Switching Off and Rediscovering Art

Switching Off and Rediscovering Art

Switching off and rediscovering art title image
Switching Off and Rediscovering Art

I regularly write new articles to support independent visual artists and members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge and The Artist Hangout. This week, I switched off most of the technology and rediscovered what it means to be an artist.


Cornwall…

So I took a couple of weeks out to take my family on vacation, or as we Brits call it, a holiday, and I have to say, after shielding in place for 169 days, the world has most definitely changed. To say I was nervous about going out, out, was an understatement, 169-days of staying in the house can do that to you. But, I was as prepared as I felt I could be and determined to go out of my way to avoid any crowds and not disrupt the locals. Cornwall, as it goes, is perhaps not the best choice when the options to travel beyond the borders of the country are limited.

Cornwall itself is a joy, always has been and it is the only place I think I could make a permanent move to in the UK other than maybe Poole which is also by the ocean, in fact, I am thinking about doing it, I can work from almost anywhere. It’s not just the fantastic scenery, it’s the way of life, the history, and friendliness of the local people, and it is a Mecca for artists and always has been.



The ruggedness of the North Coast, the quaint fishing villages on the south coast, the solitude of miles upon miles of open moorland, and those twisting tiny roads that were probably last travelled on by the Romans in a horse and cart. Boy, are those roads gnarly. One of the most useful things I learned while I was away was that under no circumstances whatsoever should you ever rely on a sat-nav to get you from A to B because it won’t if you are visiting Cornwall, at least not without putting you on a road that Super Mario would have difficulty navigating on his Go-Kart, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if tourist Bowser hadn’t jumped in front and threw out a banana skin, and remember here, I was towing a touring caravan on the back of the car with a weight of two tonnes, there was no way I ready for the comfort of a hotel and nothing can prepare you for those narrow country lanes.

But I needed a holiday, the kidney surgery at the start of the year had left me drained, worky work was well, worky work, and I needed to go in search of inspiration and reflection, or whatever it is you are supposed to seek out when things have been challenging. It’s not that I didn’t feel inspired to art, I always am, but what I needed more than anything was to switch off, to not have to worry about answering emails before another came in five minutes after the first, one to say did you see my email, I sent it like five minutes ago, why did you not respond already?

Talland Bay Cornwall view of fields and ocean
Overlooking Talland Bay and not an email in view!

So now I am back home, and the reality of emails looms ever large, but I am determined that I am going to let emails breathe so that I can. Not that I was ever expecting to find inspiration, that stuff is as elusive as Bigfoot when everything else is competing for your complete and undiluted attention, but I did find something, a new retailer who wants to take on some of my work, and a completely new focus. Everything fell into place, I even figured out exactly what art I need to create from here on in, the same art I have been creating for more than three decades, and a lot more of it. If there was ever a chapter two in an artists life, I think I am about to start it.

This week, you will see glimpses of Cornwall, and a pre-release look at some of my latest works that have been completed in the days I have been back at home, and for a last-minute holiday, it gave me more than a rest, it gave me focus and had it have not been for all of those emails I wouldn’t have even thought about going.

Seascape by Mark Taylor
This is my next seascape and will be released this weekend on Fine Art America and on my Pixels store!

The Email That Told Me it Was Time to Take Time Out…

You ever get those emails that begin, I hope this email finds you well? No, it doesn’t, it finds me ravaged, with stress from the effects of not having enough time because I am reading too many emails just like this. It’s really disappointing that you thought you had to write an email about something quite so uninvited. The information within is about as useful as a 2020 year planner which has now officially taken over from the previous chocolate fireguard as one of the world’s most useless inventions.

I have a website and so, inevitably, I must get three or four hundred unsolicited emails a day, thousands more get caught by the spam filter widget thing, these three or four hundred are the ones that slip through the net or did until I upped the settings. I changed the game, I’m one step ahead for the next thirty-nine-point-eight seconds. If only I could apply those settings to my worky work emails and maybe a few people too.

