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Omphaloskepsis Blog

Why taking a break is important to your creative process

Aug 8, 2015


Why it’s important to give yourself permission to take a break.

[Art] isn't about being in the studio, it's about being in the world. - Robert Irwin

A couple of years ago a local gallery owner paid me a visit with an eye towards representation. For the most part, I was a non-participating spectator at this meeting. The gallery owner talked about all the things he thinks it takes to be a bankable artist and by the end he had talked himself out of representing me.

Needless to say, I found the entire experience disconcerting. Worse, I was left with negative self-talk in the wake of his monologue. “You’re not a real artist, you’re only spending x-hours in the studio this week.”

Because of training and professional background in a creative field, I expected to be inured against this kind of stereotypical thinking. Instead, I allowed the gallerist’s comments to take up residency in my head.

Luckily, something happened recently to remind me of what I know to be true and to release the extrinsic expectations of that gallery owner.

“If there’s one fatal flaw of the die-hard fanatic, it’s that she always wants to do more. [sic] But somewhere along the line bad things start happening [which are] signs that it’s time for some R&R. The notion of rest and recovery can be vexing, especially if you’ve got specific goals in mind or an event coming up [sic]. But truthfully, R&R is key to achieving your goals.” 1

Through my direct experience as a creative director and my research in creativity studies I understand the importance of taking a break. Condensed – the creative process includes four basic steps: Research, Brainstorm, Incubate, Aha! Research can be studio time, but could also be non-studio time. It could be exploring other art forms, reading articles of interest, taking a class. Incubate means “do something else, stop thinking actively about the problem you’re solving.” i.e. take a break.

“A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.” 2

In October I went back to training with weights in the gym. I like lifting weights, there’s something very satisfying about it. I’m following a specific program that changes from week to week. When I began, the program I follow advised 60 second breaks between sets. Now that I’m onto heavier weights and shorter reps, the program advises 105 seconds between sets. That feels like a very long time in the gym. But those breaks are necessary in order for muscles to recover. It also advices occasional whole week breaks. In addition, cardiovascular interval training is a physical reminder of how important a full recovery is in order to begin again with full power.


This summer I got a request for an interview from a professor doing research for a book on how artists are creative. He interviewed me (and over 50 artists before me) about how much time I spend in the studio and other ways I spend my time. I spent a lot of time thinking about my creative time in ways I hadn’t for a long time – if ever. Following the interview I asked him what his big take-aways were from the interviews?

I was heartened to read his response

  • -a definition of "studio" that is quite dramatically different from a single space, production based paradigm and more of a "Research and development" model, with multiple physical and conceptual platforms, that is bounded within set parameters of time.
  • -the nature and degree of the investment into support practices (reading, writing, image gathering, viewing), which is almost never less 25% of production time (10 production hours = at least 2.5 hours of support) and frequently goes as high as 1:1.

A new study overturns a decades-old theory about the nature of attention and demonstrates that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one's ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods. 3


This month I felt liberated when I left my studio behind to pursue some other activities. While I was occupied doing non-art studio things, ideas started to float to my conscious mind. Ideas I was excited about getting into the studio to produce. In truth, I’m a lot like other creative people, I have many more ideas than I have time to bring to fruition and I don’t always know which idea to pursue. When I take a break I gain clarity.



1. Oxygen Magazine, February 2015, Eight simple rules to make your training more effective: rest, recovery and results, by Joe Wuebben. p. 95


2. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/jobs/take-breaks-regularly-to-stay-on-schedule-workstation.html?_r=0

June 2012 NYTimes Phyllis Korkki


3. Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find, February 8, 2011, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Tags: Studio
Category: Creativity
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