“Artist Dates” – good idea or waste of time?

Photo by Theresa Barker.

Hello everyone,

If you’ve ever read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, you’ll be familiar with Cameron’s advice to regularly take time to do something that interests you – but that is not directly part of the work you are doing as an artist. If you’re a musician, a painter, a photographer, a poet, or a writer, the Artist Date is doing anything fun or interesting that is not writing a new song, applying paint to a canvas, looking through a camera lens, putting words on paper, whatever you do in your art practice. The idea is to give yourself a new perspective, to gather new material, to have experience that may fuel a future creative effort, even if you can’t see how it will fit.

If you’re like me, you probably think, “What a great idea. I should do this more.” But then, you get busy with your art – writing, making music, photography, painting – not to mention Life – preparing food, caring for family members, working to pay the bills – and it’s all you can do to just make a few pieces of art around all the other tasks you have to do. It feels awkward to take time that you could be using for art and do something else.

Experimenting with nanowrimo last month, being intensely focused on writing a couple of thousand words each day, I felt that same reluctance to go out for an Artist Date. But I also knew it would help make my art more magical, more engaging, more interesting, if I did.

In Seattle we have a lovely place called the Japanese Garden. Oh my gosh, this is a special place. Toward the end of November on a cold Thursday morning I turned away from my desk, bundled up, and went over to walk through the garden, catching glimpses of bare-limbed trees and one amazing persimmon tree with small golden orbs of glistening fruit hanging from its branches. It was a gray day, but it felt delightful. Maybe one day those persimmons will turn up in a story I am writing!

If you’re like me and you’d like to experiment more with Artist Dates, here is one list of ideas: https://theartistswayblog.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/101-artists-date-ideas/. Meantime, here’s an excerpt of my writing from November that happens to be about a garden!

The garden was weedy and overgrown when we moved in. Charles wanted to pull it all out and get a landscaping company in to put in rocks and gravel pathways and a huge stone patio and things on the outside borders and things on the inside beds. I said No. We could not do such a thing to a garden before we had been there, before we had seen the light in the morning, the light at night, the seasons change, the way the leaves floated down and caressed the heather and foxglove. He frowned and pouted like he always does, but he did not hire the landscaper after all. He told me, you wanted to leave it as is, you deal with it. I did, gladly. In the fall I started with just a little tidy-up, trimming the brown branches that stuck into the lane between the rosebeds, raking the dusty pathway, speaking to the flowers and telling them how beautiful they were. Charles huffed. It wasn’t worth it to him. But it was to me.

I wish I could say our marriage lasted longer than the garden, but it wasn’t true. You’re thinking, after all that, she left Charles, or asked him to leave, and she stayed in the garden. Didn’t she stay in the garden? She loved it so much! But no. Charles was a professor, he was a literary man, and he met another literary woman at a conference who turned out to be the woman he left me for. He left me. Don’t cry. He got to have a downtown condo penthouse in Chicago with his woman and I got to stay in the garden.

Take care and good writing,



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