This particular email was the one that broke the proverbial camel’s back and forced me to make the changes to those settings and to make me decide on taking time out. Whoever sent it wanted to sell me a DVD on the subject of search engine optimisation. A DVD compiled by some guru that Google ranked lower than the dodgiest hotel on Trip Advisor where even the fake reviews gave it one star and the writers of those had been paid to be kind. I couldn’t even find a reference to a look-alike let alone the perpetrator of the scam who sent me this. I had already spent way too much time pondering just what kind of person thinks SEO on a DVD is a good idea.

The email went on to tell me that there are 7,670,649,906 people currently not following me on Instagram, but they could be for the princely sum of $29.99 which is a $1000 value saving. Firstly, I have not used a DVD player since about 1886, certainly not recently as in the past decade, and I hadn’t realised that my standing on Insta was more important than life itself. But, the biggest question I had was, who on earth sells SEO on a DVD anyway? I’m sure there is some irony in there somewhere.

Tomorrow is another day, my wife reminds me as she witnesses my struggle not to curse at the volume of messages, pings, and beeps, of emails, skypes, zooms, and Teams, and then there are the Facebook notifications that encourage me to pay for an ad for the 40th time today. Yes, I know I could reach three more people for ten bucks, but I can also do the math and this is a slippery slope that will end up costing me way more than ten bucks. I dismiss the notification to be met with a guilt trip in the form of a ‘do you really want to cancel this ad’ pop-up. If art doesn’t sell itself then I’m pretty dang sure a single Facebook ad ain’t going to cut it either. I just wanted to get rid of the notification badge because I am OCD about those errant dots and numbers that make me feel way less productive than I really am.

Tomorrow is another day, just seems kind of like a threat these days. I really miss precedented times, I’m all done with ‘un’, and as for those zoom meetings, I can’t even begin to tell you how great I have become at silently mouthing the words, I’m on yet another zoom call to my wife and the dogs as they go about life 1.0 while tentatively stepping on cotton wool balls to avoid making too much noise as I battle with working from home where I still find out that I am struggling with the commute.

Talland Bay Cornwall view of the ocean and fields
Talland Bay, Cornwall and still no emails!

A good friend asked me what the meaning of life was the other day, I immediately answered, an algorithm, and left it at that. The geeks have inherited the earth, except this geek, I was around in the days of GeoCities and AOL free internet discs that had been hot glued to magazines, a time when conspiracy theories were just some harmless fun involving alien probes and weather balloons. The algorithm is used for everything today, we treat it like some demigod, we even chat to it as it increasingly controls our lives. Forget the New World Order thing, that was so last year, the misuse of algorithms is what we need to worry about today. I phoned a company up a few weeks ago and they literally told me that they couldn’t respond any differently because their algorithm wasn’t designed to do that.

Technology can be a blessing and a curse. I remember the days when the only option I would have to send a message from this leafy shire in the British Isles would be to send out a smoke signal and hope for a light breeze to carry it in the right direction, either that or take a five-minute walk to the local red telephone box with a pocket full of spare change and the number written on a torn-off piece of a cigarette packet.

Today, I’m running a really big pipe that brings in data at unfathomable speeds so I can be bombarded with pings much quicker, and in rapid succession. It’s a far cry from the days of AOL dial-up internet when I had to jump off the internet so that the wife could make an important phone call and then make me wait for another twenty-minutes to get back on to a Yahoo chat room where I would hawk my art in what must have been the very early years of selling art online. You young artists have no idea of the struggle we had back then, all in the name of art, comic sans, and garishly neon gifs. 

Padstow Harbour Cornwall
Padstow Harbour, Cornwall and still no emails... Bliss.

