artistic mediums tend to establish rather mundane routines not far removed from the unglamorous 9-to-5 the majority of us hold. Countless direct quotes dispel the illusion that great work is solely the product of lightening-like inspiration, insisting instead that productivity is more often than not the product of routine (Marilynne Robinson is a notable exception: “I really am incapable of discipline,” she is quoted as admitting, “I write when something makes a strong claim on me. When I don’t feel like writing, I absolutely don’t feel like writing.”)
I began to find it quite reassuring—and even inspiring—to have confirmed that the source of so-called “genius” is often the output of simply showing up and forcing oneself to work even in those moments when creation feels most hopeless.
Inevitably I began taking stock of my own habits and predilections and try to figure out a set of daily rituals that might work for me. And of course I'll probably end up cribbing a few ideas that I first heard about here—why not steal from the very best? ...more