10,000 Opportunities

10,000 Opportunities


Glass block by igmata.com / Moses photos: Jill Greer (portrait), Mark LaFavor (block)

There's a magnet on a bulletin board in my house whose message haunts me from time to time. It's a quote from writer Annie Dillard: "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives." It reminds me that the future is now. Life is short, and there's no time like the present to respond to the creative muse within.

I felt the same conviction about an exhortation I once saw on an artist's T-shirt: "Go to your studio and make something!"

Yet modern life offers a million distractions, a million ways to kill time or at least stand by idly while it expires. Ever watched any of Bravo TV's Real Housewives series? Whiled away a few hours playing solitaire on your laptop? Puttered around on Facebook and looked up to discover that an afternoon is gone? Then you know what I mean. An hour of semi-conscious "downtime" can become a weekend, a habit, a lost opportunity.

When you talk to working artists, you learn that the artful life is not some dreamy possibility in a gauzy future but a disciplined commitment of time today. I once asked a ceramics instructor how he got so good at his work. "Tonnage" was the terse reply. Educational psychologists say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop a solid skill. So if we want to get good at something, Annie Dillard might say, we'd best get cracking.

For this issue we connected with a number of glass artists who've invested huge blocks of time in their art forms. They had to. You don't become a glass artist on a whim. You don't do it part-time in the basement. Developing a facility with glass takes a significant commitment, in both time and money. As Seattle-based artist Mark Zirpel says, "In glass, the relationship between technique and content looms large. One could spend a lifetime working on technical proficiency and never get to the art."

There are, we know, rewards for investing those 10,000 hours in building a skill. As the sociologist Richard Sennett has pointed out, making time for making pays big benefits: the satisfaction of self-expression, the self-respect that comes with mastery, and a sense of tangible connection to the world. These are intrinsic rewards, of course. Generally speaking, they won't land you in People magazine or on the Forbes 400 list. But it may be that the intrinsic rewards are the ones that ultimately matter.

I can't prove that people who've chosen these rewards are happier. But I do know that glass artist Judith Schaechter signs e-mails to complete strangers "Love, Judith." And when you ask Zirpel what he is proudest of, he doesn't cite exhibitions or awards, but that he has chosen the road less taken, the life of the imagination. Many of the artists we talk to come across as more genuine and self-aware than your average human being - and that includes the one who called back to make sure he sounded grateful, not mercenary, when he listed the big names he's been lucky to work with.

Everyone gets 24 hours each day. Some do more with them than others. Enjoy this issue, and let us know what you think.