But, as I take a few days to disconnect from the thousandth (1411 to be exact) conference call in the past month, I can’t help but think how nice it is to wake up in a morning and not have to immediately check the email, the notifications and the missed calls because I am the only person who can actually, sleep right through the night when someone so excited to tell me that I need to save another unicorn by passing the message on, doesn’t realise that even super-humans who save unicorns just like me live in a different time zone. If you don’t respond in the next five minutes you will lose your rapid reply badge from the Facebook thing, why are you sleeping, why don’t you live in a normal time-zone like everyone else, are you really not bothered about the poor unicorns? Well, I occasionally need a nap and a break from those constant pings, I will get back to you as soon as you are asleep and as for the unicorns, you might do better tempting me with a Bigfoot or an alien but I need concrete proof. More than that, I needed a break, I needed to switch off, and so I did. I even turned off Messenger.

I can’t begin to tell you how great it is to be mostly out of range of a signal. I can see the appeal of this life and ponder becoming a prepper, a craft I have already mastered with my ever-expanding loot box of art supplies. I am sort of off-grid, relying on a hotspot when the wind blows east or when I can be bothered to turn it on, and when I walk the dogs past a local fast food restaurant who I am disappointed to find out is only serving coffee to cars from side windows 1, and 2 which have been clearly labelled with a reminder to stay 2-metres away from the car in front. No one has read the sign and if they have, I ponder just how big they think 2 metres really is.

Beautiful Cornwall sign art by Mark Taylor
Another work to be released this weekend, Beautiful Cornwall!

The fog of the email chain is beginning to lift and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I can see things a little more clearly. I’m looking forward as I walk instead of looking down at a screen. I noticed the car that would have ran me over a week ago, I can see blue skies and a hint of the sun coming up over the horizon already casting glimmers across the sea. Who knew the world was so beautiful in its more than 4K resolution. Had I have remembered how beautiful it can be I would have reduced my tv travel show consumption much sooner.

Unconnected, walking down a quiet cobbled street, the sound of seagulls flying above a fishing boat, I’m noticing things, I’m noticing shape, colour, I’m noticing the smells, the reflections in puddles created by the early mist. I’m noticing how to be an artist again. There is so much that I no longer just want to paint, there’s so much that I need to paint. I need to paint the breeze that I haven’t noticed for years, the smell of the harbour, the sound of the gulls, and the quaint little cottage that has been here unnoticed since the first smartphone came out.

This week I became 80% unconnected. I couldn’t quite go all the way. I still have a micro empire to run and I need to eat, but I have become 100% more productive at doing real stuff, living, taking in the sights of a small Cornish coastal town and enjoying some occasional British sun, it shines bright enough but comes in a much cooler variant than many of my friends from other countries get. I have scaled back the pixel watching and instead, I’m watching nature unfold, it’s easy to forget that nature carries on regardless of whatever else is happening in the world.

I could be 100% connected, a signal exists if I stand in the right spot, but I made a conscious decision to give this almost unconnected life a try and I am so glad I did. Everything I see, I am seeing uninterrupted through my eyes without seeing it through a screen. I noticed a bright red post box and wondered if people still sent real letters.

Mevagissy Harbour Cornwall, ocean, boats
Mevagissy Harbour, Cornwall - still no emails!

I hadn’t considered for a minute that I had lost the ability to see things, shapes, colours, but the world looks so different when you raise your glance from a screen. There is no narration coming at me from every angle skewing my beliefs, or telling me how or what I should think, I am seeing what I see, it’s like seeing the world again after a decade of never switching off.

Switching off…

Technology really is my life so it would seem unlikely to anyone who knows me that I would even consider turning off the tech for any length of time. I rely on technology in my worky work job, and in my life as an artist. I have been using a digital medium since long before we had the internet and there has never been a day since 1979 that I haven’t touched or used a computer. I’m still managing to run my business, manage my groups, and like, love, and wow wherever my friends pop up, but I am doing it in within the limits I have set, no more than 25 minutes, twice a day, I’m averaging 18, or about the time it takes me to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Email and messages…

Am I not part of the problem if I answer those late-night emails, am I not affirming that it’s okay to do more than you signed up for, endorsing your decision not to get some rest, and expecting you to do even more?

For some, the late-night email is essential and especially when you work in a global market or need to find some quiet time to focus, but we have all been conditioned to expect immediacy over the past few years. We expect a package to be shipped for free and for it to arrive within the hour. We earn badges that tell the world that we reply within minutes, it’s gamification at its best, but I think it’s a form of gamification that really doesn’t help with our mental health. I need to reply sooner to turn on the badge, I need to keep the badge, the badge that isn’t even a real badge, it’s a bunch of pixels on a screen that shout, hey, it’s okay to wake me up at any time of the day or night.

Good customer service shouldn’t be rewarded through some virtual badge, it should shine through from customer recommendations and those who come back time and time again. Good customer service should be about making sure the customer comes first, about giving them exactly what they need, having the time to consider the right answer, and not some hurried response to maintain some virtual badge or use as some up-sell to hurriedly get them to part with some cash. I am purposely not playing that game but absolutely know I would go way more than the extra mile for my collectors.

When I create I am in a zone, it’s difficult to describe. As an artist, you know it when you are in it, yet all it takes is a push notification to pop up and pop, the zone is no more. Artists need long periods of uninterrupted concentration, that includes not being interrupted by the pings and beeps or whoops of a notification, especially when they’re nowhere near as important as completing your next masterpiece.

Not having a notification appear is a little strange at first, is it working, what’s happening, do I have a new life on that way too addictive game yet, notifications can be used to make you productive but sometimes not so much, I am beginning to believe that the more notifications I get, the less productive I am. Some even pop up after turning them off with the intent of keeping the pulse of the app alive, unscrupulous developers love my data for some reason and they just don’t seem to take no for an answer. So while the app is alive, it can continue to do what it was designed to do but in the background. Notifications are designed to be timely, they’re designed to be personal, and they’re designed to be actionable, but there are more than a few that should come with a warning, especially when they provide non-relevant notifications to keep them working in the background, hey, even my battery noticed when I turned them off.

Happy Summer artwork by Mark Taylor
Happy Summer Artwork by Mark Taylor - Look out for this on my stores very soon!

The Home Screen…

I swapped things around on my home screen. When I looked at my screen all I could see were dozens of work and time-sucking related triggers. It’s so tempting to inadvertently and both subconsciously and consciously click on an app by a sort of un-accident. We’ve all done it, those milliseconds when our brains tell us to go on, take a quick look, just a quick one mind, you’ll be done in a second. It’s a trap, it’s a rabbit hole, and those triggers are where it starts.

Grouping apps into folders so that their whizzy, inviting, sleek app icons are not attracting the eye allows you to separate out what’s essential for the moment and what’s not. Now, I have a welcoming home screen with the vital apps I need to connect with family and friends, relax and watch a film or tv show, and the triggers that take up all of my time are  now sitting on a second home screen or tucked neatly away in folders.

Limit Multi-Tasking…

The only multi-tasking I have had to do over the past few days is to think about what to have for lunch at the same time as sipping on another cup of coffee. I really am living my best life here but I know it will be over all too soon. I will fall back into the grind unless I win the lottery, and if I do win, no doubt I would find another grind to replace it. Some level of stress is probably what’s holding my aching body together, just as dust sometimes holds an antique together.

I have no collection of unfinished emails, I haven’t had to jump from one thing to another and back to another, I even started painting this morning and it is nearly done already, usually it would have taken hours longer to get this far. That’s because I allowed myself to be focussed on that one job, finding the time to get something big done before taking a stroll down to the beach. If I could do this all of the time I would be creating a dozen new works every week, I would become prolific, and because, art, they might or might not sell, but at least I would be creating instead of answering the same email over and over again or attending the same conference call where it’s difficult to get away with multi-tasking. I did try once though. I changed the background of a conference call meeting to a photo of me at my desk then said in a broken voice that my internet connection was flaky while I took another meeting in the background. That my friends is what is known as genius multi-tasking until you get asked a question. There is a cognitive cost in multi-tasking, and the more tasks you have, the lower the cognitive limits of concentration will be for each.

last light of the day artwork by Mark Taylor
Last Light of the Day by Mark Taylor and available now from my Fine Art America and Pixels stores!

Triggers…

I have to say it took me a couple of days to wind down from the worky work job, my mind was buzzing and I swear I could hear pings and beeps in the night. The phone was switched off so how could that be? According to some science thing I read a while back, phantom phone buzzing is a real thing. Your phone is part of your social fabric and the more attached you get to it, the more you are likely to hear phantom and totally random sounds even when it’s switched off. The caveat here, the remainder of the article went into great detail about the psychology and science as to why this would happen and in all openness, I kind of fell asleep, but know it’s a thing and don’t think that you are alone, it happens all of the time to me when I am in the studio too.

Cornish Cream tea retro sign by Mark Taylor
A retro Cornish Cream Tea sign that will also be joining my Fine Art America and Pixels stores in the coming days!

I have finally wound down to the point that my usual triggers aren’t triggering me into some unimportant action. I know that when I transition from filling in the vast amounts of paperwork to creating art, I have a ritual that migrates my mind into my creative space. I purposely finalise everything by putting the distracting stuff in a drawer and moving out of my office into my studio. It tells my brain that one thing is complete and now it is time to move onto the next.

What I have learned from switching off…

The biggest thing I have learned aside from just how much I forgot to notice while I looked at a screen, was that just how much the quality of my attention has improved. I feel like I can focus, I feel like I can create, and I feel like I could tackle the emails, apart from the SEO DVD thing. I took a look in the spam folder and there were 3000 more of them, all deleted, and please, if you are a bot and pretending to read this, your backlink containing comment is never getting through.

I haven’t had to make drastic changes apart from being very strict about sticking to boundaries. I limited my time on social media and got more done, I created several pieces of art in the early hours of the day because I didn’t have to step away to pick up a totally-not important right now notification, and I learned that I could make my phone battery last an entire day, in fact, I am charging it every other day and still only burning through 50%

The real surprise has been how much disconnecting hasn’t really affected business, I took a couple of calls from clients and had the time to talk to them, I got more business. I have managed to paint while enjoying a few days away, and I am refilling my inspiration tank and rediscovering my love of land and seascapes, not that I ever fell out of love with them but seeing them reminds me that I need to capture the smells and sounds and paint them too. I have had the time I needed to come up with new ideas too, so while it might be a vacation, I have been more productive than I am when I’m not on vacation and the work I have done hasn’t once felt like work.

Whether or not I can keep this up when I get home and back to the usual triggers, only time will tell, but I will certainly be keeping those notifications on silent and making sure that the only emails that I see are the ones I absolutely want to see.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the reference photos I have managed to upload, and there are plenty more in the camera! Feel free to use the ones I label as reference photos on Facebook in your own art projects.

So, until next time, stay safe, look after yourselves and each other, and happy creating!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here.    

 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! You can also view my portfolio website here.

 You can also follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so at my new Go Fund Me link right here

Any donations received will be used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists as my art sales via Pixels and Fine Art America and donations via Go Fund Me are the only way I monetise these pages so I don’t have to fill them with irrelevant ads or ask you to sign up via a paywall!

Comments

  1. That is inspiring and awesome Mark! Glad you switched off for a moment. Chapter two will be great, moving on to next and better phase, cheers to you. Fabulous new artworks so very refreshing, love them all! x

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Jane, I'm determined to keep it up with the emails, checking a couple less times a day at work and getting so much more work done in between! Now I just need to figure out how best to spend the extra time!! Hope all is well with you and loving your new website! xx

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    2. Also include "learn how to do nothing" Mark :)

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    3. Absolutely Jane! But that's also the single most difficult part of being an artist I think! We're never great at doing nothing, even if we're busy procrastinating! xx

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